Freezing Free Speech: Winter Tents Are “Contraband” for Occupy Boston

Occupy Boston is one of the largest and best established occupations of the 99 Percent movement, in the city known as the Cradle of Liberty for its role in sparking the American Revolution. With a court order preventing the city of Boston from tearing down the encampment, the occupiers are planning to maintain their protest indefinitely at Dewey Square, in the heart of Boston’s financial district, in the shadow of the Federal Reserve and Smith Barney. Despite the temporary restraining order that finds that the Occupy Boston plaintiffs “have clearly met their burden of establishing that abridgment of their First Amendment rights would constitute irreparable harm,” the Boston Police Department is preventing the occupiers from winterizing their encampment.

In the last few days, Boston police have blocked the occupiers from bringing in a winterized tent intended as a safe space for women, and have searched a truck for “contraband” tents and insulation materials. In an exchange that resembles a vaudeville comedy routine, a Boston police officer explains to activist Clark Stoekley why he searched the truck for “items we don’t want in the camp”:

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I came to the truck because uh, we were afraid you had contraband that we don’t want in the camp . . . items we don’t want in the camp . . . Winter tents and, um, any type of insulation materials for tents that are already presently there.

Watch highlights of the conversation:

The officer later explains that he doesn’t know why protection from the cold is banned in Boston, saying, “I just do what I’m told.” Watch the full video here, recorded by Zoe White.

“They are trying to cause people to freeze,” K. Eric Martin, a member of the camp’s logistics team, told the Boston Metro’s Steve Annear. “That’s what they want. They are trying to flush us out.”

BPD spokes­person Elaine Driscoll told the Metro, “They are not allowed to have building materials because of the obvious safety concerns that such materials pose without the proper safety construction oversight.”

Occupy Boston’s winterization team includes MIT architecture professor Jan Wampler and Harvard-employed engineer Sage Radachowsky, raising questions about the honesty of the Boston Police’s professed concern about “safety construction oversight.”

The wealthy Board of Directors of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy recently asked the city to “remove the occupiers from the Greenway” because of “noise, odors, and interference,” saying a rat infestation “is only a matter of time.” Occupy Boston has elected representatives to participate in mediation with the City of Boston and the conservancy before the next court hearing on December 1.