Monday, October 17, 2011

Visiting Occupy Boston

I had an appointment in Boston today so I stopped by Occupy Boston to take a look at what was going on. I'm sympathetic to a populist movement to reduce inequality and support election and financial reform which I thought is what the Occupy Wall Street movement was about. However I can't say I was impressed with what I saw at Occupy Boston.
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I was there for an hour in the late afternoon and for another hour in the evening and caught one of the General Assemblies, or at the least the first hour of it. I did experience the human microphone and that was interesting, it was also unnecessary as there was a real microphone with a large speaker that everyone could hear. Still some people refused to use it, or more oddly some just spoke next to the microphone and someone else repeated into the microphone. There were 100-200 people at the GA and it was slow going. They've created a process for "horizontal democracy" trying to let everyone have a say or I think more precisely, trying to not have any leaders. They even mentioned that some people instead of being called managers will be called monitors. Still in an hour I heard three or four short announcements (which all went too long) and got to one proposal which was to change their email host from gmail to something else and to use their own domain name. The IT working group made this proposal and then they were going to start 3-5 minute individual discussion with neighbors to then make clarifying questions, points of information, strong disagreements and strong approvals and finally amendments. The process was repeated a lot. You can see some of their process and working group process on their wiki, which at least for now is here, occupyboston.
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So I was pretty impressed with the camp. There are a lot of tents and many of them have purposes. I saw information tents, logistics tents, food tents, a pedal power generation tent, a media tent, a large food tent, a sign collection and a sign making tent. It's a pretty decent community.
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I talked at some length with two people. One has been there 11 days and planned to stay for the duration. He disliked both the Democrats and Republicans and wouldn't vote for either. I also got the corporations are not people speech and how corporations run everything and have the Democrats and Republicans in their pockets. He said he's been interviewed about 20 times and misquoted by Fox. He said he was there for Deval Patrick and wasn't impressed. I asked if Elizabeth Warren had been down and he said no, but she would be interesting. I didn't point out the obvious, that she's running as a Democrat.

The other guy I spoke to has been there 2 days. He was less animated and often took lengthy pauses. He liked the camp. He came with just his clothes and now has a place to sleep and plenty to eat. He feels safer here than he does at his home. I tried to find out his politics but there wasn't much there other than a vague point that America isn't as good anymore and kids have no discipline and only care about American Idol and fashion and in his day (he is 35) parents hit kids if they didn't behave and now if you try that they call social services. He has two kids but hasn't seen them in three years because he was in jail and the judge wants him to show that he has a stable home and car and job. He's unemployed but a mason by trade though he's serious hurt his back. He thought he'd only be able to find a $9/hour job at first but wondered about getting $26,000 in SSD (which I assume was Social Security Disability) and buying a 24' van and starting a moving company. He's against Obama because he doesn't listen to the average citizen, he'd rather have "Clinton or Reagan or Bush Sr."

The people "running" (my word, I'm sure they'd hate to be referred to as doing that) the General Assembly seemed to be in their early twenties and were obviously tech savvy. There were a fair number of people that I'd say were (at least close to) homeless just staying there. There are also homeless heroin addicts living in the Dewey Square and the camp is trying to coexist with them. They were shouting out things during the GA and a flyer was passed by me that says there was some violence in the camp where some masked Direct Action Committee members (I think that was it, it wasn't clear to me) forcibly removed someone from their tent in the middle of the night.

They do seem to be trying to educate themselves. I heard announcements about some people coming to teach about boycotting and forming unions. They have some professors scheduled to come down and talk. For what it's worth, Noam Chomsky is scheduled for Wednesday.

I asked at the logistics tent what donations would be useful. They said they always need blankets and that storage containers, particularly clear ones would be helpful. Also C and D batteries would help and other things like toothbrushes are always useful. Then again, one of the announcements I heard was that the Finance Support Logistics working group was going to put their raised funds into a credit union account. They've raise $30,000 so far and haven't decided what to do with it (that's the General Assembly's job).

If it sticks around, and I suspect it will, I'll try to go back and try to find more interesting people to talk to. The camp logistics were pretty impressive and they seemed to put a lot of effort into that. If they can do the same for a purpose, they might have something.


Irina said...

Very interesting! I just had lunch with a friend who lives across Boston Common. He can see all this circus from his windows and said that the majority of people have a distinct "low-life" look. Maybe Noam Chomsky can help them with the purpose thing. The man is unbelievable. Cambridge MA is probably the only place in the country which he can safely inhabit.

I love how you preserve the authenticity of speech.

The Dad said...

I wonder which will happen first...the movement develops a clear purpose or they all realize Boston is freaking cold in the winter. I really just don't understand where this is going. Maybe it's the project manager in me, but I could never be involved in something without a clear end game. Of course if that were true I would never have played Tails.

Nice review though...I think I learned more here than I did watching the news.

Btw side note, watched a rerun of Daily Show where part of his monologue as essentially an attempt t supporting the movement. Immediately after that was a plug that the Daily Show is sponsored by Bank of America. Found that amusing.

Howard said...

While talking to a friend I came to this conclusion, next time I will try to talk to people who have cell phones. :)

Irina, I'm not sure I understand what you mean by " preserve the authenticity of speech"?

The Dad, lots of things don't have distinct end games, unfortunately our current wars are an example. You're involved in your Temple, I think some of the protestors would view this similarly. FYI, I did see one tent that claimed to be a sukkah and was open to all. :)

Irina said...

Oh, I just meant that when you related the two life stories people shined through in a very realistic way.
If you were to tell the same stories in your own words it would come out in a more flowing and literary manner.
That's all.

Also rejoin The Dad in praise of the review. Better than NYT or BG.

Howard said...

Thanks. Next time I'll take notes and try to get some quotes. This was all from memory.