I doubt the world needs another occupation-protest eye-witness blog post. People much better known than me have already been there: Michael Moore, Chris Hedges, Rick Perlstein, and Jeffrey Sachs, just to name a few. And Pistols At Dawn already did the ordinary-person-checks-out-the-hype thing pretty well.
Still, when I heard there was an Occupy Boston protest at Dewey Square (at the South Station T stop across from the Federal Reserve), I couldn’t resist taking a look. And having been there, I now can’t resist writing about it. But I’ll try to restrain myself from repeating what’s already been said hundreds of times.
Two things struck me about Occupy Boston. First, Dewey Square is tiny. I didn’t do a count, but Salon’s description of a “field … filled with hundreds of tents and tarps” is a vast exaggeration. We’re talking at most a few dozen small tents, and they totally fill the available space but for a walkway. Mayor Menino’s warning “you can’t tie up a city” is similarly absurd. Any occupation confined to Dewey Square isn’t even a mosquito bite on a city the size of Boston.
Second, the way conservatives try to make the Occupation movement sound scary is ludicrous. Eric Cantor’s talk about “mobs” and Glenn Beck’s warning that “They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you” — we’re in Fantasyland here. People who say things like this are just hoping you don’t bother to get any genuine information.
I was at Occupy Boston on Tuesday (the same day as The New Yorker; their photo shows about a third of the encampment). Monday the camp had tried to expand to the next park down the Greenway (for obvious reasons; they’re out of space), and police violently ejected them at 1:30 in the morning. The video got national attention, and not in a way that made the police look good. Veterans For Peace positioned itself between the police and the protesters, and the police manhandled them.
So if ever the Occupiers were going to be surly and vengeful, it would have been Tuesday.
But I didn’t run into anybody surly and vengeful. Annoyed, maybe. Some of them were amazed (in that way educated white people get) to realize that police don’t necessarily act reasonably or even obey the law. But everyone seemed to understand that the Occupation is nonviolent by definition. If they get provoked to violence, they’ve lost the argument.
Two of the people I talked to were white-haired folks who reminisced about the Vietnam War protests of their youth. One had a Santa-Claus beard and was selling anarchist pamphlets, probably for less than it cost him to photo-copy them. (I bought one for 50 cents.) The other was a woman who was trying to figure out how to start an occupation in Cambridge.
A young man wearing a pink wig was holding a sign about police abuse, so I asked him about the previous night’s confrontation. He told the same basic story I eventually heard from just about everyone (each in their own words rather than rehearsed or programmed): The police were violent and the demonstrators peaceful.
The clean-cut 20-something geeks in the media tent told me the most outrageous Monday-night story: Someone had rented a hotel room overlooking the square and were broadcasing a live feed of the police raid, until the police came up and stopped them — on no particular grounds anybody could imagine.
But as in the famous John Gilmore quote, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” The geeks were excitedly processing all the Monday-night video they could get their hands on and posting it to the Web. That seemed to be all the revenge they needed.
The guy at the information table was collecting bail money. At the logistics tent they were hoping for donations of tents to replace the ones the police had thrown in a garbage truck Monday night.
Everybody was careful not to speak for the group. Future strategy was going to be a topic of that evening’s General Assembly, and nobody wanted to prejudge the outcome. (The Occupiers were proud of their democratic process, though they all admitted it was tedious.)
Anger? Not so much. There was stuff to do. Venting or riling each other up wasn’t going to get it done. No one seemed hurried or panicked, but many seemed focused.
Like so many middle-aged people who see an Occupation protest, I can’t resist making a sweeping generalization: I don’t think people my age appreciate the effect a lifetime of computer games has had on the rising generation. They are both more strategic and more relentless than we expect them to be.
So they did not experience Monday’s police raid as some primitive horror; it was just the new challenge that marked the Occupation’s progress to Level 2. It’s something else to overcome, like bad weather. So the Occupiers bail people out, get more tents, and keep going until they can find the door to Level 3.
[I haven't been to Occupy Wall Street, but the way they met the weekend's park-cleaning challenge sounded similar. This level has a new obstacle; how do we marshal our resources to overcome it?]
If the authorities think they’re going to get rid of these protests through slow escalation, they’d better think again. They’ll just be training the protesters to reach ever-higher levels of proficiency.