The “occupation” of Dewey Square Park, in the epicenter of Boston’s financial district, officially began at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, September 30, 2011. As of 6:30, an initial crowd of around 400 people milled about and talked in small groups. The atmosphere was mellow and festive. A handful of bored-looking cops watched over the crowd as the usual occupants of this neighborhood–bankers, office workers, and commuters–were leaving the city for the weekend.
As dusk fell, the crowd grew, slowly, but steadily. Some people held signs, but there was no chanting or speeches made, yet. A tweet went out that General Assembly would begin at 7:45. The General Assembly, or the mass meeting of the minds of everyone present takes shape in what we call “horizontal democracy.” There are no leaders, only facilitators of the speakers and the agenda, which is agreed on by the group prior to the beginning of the Assembly. Last night’s group was much larger than the planning GAs earlier in the week, where only the most committed activists even knew the meetings were happening. We’ll see how the core group handles the growth of the movement they spawned as it continues through the week.
Occupy Boston is itself an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest that began two weeks ago in New York City. Occupy Boston is one of over a hundred occupations across the country, and the world, that are in the process of launching today, next weekend, or have already begun. What these groups want is the subject of intense debate internally, but it’s the open discussion and equal attention to everyone’s views that makes these occupations unique.
By 7:00, the crowd easily topped 1,000 attendees and the “people’s mike” started up. The people’s mike started in New York when protesters were prohibited from using electronic amplification. The speaker breaks his or her words up into small chunks of sentences, and pauses while each chunk is repeated by the whole group. It’s a bit unusual, but has some remarkable emotional benefits, in addition to its ability to make speakers audible without amplification. The people’s mike turns otherwise passive listeners into active participants. Furthermore, everything that’s said is said by everyone, which creates a very tight sense of community.
The General Assembly began with introductory speeches from the facilitators, followed by reports from all the of the working groups: legal, medical, food, tactics/direct action, outreach, media, and arts & culture. With such a large group, the process last night was strained more than during past nights, but, like everything else about this movement, the GA process is a work in progress.
After the GA meeting finished, the camp’s various teams/working groups broke into smaller forums for further planning and organizing. The media team staked out some higher ground to get a camera angle and set up their computers. Soon, training was launched to guide people on how to talk to the media. Since it may be a while before the movement reaches consensus about what our demands are, people are encouraged to speak for themselves, telling their personal stories and saying why they’re joining the occupation or checking it out.
The direct action group planned and executed a spontaneous march, leading hundreds of chanting participants through the winding streets of the financial district, after a preparatory training by the medical team. Some favorite chants included: “How much richer can they get? Cancel All Student Debt!”, “We are many, They are few! If We All Stand Up…What Can They Do?”, and “How do you fix a deficit? End the Wars and tax the rich!” The march was lively and appreciated by the downtown crowd, including clubbers and restaurant workers, who showed their support.
The march culminated in an angry demonstration in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which looms above Dewey Square. Many of the occupiers watching the demonstration from across the street became concerned for their comrades and the situation, and tried to get the demonstrators to come back.
However, the police seemed content to let the crowd blow off steam, and no violence occurred from either side. This is a welcome contrast to some of the reports coming out of New York, where passive, peaceful protesters were pepper sprayed at close range by police.
After the march and demonstration, people went off to continue team organizing, get food, set up tents and camps, and talk into the wee hours of the night about capitalism, our government, and the best strategies for attracting a larger and more diverse group of participants.
All curious people are encouraged to come down and check us out. We’re welcoming and friendly and there’s such a huge variety of stories and opinions among the group, everyone should be able to find a way to fit it, and a way to add their own voice to this ongoing conversation.