You might know Occupy Boston as a minor media frenzy centered on the area around South Station, a nuisance in your daily commute, a quickly growing protest movement or just a Twitter hashtag.
I've spent the last 10 days checking in and out of the occupation in Dewey Square and what I've seen has inspired, confused, worried and challenged me in equal measure. I'm trying to compose more coherent thoughts based on some interviews I've done and pictures I've shot over the last few days, but I have a feeling that a major moment will go down tonight and I wanted to share some of what I've seen and learned.
The Occupy movement is thoroughly egalitarian and democratic - perhaps to a fault - though of a necessity it's guided and shaped to a large degree by those who appear to have experience organizing radical street action. Still, a quick tour of the camp last Tuesday introduced me to a diverse cast of characters, from a local ironworker and union member who told me he put down his tools to come join the protest, to a pair of apparently homeless men who explained that the living conditions in Dewey Square beat what they were typically used to. Students, long-time organizers, bloggers, parents, nurses, communists, socialists, Lyndon LaRouche devotees and Catholic priests mingle amongst the masses of students and other tattooed youth.
People were cagey around me, to be sure - I can't blame them, since I showed up straight from work in a suit and tie looking like a G-Man. At least one guy asked me if I had government affiliations. But with the threat of infiltrators and agents provocateurs ever-present, I don't blame them for an instant.
Now, Occupy Boston is facing its most challenging test. I joined the march from Dewey Square for about an hour today as it looped around Atlantic Avenue, Purchase Street, Winter Street and Downtown Crossing. I had to leave as it turned towards Government Center and the Charlestown Bridge by North Station, where protesters confronted police officers and were ultimately turned back.
After over a week in Dewey Square, however, the size of the occupation grew and became problematic in the confined space for health and safety reasons. Acacia Brewer, a spokesman for the occupation's Media working group, told me last week that they might have to expand on to the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a far more developed and built-up park than Dewey Square. However, she expressed concern about what would happen once the occupation made that move.
After the unsuccessful attempt to take the Charlestown Bridge, the march returned to Financial District and the occupation of what's now called the "second site" began. After a week in which everyone I interviewed told me that the police have been "awesome," "helpful" and shouting positive slogans like "We are the 99%" from squad cars, the tone has changed. The Boston Police told the movement that they'd have to move their tents and people out of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, or the police would move in. The Occupation's response can be seen here.
At approximately 18:00 the Boston Police Department informed Occupy Boston that if they did not clear the site by nightfall, they would be forcibly removed. In response, Occupy Boston has issued a renewed call for any and all people to join the occupation as soon as possible. From the beginning, occupiers have worked tirelessly to maintain a positive working relationship with city officials. Today’s threats by the Boston Police Department represent a sudden shift away from that dialogue.The BPD hadn't moved in by 7, but the occupation's Twitter account and auxiliary sources indicate that the new deadline is midnight and the police will probably move in around then.
I don't yet know if this will be Boston's Tahrir Square, but I think it stands a good chance of being a seminal moment in the history of Massachusetts direct popular action. If all of the thousands in the two camps are arrested, it will be the largest arrest since a massive 1968 Vietnam War protest, stated Occupy Boston's Twitter.
I can't make a clear political argument about whether or not you should join or support the movement right now, and it's still difficult to articulate a list of policies, demands or goals. However, I think it's damned important that everyone pay attention tonight to see what happens when people confront the police on Boston's land.