My interpretation of the previous two days as a participant and journalist in Occupy Boston does not reflect the views of other members of the “99 percent” movement, or Occupy Boston as a whole.
The $64 trillion dollar question, “When will Americans hit the streets like people in other countries?” has been answered. Over the last several days, occupations have spread from Wall Street, and erupted in more than 50 cities across America. The “99 percent” are rising to voice their grievances against an economic and political system which has disenfranchised them for too long. We share painful stories and common concerns, and want profound changes to how this country is governed – and for whom it is governed.(1)
I drove from New Hampshire Friday afternoon and arrived in Beantown to kickoff Occupy Boston. Dewey Square, the site of the occupation in the heart of the financial district, was easy to find thanks to police and media helicopters hovering overhead. But rush hour traffic and Boston's circuitous one-way streets channeled me far from the site to an expensive garage.
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I asked a well-dressed young man exiting work for directions to the park. He didn't know the location, and I didn't tell him why I was going (fearing he may intentionally misdirect me). Unfortunately, my cover was blown when “Brian” asked a coworker for the whereabouts. Brian pointed me in the direction of South Station and offered his opinion, “I work for an investment bank. I am a capitalist … but I don't agree with American-style capitalism.” Without pause, he refined his thoughts, “I am a socialist.” I was running late, so I simply nodded. He repeated this heresy and wished me luck.
Earlier Friday, a huge demonstration organized by Right the City protested in front of Bank of America, demanding a moratorium on foreclosures, and continued their march to Dewey Square.(2) Most of protesters went home, but some stayed to help launch Occupy Boston. I met the acquaintance of three young men from Stoneham, one of whom just lost his job as an eyeglass technician. Luckily his friend, a marine biologist with $60,000 in student debt, just landed a job. “We switched places” they realized, and gave each other a high five. Gatherers mostly engaged in small groups without direction, waiting for something to happen.
The confusion subsided and we got down to business. The group began to communicate using the famed “people's microphone.” When someone calls for a “mic check,” the whole group repeats their message in short sentences.(3) We organized into seven separate teams: tactical, direct action, legal aid, food and medical, media, local outreach and creative artists. Soon, Dewey Square was a rain-soaked and muddy experiment in direct democracy.
Our strength swelled to over 1,000 people.(4) Ages ranged from seven to 77, men and women, middle class and homeless, gay and straight, bisexual and transgender, anti-war activists and Marine Corps veterans, African-Americans and immigrants, Arab and Jewish, Asians and Latinos, unemployed and overworked, working class and Ivy-League educated. We are committed to an innovative, democratic process which is a testament of our vision. The late Howard Zinn believed that the hallmark of a successful social movement is its ability to cultivate both democratic means and democratic objectives. One reinforces the other.
This is a leaderless movement without a central ideology. We are bound only by the understanding that we are part of the 99 percent of Americans getting shafted by the top 1 percent.
After we built our encampment and ate a hot meal, roughly 400 occupants hit the streets at 11:00 PM and declared our galvanizing message: “We are the 99 percent! We are the 99 percent! You are the 99 percent!” Countless cars honked in support, loaded Bostonians and passers-by cheered (and a couple jeers), some joined the march, while others grabbed smart phones and cameras to record the rebirth of America in the city that started it all more than 200 years ago. The 99 percent movement has been ignored and derided in the mainstream press – yet the overwhelming response from the people of Boston is revitalizing. If you join the movement, you will not be stigmatized. On the contrary, your dedication will be praised, honored and thanked by fellow citizens. One by one, we will break the silence which has devoured this country.
Owing to the gravitational pull of truth telling, the march returned to camp larger than when it departed. Suddenly, Dewey Park emptied as hundreds of us charged across State Street toward the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (5) We chanted “We are the 99 percent, You are the 99 percent” (pointing to the phalanx of police officers lining the front of the building) and “F*** the Fed!” The roar echoed from the thick glass walls and stone ground. It was tense, but officers remained disciplined while demonstrators played music, sang and danced.
Unlike other cities like New York and San Francisco, the Boston Police Department (BPD) has made no attempt to corral us, has not tried to block or channel our marches, has not tried to disperse us and has entered the encampment once due to a medical emergency. So far, hats off to the BPD. If they respect our right to protest, it makes it easier for us to protect their right to collectively bargain.
By 1:00 AM, it was pouring rain and I told my new friend Murph that I would drive him home to Watertown in exchange for his help finding my vehicle. I returned to New Hampshire, caught five hours of sleep, filled my car with supplies and headed back to the occupation.
So far, the media has largely ignored the 99 percent movement. A nationwide uprising focused on addressing extreme economic and political inequality is just not newsworthy. Journalists claim that we lack coherence, and ask in a quixotic tone, “Why are they protesting?” Have they not read their own articles or watched their own television reports. Each one of us knows why we are here, and we want to listen to everyone's ideas. We are a multitude – and we are occupying Boston for a multitude of reasons.(6)
The more relevant question is: Will you join us and contribute to the awakening?(7)
2. Bank of America protest.
3. People's Microphone at the General Assembly.
5. Charging the Boston Federal Reserve Bank.