juldea: (brights)
[personal profile] juldea
Last night I went to Occupy Boston to assist the movement in the face of probable police activity after a judge ruled yesterday that the occupiers didn't have a First Amendment right to occupy the square, leading Mayor Menino to announce he wanted the encampment gone by midnight. Like many, I support the Occupy movement while at the same time recognizing its flaws--and I'm not going to get into that in this post. I'm just going to talk about last night.

I had been thinking about going during the day, but didn't bring it up to Dan until after dinner. I had seen tweets saying there was plenty that people could do to help that didn't involve staying until midnight and possibly getting arrested. I figured there could be something I could do to help, and if not, at least see the event at one of its most powerful moments. Dan decided to join me, so we bundled up to stand outside for a few hours and headed down to Dewey Square. In the T car on the way there, some college-aged protestors were making announcements to the car about what was going on, urging riders to come join the movement.

We arrived and made our way to the information tent, where I asked what we could do to help and got pretty much a shrug in response--"find something to do and do it." So we went inside and wandered around for a bit. Despite never being there before, it was clear that some areas had already been moved out. There were large clear spots where tents had been before. The encampment was fairly busy but not yet packed with people; we only had to push our way through crowds a couple of times.

We made our way up to the "stage" area where some announcements and plans were being made. The speakers alternated between using a microphone, which was audible, and trying to shout and using the human microphone, which mostly wasn't. I don't remember much of what was being talked about at that time. I ran into larp-person Kindness in the crowd, who I've never interacted with much before personally. It was good to see someone I knew.

Five members of the National Lawyers Guild took the mic to run a civil disobience primer, which ended up being one of the best parts of the evening for me. They went over such topics as what things could possibly get you arrested (anything*), what you can do to try to avoid getting additional charges of resisting arrest or assault and battery of a police officer (very little*), what would happen over the next few days if you got arrested in great detail, and what this kind of arrest and a "criminal record" might mean for your future. (* = "because police lie," by the way.) I wish I could just reprint a transcript of that entire hour, because it was so very informative it changed my decision to leave before midnight. The speakers were engaging and obviously very connected to the Occupy cause. They also spoke some of the most matter-of-fact anti-police rhetoric I've ever heard in person, not whipping up a frenzy of hate but simply making people aware of how much trust to put in the system. I was super-impressed.

After they left the stage, an organizer announced that there would be talks happening soon to determine what would happen to defend the encampment and what was possible for people who didn't want to be arrested. [livejournal.com profile] dromeda had shown up during the lawyers' talk, and she and Dan and I headed toward the front of the camp to see what was going on there. An activist brass band had shown up and was having a small concert/dance party just outside the camp. Kindness caught up with us and decided, by coin-flip, to stay and risk arrest to defend the camp. He handed off his belongings to dromeda and headed back inside. I debated briefly with dromeda and Dan about staying and determined that I'd be disappointed in myself if I didn't. I had already only shown up with my phone, ID, and T pass, so I didn't have stuff to worry about. Plus, [livejournal.com profile] londo had shown up and was going to stick around for a while being a guy with a camera, so I had an emergency contact about. Therefore, about 11:40 I bade farewell to Dan and dromeda and headed inside to see what I could do.

I had heard that those risking arrest should head for the center of camp, so I found that group (and Kindness within it.) They were group-debating what the plan was, specifically regarding protecting the media tent and the bronze Gandhi statue that had been lent to the movement. The plan formed to be moving Gandhi near the media tent so that both could be protected together with a several-deep human chain. There was some busywork clearing out some areas and setting tarps down, and then we spent wayyyyy too long forming up into a test-chain. Honestly I didn't even know it wasn't a test chain; I thought we were going to have to stand like that for hours--and would have, but was glad that we didn't.

The first line of the chain, closest to the tent/Gandhi, was formed by standing people linked arm-in-arm with their own hands clasped together (either holding your own wrists, or an interesting way to lock your thumbs together) to make it harder for the chain to be pulled apart. The second line was to be kneeling, and the third to be sitting, but I think it ended up with two standing lines and one sitting. We all faced inward to avoid the sitting folks being kicked in the face or any of us getting projectiles to the face. Some people had masks, and there was vinegar passed around to soak your mask in to counter possible chemical agents. Outside of our chain was a group of protestors "dressed as bankers" (whatever that means--I never saw them, too many people in the way) who were actively going to attempt to get arrested first, and asked us all to cheer when they were. Because, well, you know.

It was cold. I'm glad I wore multiple layers on almost every part of my body. I began losing feeling in my toes, they were so cold, but I found an EMT with a couple of hot packs that I stuffed into my boots and was good for the rest of the night (and found them still warm this morning.) There were blankets and sleeping bags available to wrap yourself in, and announcements about how sucky hypothermia was were made.

At this point I had my first encounter with a guy who I'm still very sure was an undercover cop trying to cause trouble. One of the ends of our line, right next to Gandhi, ended up against the MBTA access building that's at the end of Dewey Square, and there's an access door very near to where we wore. Someone was fretting over the possibility that cops would use that access to storm the camp from the rear. This guy overheard and began loudly stating that we should U-lock the door. Since I heard no one else agreeing with him, I'm pretty sure most everyone agreed with me that while we have a right to peacefully assemble, we have no right to stick a lock on MBTA property. The guy went on to continue to try to rile people up juuuuust barely. When folks were trying to move tarps and supplies around to make room for the chain, he would go out of his way to try to dump them on the flowers in the park instead of on some of the bare tent-free spaces. It made me happy that he would be cut off from such attempts most of the time. Later in the evening, I was less happy that he convinced a small group of guys to move Gandhi away from his safe spot, but that's later...

After we had successfully proven we could form a human chain, we unlinked and waited. And waited. We talked amongst ourselves, shivered, checked Twitter (occasionally, when fingers unfroze), and....slowly got more and more alarmed as other groups of Occupiers spurned our idea of protecting the center of the camp and instead began rallying on the sidewalks and spilling into Atlantic Ave. Some people were running back and forth and updated us on the situation there as protestors slowly blocked the street. I was not the only one supremely unhappy with this plan. The point of the evening was to resist a crackdown on the camp, not to encourage one by brashly flaunting the power of a mob.

About what, 1am? the word got out that some police muckity-muck had told the news there would be no police action on the camp that night, and everyone erupted into cheering. Then a few of us remembered that, well, *. So the lines around the media tent and Gandhi didn't all disappear, but they sure melted away as many people determined they didn't need to stay and could go join what was becoming a block party in the street. I stuck around the area keeping an eye on Twitter, the crowd, and the cops. londo went on a 7-11 run and brought Kindness and me back some horrible convenience store food that we scarfed down with joy. During this time the probable-undercover-cop convinced guys to move Gandhi into the street crowd "to get people pumped up"--I had really bad feelings about this, and I've seen on Twitter this morning that the statue is no longer a part of the camp, and I'm really curious what actually happened.

At 2 I was one of maybe six people still in the center of camp, and I was getting damn cold, so I started joining londo doing walking laps around the encampment area. 95% of the people had moved out into the street at this point. The police had blocked off both ends and rerouted traffic. We looked for evidence of cops massing for an offense based on what londo had seen in October and found none. Kindness left about this point.

londo and I were talking about maybe leaving when we saw a group of protestors talking to an older police officer, so we went to eavesdrop on what was being said. It actually was a very interesting conversation about the UC Berkeley pepper spray incident during which the cop was agreeing that things were done against protocol there. Several protestors thanked this office for how the BPD had handled the raid in October, "doing what had to be done without cracking skulls." There were also of course the statements about how we were fighting for his job and paycheck and pension. He did a good job of remaining stone-faced; I still don't know exactly what he thought on any of these issues. It was a nice talk to have at the end of the evening, though. londo stuck around a while longer talking to a guy and a reporter about the history of anti-corporate/anti-banking/etc movements (such as the Farmer's Alliance of the 1880s), then made the reporter sad when he wouldn't share his name with her and thus allow her to use his statements.

At 3am, adrenaline-crashing-tired and cold, londo and I visited 7-11 for hot cocoa and grabbed a cab back to Somerville. Dan was still up waiting for me, having kept an eye on the livestreams the entire time. I wrapped up in blankets and got to sleep about 4, with an alarm set for 8.

I don't regret it one bit.

on 9 Dec 2011 23:08 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] baronbrian.livejournal.com
I've heard a few lawyers talk about civil disobedience and also just how to handle police in just regular every day interactions. Like you, I was always impressed by their very matter of fact attitude towards the whole thing. It's almost sounds like someone talking about chess moves to my ear.

And congratulations on sticking it out at the camp for a while. I always wished I had spent more time at the Occupy OKC camp but honestly it has changed a lot from what it was and I don't quite agree with them anymore. Good luck and I hope if you are involved when the police crack down that you'll be safe.

Also, that guy who was encouraging people to do weird stuff? He totally sounds like an agent provocateur.

on 11 Dec 2011 05:26 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] juldea.livejournal.com
Huh, Occupy OKC? I wouldn't have expected it, or at least would expect it to be realllly small. Has it been taken over by 'fringe' elements?

on 11 Dec 2011 06:46 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] goldbug.livejournal.com
Heck, we've got Occupy Norman now!

on 11 Dec 2011 16:30 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] baronbrian.livejournal.com
Yep, there's an Occupy OKC, one in Norman like Goldbug said, one in Stillwater and one in Tulsa. The one in OKC had some personality conflict happen so a lot of the early people left and it got taken over by the fringes as you put it. It started out pretty large but now it's just a handful of people compared to what it was and it didn't even follow the spirit of occupation in that they were paying for a city permit to be in the park until just a couple of weeks ago when the city denied to renew the permit.

on 9 Dec 2011 23:10 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] etherial.livejournal.com
The guy went on to continue to try to rile people up juuuuust barely.

I don't suppose you got a picture.

on 9 Dec 2011 23:12 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] juldea.livejournal.com
No. I didn't take any pictures at all last night.

on 10 Dec 2011 02:13 (UTC)
ext_585618: (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] elipie.livejournal.com
Thanks for writing this. I'm kind of sad I'm not in Boston so I could participate or at least witness what's going on over there, because while I know there is an Occupy movement in my hometown, it doesn't get any press at all. :/

on 10 Dec 2011 02:19 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] christhegeek.livejournal.com
Well its good to hear another firsthand account of this movement. A friend of mine at Occupy Atlanta had nothing but disappointing things to report about the mentality of the protest there. This sounds much more grown up (with a few exceptions, of course)

on 10 Dec 2011 04:26 (UTC)
Posted by [personal profile] ron_newman
Why did londo not want the reporter to use his comments in a story?

on 11 Dec 2011 05:27 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] juldea.livejournal.com
For personal reasons, he did not want to have his real name used. He was fine with his comments used in a story, but the reporter said she could only do so with a real name attached.

on 10 Dec 2011 09:17 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] usernamenumber.livejournal.com
Could you talk a little more about your motivations for defending the encampment? Do you disagree with the court order, feel it necessary to buy more time, something else?

on 11 Dec 2011 05:32 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] juldea.livejournal.com
Honestly, I do not know much at all about the text of the court order and the legality of the encampment's existence given the fine print on what the Greenway is and all that. I was coming at it from a higher level: I think the arguments of the Occupy movement are super important and worth civil disobedience to keep them in the public eye. I want the camps around as long as possible, because as long as they are still there and still in people's face, the issues can't be buried (as effectively as otherwise.)
Edited on 11 Dec 2011 05:33 (UTC)

on 10 Dec 2011 09:20 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] usernamenumber.livejournal.com
...also, especially given that the cops didn't raid even when the rest of the occupation, as you put it, encouraged them to with the shenanigans on Atlantic Ave, why assume that the "let's lock the mbta door" guy was an undercover cop instead of just an overzealous asshole?
Edited on 10 Dec 2011 09:35 (UTC)

on 11 Dec 2011 05:40 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] juldea.livejournal.com
I don't think that any point of the cops not raiding on Thursday night was because of some benevolent attempt to let us have our party. It was pure tactics; the camp was obviously going to be bursting at the seams Thursday, less so Friday, and even less so 5am Saturday morning. (Because, you know, cops clearing the camp with goodwill will choose 5am to do it--not even getting into the possible issues with press that I haven't researched enough to verify claims for.)

See * above. I don't have an overarching hate for police; when I have time to think about it, I recognize that they're human beings, usually drawn from a different segment of society than I belong to, but not faceless fascists. HOWEVER, the dialogue that has been created in this country has driven that wedge between cops and "possible perpetrators" and created stereotyping and "othering" behavior on BOTH sides, such that just as much as there are people saying, "Cops lie," there are cops lying. And pepper-spraying protesters. And encouraging people into just barely crossing a line so they can be arrested for it. Mob mentality sadly works for the "protectors" as much as the protesters.

on 11 Dec 2011 06:48 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] usernamenumber.livejournal.com
...but on exactly the tactical level you're talking about, why would the cops seed Occupy with provocateurs, get exactly the kind of provocation they would be looking for in that scenario... and then do nothing? At least as I see it, that contradiction makes the guy you met just being an asshole the far simpler explanation.

on 11 Dec 2011 15:57 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] jessiehl.livejournal.com
My thoughts on this:

People did dance in the street, but the dancing was peaceful (though there was a report of some douche within the dance party who squirted red paint on both protesters and police officers, which made nobody happy). It sounds, from [livejournal.com profile] juldea's description, like this guy was trying to incite more problematic behavior than merely non-violent dancing. Dancing is one thing even if it's civil disobedience in the process. Locking the South Station door is a lot more problematic. Crushing the flower beds, something we have explicitly promised to avoid doing during the course of the OB camp, is a lot more problematic.

It is, of course, possible that the guy was just a dick. Especially because there were a lot of people there (I was there as well) who have not previously been Occupy Boston participants. But there has been some holy-shit hideously sketchy behavior from verified undercovers.

on 12 Dec 2011 00:38 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] usernamenumber.livejournal.com
I hope this doesn't sound confrontational, as I'm genuinely curious: verified how?

on 12 Dec 2011 02:50 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] jessiehl.livejournal.com
There was one case (in which the guy who had been the witness at the court hearing against the city earlier that day, was body-checked off the curb and then detained by uniformed cops) where after people started pointing at the attacker and shouting, he hung out with the cops chatting for a while, and even stood in the cop circle around the detained guy, and then eventually left with another cop.

There's a group of protesters who are a subset of the group that plans the protests and marches, who all lived together in the tent next to the med tent and are mostly anarchists, and they have been targeted for police harassment by undercovers/plainclothes. These cops come up to them and start reciting their personal information - your name is blah, you're from blah city, your birthday is blah, etc. One of them, a little undergrad, was leaving the court hearing, and an undercover followed her into the elevator and did this, and also brought up where her parents live, which could be, you know, construed as a threat against family members. We actually saw the relevant undercover on Friday evening - I was chatting with her and she noticed him on the sidewalk and pointed him out to me.

on 12 Dec 2011 18:04 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] jessiehl.livejournal.com
I do think some part of the not-arresting-anyone-for-dancing-in-the-street may have been that the particular cops in that street were our rank-and-file regulars who know us. I don't think, though, that the lack of actual raid was anything but tactics.

on 11 Dec 2011 15:48 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] jessiehl.livejournal.com
Adding a point of information as someone who has been extensively involved with the Occupy Boston camp, the spy games players (the undercover/plainclothes other than those at marches, the intel people, the federal agents, etc) have been, IME, the subset of police most engaged in problematic behavior. The uniformed cops on Atlantic Ave Thursday night were our rank-and-file regulars - ordinary cops who are regularly on the Occupy Boston detail. They know us, they know we're not monsters (and we know it of them), they like most of us well enough. I find it quite easy to believe that there was an undercover being an asshole provocateur at the same time as our regulars were showing friendliness, decency, and restraint.

on 10 Dec 2011 14:26 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] rustycoon.livejournal.com
Thank you for posting this, thank you for being there.

Sadly, participation = loss of future job prospects or I'd be inclined to get out there, myself.

on 11 Dec 2011 05:24 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] juldea.livejournal.com
Just participation, or arrest? (Asking out of curiosity.)

on 11 Dec 2011 15:49 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] rustycoon.livejournal.com
Participation carries risk of arrest (claims to the contrary are naive). But a) a criminal record would bar me from seeking many of the jobs I plan to seek in the future, and b) a criminal charge has special consequences for me that most people don't face. I'm happy to go into details in a non-public, non-internet forum if you're still curious.

on 12 Dec 2011 17:54 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] jessiehl.livejournal.com
Despite never being there before, it was clear that some areas had already been moved out. There were large clear spots where tents had been before.

Yeah, quite a lot had been moved out. All of the working tents except Info, Media, and Medical, I think (and about 95% of Medical's supplies had been taken offsite). The Library was moved out. Several people moved out their personal tents as well, not wanting to risk their being destroyed. The tents had previously been practically end-to-end.

Some people had masks, and there was vinegar passed around to soak your mask in to counter possible chemical agents.

Argh I am going to kick people. Vinegar is widely used because it provides a different strong smell, but it doesn't actually neutralize the gas. Liquid antacid mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio will help neutralize the gas. This is at least less harmful than the stupid rumor going around some Occupys that you can get pepper spray out of your eyes by spraying apple cider vinegar into them (do not try that, whether there is pepper spray in your eyes or not).

I've seen on Twitter this morning that the statue is no longer a part of the camp, and I'm really curious what actually happened.

Don't worry, it is safe.

Some people were running back and forth and updated us on the situation there as protestors slowly blocked the street.

For quite a while, everyone left a lane open for traffic. The street didn't get fully blocked until the dancing started, I don't think (I was in a good position to see the street).

People were expecting that if there was a raid, there would be obvious staging, and if there were obvious staging, I think people would have come back to the Media tent. As it turned out, there didn't end up being obvious staging when the raid actually happened, but the raid as actually done could never have been done with the crowd size on Thursday night.

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