Oct. 10, Columbus Day, marked the Big Labor and Student Solidarity March, the largest Occupy Boston protest so far. Since Sept. 30, Boston-area residents have come together to protest in Dewey Square, acting in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. On Columbus Day, the number of participants in the march was estimated to be around 10,000, according to Nadeem A. Mazem ’06, an Occupy Boston spokesperson and MIT squash coach.
Val Healy ’14 describes Occupy Boston as a new type of protest that acknowledges “the issues that are affecting our country are complex and numerous‚ that marching for one specific thing really does not address the whole picture. Instead, what we are doing occupying, is building a community, educating each other, educating ourselves, educating the people around us about these issues‚ so that we don’t exclude each other from the revolution.”
Student groups joining the march were encouraged to meet at their respective schools before coming together on Boston Common at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon, leaving to join the other half of the protest at 3 p.m. in Dewey Square.
The two groups with the largest presence at Dewey Square were Veterans for Peace and Mass Uniting.
MIT Occupy Boston — an informal student group — was conceived on the night of Oct. 6 by MIT graduate student James E. White G. Spreading the news through his email list email@example.com, he received almost 20 RSVPs to the meeting; only four MIT students showed up to walk over to the protest, although others met them there, he said.
When the group arrived at the Charlestown Bridge, the police stopped them due to the concern that the bridge would buckle under the crowd’s weight. Mazem said that the group was able to discuss among itself the appropriate motion to take — avoiding the bridge. They came to consensus using the “people’s mic”: everyone repeats what they hear so that communications ripple throughout the crowd so everyone can hear what is said; then a vote amongst the crowd is taken.
When the crowds returned to Dewey Park after the march, the movement wanted to “expand and incorporate these people [the protesters] into the discussion about government and reforming the American financial system,” Mazem said. The crowd was too large to fit on the piece of land that they had originally occupied, so they decided to send a group across the street to another northern part of Dewey square.
The Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservatory, which manages and maintains the line of parks including Dewey Square, had previously been tolerant of the protesters. Although the protesters had not applied for or received permits for “any set up including but not limited to tables and chairs, tents, podiums or amplified sounds,” the Conservatory characterized the occupation in a press release as “cooperative with the Greenway Conservatory and the Boston Police Department.”
The Conservatory and police, however, said that they “have made it clear to the protesters that they could not expand to the areas of the Greenway beyond Dewey Square.” It was unclear if the Conservatory’s statements applied to the northern part of Dewey Square, but the police issued an ultimatum to be out by midnight. It was decided by consensus in a general assembly that the occupiers would continue to occupy both camps.
Healy was linking arms with other protesters around the original camp. Thirty police vehicles rolled in at once, in uniform and riot gear, ignoring the first camp as they surrounded the second camp, said Healy. From where Healy was sitting, the flags of Veterans for Peace could be seen falling as police knocked them down, he said.
According to White, the police used ziptie handcuffs on the protesters — including himself — and some protesters who fell on the ground were kicked or picked up by the handcuffs.
Mazem says the “way that [the police] conducted themselves [was] entirely inappropriate to the conductive and peaceful nature of the protest.” Videos of the arrests have been published online and depict police pulling up the protesters by the neck — something that White said was not nearly as bad as it looked.
Boston police maintain that their behavior was entirely appropriate and justified, and that officers are allowed to defend themselves if threatened in a crowd.
According to the Boston Police, 141 people were arrested at the protest. Boston Mayor Tom Menino called NECN’s The Morning Show to say that he “sympathize[s] with their issues, some of those issues we really have to look at in America, but when it comes to civil disobedience, I will not tolerate civil disobedience in the city of Boston. There are a lot of other people in the city who live here, and have to go about their daily chores, and I will not allow people to paralyze our city.”
Since the Columbus Day protest and arrests, Occupy Boston has continued, hosting another large student march this Saturday, from Dewey to Copley and back. They were chanting, “Off of the sidewalks and into the streets,” “Whose streets? Our streets,” “We are the 99 percent and so are you,” “There ain’t no power like the power of the people, cause the power of the people don’t stop,” and “The people, united, will never be defeated.” Police cleared roads of traffic prior to the marches.
Costas Boussios ME ’93 has found another way to contribute to the movement. Boussios is working on a social networking site to help citizens connect with political leaders in an efficient manner. The site, called “Citizen Compass,” is still in testing, but he worked at Occupy Boston on Saturday to encourage people to sign up for the beta version.