At 5 a.m. on Dec. 10, 72 days into the occupation of Dewey Square, Occupy Boston’s little village of tents and pallets was erased.
Just before its disappearance, Occupy Boston was the oldest and largest of the remaining Occupy protests that have, since September, not only changed the geography of American parks in hundreds of towns and cities around America, but the Americans’ political and social dialogue.
Whatever you think of Occupy Wall Street’s tactics, methods or politics, one thing is indisputable: the Occupy Wall Street movement makes people emotional. Even after wading through confusion to understand how Occupy actually works, people tend to love it or hate it.
And Boston is an emotional city. More than any Occupy I visited, passersby would scream and honk in support and derision many times a day.
Courtney Stanton, a 30-year-old project manager who worked at a software firm on the 20th floor of the Boston Federal Reserve building next to the park, was in the love category. She had a bird’s eye view of the protest, though her first visit came just as the camp prepared for its end.
“The window by my cube overlooks the Greenway. So, when I lean outside I can push my face against the glass, I’m looking right on Dewey Square,” Stanton said.
She’s watched Occupy Boston from day one.
“I always really liked that it was there,” Stanton said, as we sat in South Station, a major Boston train and bus commuting hub across the street from the Occupy. “I feel really strongly about people being able to peacefully organize and peacefully protest. [The Occupy] made visible especially a lot of problems that are already in Boston. It’s a space where that’s allowed to exist. I’m really sad to see it go away, because now it dismantles all of these individuals who together represent a systemic problem and it makes easy to dismiss them again as just individuals with problems.”
While the Occupy didn’t disrupt life in the Fed, it was impossible to ignore.
“Any time they were having any kind of group meet up that required the people’s mic, you could hear that 20 stories up, just hearing these weird little echos,” she said. “Because we all walk past it or see it every day, it automatically makes everybody talk.”
Stanton thought and talked a lot about political issues while the Occupy camped on her doorstep, and about how she’s had to help more and more of her family as the economy has turned worse.
“I don’t think that some people have a lot left. I mean, we tried voting. It’s kind of hard when they can buy all your politicians. It doesn’t really matter. I think for a lot of people who feel that the two-party process is breaking down, what are you going to do? Are you going to try to find an independent candidate who’s never even going to get funding?” Stanton said, “Or are you going to sit on a street and exist and insist that people see you?”
But the people who love Occupy Boston, and hate it the most, are the occupiers themselves.
Austin Smith was a medic with the Occupy since the night of the first eviction.
“[There were] a lot of the divides that were already on the street. People who use IV drugs versus people who don’t. People who’ve been sober versus people who aren’t. It’s very easy to kick the can down, ‘I’m better than this, I’m better than that,’” he said, referring to the hierarchies of dignity that divide the poor and troubled in Boston.
“But we managed to get away from that. Slowly, one person at a time, one step at a time, it was an ugly process…. It was a matter of certain people being assertive about not allowing certain language. Not throwing the word ‘junkie’ around all the time. Just checking people on the way that they were speaking.”
Occupations don’t come together because they are the best and brightest. Some of the best and brightest are there, but the camps are also full of the indigent, the addicted, the damaged, those forgotten by society. They come for food and safety, but they stay for the sense of agency. Everyone has a voice in the Occupy, anyone can speak up at the GA.
“I go back and forth, sometimes I just love it, it’s the most amazing place ever,” said Robin Jacks, one of the founders of Occupy Boston. “And then we’ll have times when no one is here, the only people here are the addicts that aren’t activists, and they just destroy things. To see something that I worked so hard on disrespected and used for something else is frustrating.”
A Temporary Restraining Order
Occupy Boston was the first camp to seek and get legal protection from a court that kept police at bay and let them develop an encampment that pointed to what the Occupy Movement may come to mean. It was as much a place where people groped for community as they spent time protesting for social and political change. In just over two months, the leaderless and inclusive Occupy became a new way of being in the world for its participants.
But on Dec. 7, Occupy Boston lost the restraining order that had been protecting them since Nov. 15, as the court ruled their protest encampment wasn’t protected by the First Amendment. They received their eviction notice the next day, with police coming through the camp and telling people they had until midnight to clear out.
Around a thousand people poured into the camp to support the Occupy, and midnight came and went with only an elevated police presence. Marching bands marched and people danced. Occupiers closed the adjacent street, and even put tents in it for a time, before returning to the park.
But many people packed up and left rather than face the inevitable. The pallet sidewalks were dismantled, then rebuilt by others. Their statue of Gandhi was moved around several times as people tried to find the best place for him to be when the police came. A moving van helped some of the occupiers move their precious things away. The remaining tents and their occupants pulled in tighter and they stayed closer in the cold Boston night, awaiting the inevitable, after the partiers had departed.
The nation’s other major encampments had already fallen to similar police evictions: from Oakland, Portland, and Los Angeles to Zuccotti in New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Many dozens of smaller camps remain around the United States, and two larger encampments still stand, preparing for the winter, in Washington, D.C.
But as winter deepens and evictions pile up, the Occupy Wall Street movement faces a dark season for discontent. And with the eviction of Boston, it lost one of its most vibrant outposts in America.