Shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday members of MOVE, a radical primitivist sect, began leaving their run-down mansion in west Philadelphia and surrendering one by one to police.
The surrender marked the end of a long and bizarre confrontation with the city administration in general and Mayor Frank Rizzo in particular.
The way MOVE surrendered probably gave the mayor indigestion, for Rizzo has called MOVE members "absolute imbeciles . . . psychotics . . . they're not even human beings. I get a stomach ache when I see them jumping around and acting up."
The organization has been holed up in the house since May 20, 1977, when members in response to an eviction notice, appeared on a makeshift barricade dressed in quasi-military uniforms and carrying automatic weapons.
Police surrounded the house and at a cost of over $1 million in police salaries alone, for 10 months more than 100 stood guard, at all times armed with riot guns, and arrested any members of the sect who attempted to leave.
After a series of quick eviction maneuvers that went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the city administration last March 16, set up a blockade of the four-square-block area around the MOVE building - cutting them off from all outside support and all food and water.
Since then MOVE and the city have gone through a number of maneuvers designed to shift responsibility for the lives of the estimated 19 adults, four infants, approximately 50 dogs and an undetermined number of rats still inside the building. Many of MOVE's maneuvers are of the kind that the mayor describes as "jumping around and acting up."
MOVE as an organization is devoted to confrontation and to an antitechnology philosophy. Members, most of whom are black, refuse to cooperate with government authorities. All take the surname Africa after their possibly mythical founder, John Africa.
They wear their hair in long dredlocks like members of the Rastafarian cult in Jamaica. They do not believe in heating their buildings, clothing their children or bathing with soap (they use a herbal mix which includes garlic). They do not cook their food, and all garbage is thrown into the yard around their building to be "cycled" back to the earth.
The large number of stray dogs adopted by the group contribute a large amount of excrement to the yard - and in summer, according to neighbors, the stench is unbearable. Large numbers of rats are attracted by the garbage, and MOVE members insist that in their religion rats are just as important as human beings, so instead of killing rats MOVE members feed them.
In the 50 days since the blockade was set up.
The City-Wide Black Community Coalition, a group of black civil rights leaders, held a series of demonstrations against the blockade and against Rizzo.
MOVE members, despite their antitechnology philosophy, kept in touch with the outside world via CB radio, using the "handle" that members had been without food or water for five days - and that some of the babies were suffering from dysentery.
The city announced that it would set up a canteen to feed the babies.
MOVE rejected the canteen on the grounds that the food, liquid infant formula, was not "natural" and would "kill" the babies.
The city offered to feed the babies and their nursing mothers, placing little plates of raw vegetables and grains and plastic cups of water on the makeshift barrier erected by MOVE in front of their building.
MOVE members kicked off the plates and cups, saying that all members - even the infants - refused to eat unless the city provided food for everyone - including the dogs and other animals inside the house.
Through it all, MOVE members kept calm and cheerful - sometimes waving at sometimes baranguing, members of the news media, who were permitted to watch from corrals just inside the barricade. From time to time members would direct catcalls and obscenities at police.
Delbert Africa, the acknowledged leader of the members in the house, would pick up a bullhorn, survey the 500 or so police in flak jackets and helmets on the street in front of him and announce, "Okay, you guys come on out, we got you surrounded."
And through it all, Mayor Rizzo, an ex-policeman who is widely known for his tough-cop image, has maintained what is officially described as an attidue of compassion.
"We know how to deal with people like (MOVE)," he said in a recent radio interview. "We've been through incidents like this before; we could get a 100-foot crane and one sweep of the ball and that would be the end of them . . . if it weren't for the children. If it weren't for the children we'd take their guns and wrap them around their necks."
And through it all, negotiations continued - conducted not by Rizzo but by a group that does not support MOVE's philosophy but opposes the blockade as a violation of human rights.
The negotiations worked.
MOVE members have agreed to surrender one at a time. All are to be taken to police headquarters, arraigned, released on their own recognizance and returned to the MOVE building - a process that may take three or four hours. As one member returns, another surrenders. The entire surrender is expected to take at least 24 hours.
MOVE is to surrender all weapons and explosives after the arraignments are completed.
Once the weapons are surrendered, the city is to take down the blockade, allow visitors and turn on the water supply to the house.
Within five days MOVE is to allow an inspection of the building to prove that all weapons are gone and that there has been an effort to conform to the city's sanitary codes.
Within two weeks, MOVE is to take down the barrier built in front of its house.
Within 90 days, the members are to leave the house. Many officials believe the police will find no weapons - that either the weapons will be dismantled and buried in the five days before inspection or that they were taken out of the house some time before the blockade was set up.
Since most of the warrants against MOVE members involve charges such as inciting to riot or resisting arrest (which come down to little more than cursing at, and fighting with police officers), it seems that the group will effectively escape legal punishment.
MOVE's lawyer, Oscar Gaskins, says they will move to somewhere in southern New Jersey, where they can practice their religion in peace, and that MOVE members do not see what they are doing as surrender.
"They say they just decided to come out" Gaskins says.
The first MOVE member to emerge yesterday was a short, stocky woman named Merle Africa. Other MOVE members cheered and shouted encouragement to her, then lined up on their barrier with clenched fists raised, chanting in chorus, "Long live revolution, long live MOVE, long live John Africa.
It was clear that MOVE members did not think they had lost the struggle - maybe because they realize how big a stomach ache they were giving to Frank Rizzo.