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.
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