From the street to the tweet, the Occupy movement gained momentum, and people organized to protest for change. 99 Nights With The 99 Percent (Write to Power, 2012) by Chris Faraone covers the first three months of the Occupy movement from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Miami. In this excerpt, Faraone goes inside to the organizational core at the beginning of Occupy Boston and Occupy Dewey Square. Read this brief account of how the assembly met to get started. This excerpt is taken from the section “Occupy Boston Common.”
September 28, 2011
At this early juncture it’s fair to say that Occupy Wall Street is successful. I’m not being sarcastic. Yesterday I wrote about the media frenzy that has fertilized their protests from day one, and that’s rained down even harder since police began beating demonstrators. And after last night’s Occupy meeting at the Boston Common bandstand, I’m convinced that the hordes have achieved something even greater than attracting press: regardless of what they accomplish in the end, Occupy has already become the hottest protest franchise since the Tea Party. Which is why it makes sense that our rally-happy Hub is the first city to strike while the brand is hot.
Last night’s kickoff testified to the weight of this movement. People have been angry for some time, but for many it was Occupy that motivated them — not the countless other protests that unfold every week around here. Roughly 300 showed — with a number of reporters also on the scene — despite the event having been announced less than a day ahead of time (Steve Annear broke the story in the Boston Metro). By a show of hands, a few dozen folks on the Common got their feet wet in New York at Occupy Wall Street. But for the most part, these people — mostly young, but overall from a mix of backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities — were inspired to act by what they’d seen online and in the news.
Following an introduction by organizer Robin Jacks — whose opening “Welcome to Occupy Boston” greetings may have summoned Thunderdome memories for older onlookers — an array of speakers took no longer than a few minutes a piece to chime in. Though they were asked to address Occupy priorities, many waxed extensively on tangential causes — the Fifth Amendment, capital punishment, and so on — until about a half-hour in. Then, at around 8 pm, the first real order of business commenced when someone asked the crowd to think about when and where they might occupy. The same speaker than detoured onto a rant about growing his own food, but he nonetheless rolled the ball in the right direction.
By a show of hands at the start of the assembly, about 20 people were interested in helping maintain a prolonged Boston occupation. But some participants got more serious as the night progressed — especially after everyone divided into working groups, and began to discuss logistical implementation issues ranging from legal, food, and medical to outreach and media. There were still some goofy moments — the night’s loudest cheers came when someone screamed “Fuck capitalism!” But overall the maturity level increased over the three-plus hour congress.
Occupy Boston is already emerging as a model from which other cities might learn how to piggyback Occupy Wall Street. That’s been the word on Twitter, where Hub activists have been congratulating themselves since last night, when they made the group decision to occupy Dewey Square near South Station. It’s already a national movement — there are more than a dozen Occupy actions planned for now through next week, from Philadelphia to San Francisco. But from what I gather, Boston might have enough willing soldiers to become the first full-fledged expansion team.
Activists return to the Common tonight, when they’ll decide when to occupy. According to Jacks (who does not speak for the entire front, but operates the @occupy_boston Twitter feed and is an “initial organizer”), some want to start this Friday (September 30), while others think they need an extra week of preparation. There’s also the issue that Right to the City, MassUniting, and dozens of other groups already have massive actions planned for this weekend. But judging by the general mood, those efforts won’t likely impact the decision on when to squat in Dewey Square. Most people on the Common last night didn’t come to support those causes. They came to Occupy.
September 30, 2011
It’s not surprising that two major anti-bank actions are scheduled to rock Boston today. Still it’s important to note that the demonstrations — Right to the City’s massive afternoon march, and Occupy Boston’s evening habitation — share no organizational ties. The former group built momentum for months, fucking with Bank of America branches from Codman Square to Cape Cod. The other front, inspired by Occupy Wall Street, popped up suddenly. But like their Right to the City counterparts, their mission is to hold greedy scumbags accountable for their crimes.
Occupy Boston’s second planning powwow, held Wednesday night on Boston Common, began slowly, with about 100 people gathered near the bandstand. But the crowd soon thickened, and a show of hands revealed that there were several new recruits who’d heard about the action overnight. Of course there were also stragglers — one dude tried to sell me on the Free State Project — but the larger group was disciplined, and came to hash out issues like whether they should seek protest permits. That particular debate carried on for a tedious two hours before a majority agreed that “Egypt didn’t need a permit to bring down a dictator.” The next decision came quicker, as it took only minutes to reach consensus that Friday, September 30 is prime time to claim Dewey Square.
By Thursday, the soon-to-be Occupiers — all in hyper-planning mode — had lost some of their communal bliss. More than an hour of a general assembly was wasted on people flashing their intellectual cleavage before anybody addressed important items like how to handle an arrest, and how dangerous it can be to gargle pepper spray. It takes a lot of effort for this group to synthesize; a number of them have hard-willed, righteous, and even obnoxious personalities. But while many are the type of outspoken passionate souls who always irritated teachers by raising their hand too much, by the three-hour mark they were on track and tackling agenda items.
At this point reality is registering with Occupiers — particularly with city slickers who have little camping experience. Last night’s torrential showers frightened some; I overheard one boyish-looking Emerson student at the final meeting — which was held indoors, at the nonprofit hub Encuentro 5 in Chinatown — tell his friends that he hadn’t bothered to account for the weather. Then there’s the quagmire over what kind of message the movement should adopt; last I heard, the majority wants to follow the example set by Occupy Wall Street, and identify a common cause after getting situated. Those decisions will come out of a process they call “horizontal democracy,” in which everybody gets a chance to pitch change in the rhetorical jar and then vote.
Like some of the local activists who were in attendance on the Common, I was initially concerned that Occupiers might piss on Right to the City’s parade. At the same time, I’m also annoyed by the fad-tastic nature of the Occupy actions, which are now spreading to several dozen cities (I’ll be reporting from Occupy Miami on Saturday). Still I’ve decided to honor equally all of the spite aimed toward Bank of America — no matter who or where it’s coming from — and at other institutions that bank big bucks on our backs. The problem up until now has been that not enough folks give a damn. That might still be the case; but in this moment, with Boston on the brink of two bloodthirsty demonstrations, it’s nice to think that some State Street shitsucker on his way home to the suburbs later might be reminded of the pain he’s caused.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from 99 Nights With The 99 Percent, published by Write to Power and written by Chris Faraone.