Occupy Boston and the last days in Dewey Square

10 Dec

This inaugural post for “99% Boston” coincides with the anniversary of Occupy Boston getting evicted from Dewey Square on December 10, 2011.  It was a Saturday morning.

Police place a protestor face-down on Atlantic Avenue before attaching plastic handcuffs and loading him into a transport vehicle.

Police place a protester face-down on Atlantic Avenue before attaching plastic handcuffs and loading him into a transport vehicle. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

Arrests began shortly after 5 am with almost three dozen activists who sat down in the area used for the General Assembly and locked their arms in defiance. Shortly before 5:40 am, police arrested five more men who placed themselves on the ground in front of a front-end loader parked on Atlantic Ave on the opposite side of Summer Street. Things were relatively calm from then until just after 6:30 am when four women bolted into the center of the intersection, sat down, and were arrested as well. A total of 46 arrests were reported, 32 men and 14 women, and many of them are my friends.

Occupy Boston was, by this time, the oldest standing Occupy encampment in the United States. I arrived at this tent city on its first day, September 30, 2011, and I’d been spending three to six nights a week with brief trips via the Red Line to Occupy Harvard when I longed for its higher degree of cleanliness, quiet and safety. While fully a part of the movement even to the extent of embracing its anarchist-derived emphasis on horizontalism, I was also a paid journalist writing for an online publication called “Blast Magazine” for which I eventually wrote about 40,000 words on Occupy Boston. This account of Occupy Boston’s last night in Dewey Square comes out of that experience.

Sinkgate

In mid-November, K. Eric Martin, Noah McKenna, Sasha Sagan and Jennie Seidewand sought an injunction against the city of Boston so Occupy Boston couldn’t be removed from Dewey Square.  Like all but the most routine matters we dealt with, their plan was a source of heated controversy.

Some felt that Occupy Boston should do nothing to acknowledge courts of law on the argument that they are corrupt part of a corrupt system approaching its twilight.  Other dissent settled around the fact certain individuals were stepping forward to do something in Occupy Boston’s name and that, to some, conflicted with the ideals of horizontalism.

Ultimately, as debated as the idea was, it couldn’t be denied that “respect for diversity of tactics” – an anarchist-derived notion officially embraced by the Occupy Boston General Assembly early on – meant that Martin, McKenna, Sagan and Seidewand could do whatever they want.  Their case went before a judge on December 1 and a temporary restraining order was granted.

That night, however, Boston Police showed their muscle by not allowing a plumbing fixture to enter Dewey Square.  There was a little tug-of-war action between cops and activists, and arrests were made.  The city is still prosecuting people on trumped up charges from this incident which was quickly deemed “Sinkgate.”

Injunction denied

The respite from worry about eviction lasted a week.  Then, shortly before 4 pm on Wednesday, December 7, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Frances McIntyre lifted the temporary restraining order protecting the Occupy Boston camp at Dewey Square from being raided or cleared out by the city.

In her decision she wrote, “Plaintiffs claim that their occupation of the site and the community they have established thereon are protected by the First Amendment. They seek a preliminary injunction against their removal by the defendants. But the injunction is denied because, while Occupy Boston protesters may be exercising their expressive rights during the protest, they have no privilege under the First Amendment to seize and hold the land on which they sit.”

Dot Joyce, spokesperson for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said, “We are pleased that there is a decision that appears favorable to the city and that gives the city clarity on this issue.”

Sage Radachowsky, an activist well-loved around Dewey Square, reacted saying, “I think this is underhanded. I think we can make ourselves safe if given time to do so. I don’t think they are letting us have the conversation with them that we need to have.” He also said that while he and others were rushing to Dewey Square, children were being removed from camp for their safety in case of a raid by the Boston Police.

This news came down while several dozen inhabitants of the Occupy Boston encampment were in Washington, DC attending the “Take Back The Capitol” march organized by labor unions. When told about the lifting of the injunction in Boston, Kiean Michael Lyons (one of three protestors arrested at the Burger King across from Trinity Church in Copley Plaza on November 5) commented via Facebook that “A few people from OB in DC are about to be arrested.” While only four of the sixty or more people arrested were from Occupy Boston, it still felt like we had divided our forces and some resented those who had gone the excitement of DC rather than staying to “guard the camp.”

Despite the rain, well over 100 activists gathered at Dewey Square for an emergency General Assembly of Occupy Boston at 7 pm that Wednesday night to discuss what to do now that the temporary restraining order protecting the camp from being raided or cleared out by the Boston Police Department was lifted.

With visibility blocked by umbrellas and cameras, the general mood of the assembly was one of excitement and resolve rather than panic. Many reported that connections within the Boston Police Department said that no raid would take place last tonight. Ben Wish, a lawyer for Occupy Boston speaking at the General Assembly, assured those assembled that no police action will be taken immediately. But others, especially non-locals, sent different reports. @RyanRiceLA, for example, tweeted “#OccupyBoston has SWAT staging 4 raid” and @Occupy_Police wrote “ALERT! Spec Ops Staging in BOSTON NOW!”

In the wake of the decision, a spokesperson for Mayor Thomas Menino’s office said:

 “We are pleased with Judge McIntyre’s strong decision to repeal the restraining order that prohibited the City of Boston from removing the Occupy Boston camp at Dewey Square. We applaud the judge for clearly recognizing the City’s authority to protect all of our residents, including those currently at Dewey Square. Our first priority has always been and will always be to ensure the public’s health and safety. As outlined in the court proceeding and affirmed in the judge’s ruling, the conditions at Dewey Square have deteriorated significantly and pose very real health and safety risks. The city strongly encourages the Occupy movement to abide by the Rose Kennedy Greenway regulations and remove their tents and refrain from camping in that area. Today’s decision provides clarity surrounding Occupy Boston’s status at Dewey Square and the city will act appropriately to fulfill our duty to preserve the public’s peace and safety.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the National Lawyers Guild-Massachusetts Chapter released a joint statement which said, in part:

 “We are disappointed with today’s decision and are reviewing the decision with our clients to determine all their options. The Occupy Boston community is making a significant contribution to national discussion of important issues – not merely through what protestors are saying, but their modeling of an alternative to what they see as imbalances and injustices in our society. Just because the court ruled today that the city can shut down the encampment at Dewey Square does not mean that it should. As city officials have repeatedly – and recently – stated, there is no immediate need to remove Occupy Boston from Dewey Square. If city officials decide, nonetheless, to do so, how they go about it also sends an important message. Occupy Boston has always been a peaceful political protest, aimed at drawing attention to the growing inequalities in our society. At a minimum, Boston city officials and the police must exercise restraint and respect with regard to the Occupy Movement and the concerned citizens it represents attention devoted to Occupy sites, and most articles, per journalistic custom, restate the Occupy position…With the exception of the heavy-handed removal of demonstrators from the Rose Kennedy Greenway early in the morning on Oct. 11, Boston has already become a model of respect for freedom of speech to other cities around the country, where Occupy encampments have been broken up with levels of force that have even shocked people who were not involved in the Occupy movement or sympathetic to its aims. Boston, as part of the long New England tradition of town meeting and grassroots democracy, has an important role to play again in how it responds to today’s decision. We believe that Boston can – and must – set an example for the entire nation in protecting the rights of Occupy Boston participants.”

Speaking at the rainy and muddy General Assembly, Occupy Boston lawyer Ben Wish said he would appeal Judge McIntyre’s decision in the morning. When he mentioned the possibility that Occupy Boston protest might move to the Harbor Islands – the only legal campground within city limits – the crowd responded with laughter. Jeff Fueur of the National Lawyers Guild, speaking at the same assembly, reiterated Wish’s belief that no raid will occur immediately.

Jay Kelly, principal maintainer of the Sign Tent at Occupy Boston explained, “I feel, personally, based on what the mayor has put out consistently, that they’re going to act within the near future to remove Occupy Boston from Dewey Square for violations that they won’t let Occupy Boston remedy.”

He added: “I feel this ruling is somewhat confusing in that the violence towards occupy seems to be the rational used to say that the ‘public’ doesn’t understand the message and that the police reaction is why she judges that Occupy Boston is not expressive speech. I also think the statement in ruling ‘There is scant evidence of how the occupation began’ is foolish due to the sheer number of media articles based in fact, reporting the entire occupation. I also feel that due to the Mayor, police superintendent, fire marshal, and code inspector all making statements about removing Occupy Boston have spoken for themselves regardless of the Mayor’s statement today that there is no plan in place to remove Occupy Boston.”

Dance party

The next 24-hours brought a new internal conflict to center stage.  Some, like Occupy Boston librarian and Safety Team member John Ford, argued that Occupy Boston should be pro-active in relocating and that it should endeavor to clean up after itself and leave Dewey Square, “better than we found it.”  Others thought they should entrench themselves to resist a police raid.

Some people tore down their tents. Some people tore down other people’s tents for reasons both well-meaning and vindictive.  A few people took to cannibalizing the remains of other structures to fortify their own sleeping spaces with layers of plywood and plastic.  By the Thursday night, the face of Occupy Boston’s tent city had changed.  There was more (what was left of the) lawn visible and several of the structures remaining looked braced for a siege.

Thursday night’s General Assembly was a volatile one.  Hundreds of people poured into Dewey Square to debate “should we stay or should we go?” or otherwise discuss what to do in the inevitable eventuality of a police raid.  Many of the people living at Dewey Square were homeless – some for years, some only since they left behind their old living arrangements to take part in the Occupy movement.  People asked “Where will they go? How will this community fulfill it’s obligation to them?” Temporary shelters and other stop gap solutions were investigated, but there were no easy answers.

Some people suggested Occupy Boston should go out on a joyous note, dancing in the streets.  Whether the ideal was originally sincere or factious, it grew.  By midnight there were about two thousand supporters converged on Dewey Square.  They came from all over New England and beyond.  There were people there I hadn’t seen since October 11, 2011 when police arrested 141 people after Occupy Boston tried to claim more territory.

Atlantic Avenue was shut down as thousands of people spilled off the sidewalk and into the streets. They cheered as the Veterans for Peace arrived with their flags waving.  A marching band played a rousing arrangement of Florence Reece’s 1930’s song of defiance, “Which side are you on?” over and over again.  Some folks were dressed in costumes.  A big, loud drum circle formed in the middle of Atlantic Avenue and the throng danced around it.

At some point, some people grabbed a few surviving tents (including mine), moved them to Atlantic Avenue, and set them up.  They stood for a while with people going in and out of them before the Boston Police took action.  A couple people were arrested when they hid in tents refusing to leave, but not even the blue lights of the police wagon hauling them away dampened the crowd’s enthusiasm.

The “Occupy Boston Dance Party” continued all night and into Friday morning.  When the cops re-opened Atlantic Ave for rush hour traffic, the drum circle moved adjacent to the Logistics Tent and continued it’s primitive noise as a bright sun rose to reveal that Occupy Boston’s thousands of supporters had left and the camp, itself, was half-gone.  A few reporters walked the now-wide spaces between tents, curious about the few people remaining.

Occupiers worked to tidy up Dewey Square, but large piles of debris remained.  “This is a waste of our time,” an occupier said as he worked to clear trash, “the cops and the city are going to come clean this up soon enough.”

Emotional denouement

The atmosphere Friday night was one of sentimental camaraderie and triumph with relatively few indications of sadness or anxiety about the looming eviction. There were only a few dozen people left, and many of them retreated into their tents early.  Among those remaining, people who customarily bumped fists exchanged hugs instead. Looking for words for what they were feeling, they talked about one another as “brothers” and “sisters.” It was mushy.

Around 1 am, a couple dozen people gathered in a circle on Dewey Square Plaza, the paved area just outside the entrance to Dewey Square Park. Not disturbed by the noise of heavy traffic or the din of a large crowd, they took turns speaking but didn’t need to rely upon the call and response of the people’s mic. The majority spoke in emotional terms about the transformative experience of being part of Occupy Boston for ten weeks and, in particular, about the friends they had made. Many said that the movement would outlive the encampment but no one dwelt on that point. It was, by this time, a common understanding that no one in Occupy Boston openly voiced doubts about.

01-bill-the-medic

With tense anticipation in the air, Bill the Medic lightened the mood of both police and protestors with a hand-made sign

Bill, an amiable member of the Medic Team popular with both protesters and police, approached the circle wearing his familiar blue vest with reflective patches and the letters “EMT” on the back. In one hand, he held a cigarette and a can of orange soda, in the other hand, a sign saying “medics want to go home / please start the raid.” His snowy-white goatee framed a grin. Pointing towards his sign, he made patrolmen smile, too, by kidding them about not doing their jobs. Protesters also chuckled at his sign, one murmuring to a comrade “Seriously. The wait is worse than anything.”

Balloongate

A while later, some people began unfolding a huge, sack of parachute material they had somehow smuggled into camp. This tent-like structure was designed to be held up by wind, but they didn’t have success in erecting it in the General Assembly area. Patrolmen told them to end their efforts, but they didn’t speak with convincing authority or urgency. Gently teasing the cops, protesters joked about “balloongate” as a reference to the more tense and serious “sinkgate” incident of December 1 when police seized a sink and arrests were made.

Playfully defying the police still further, people grabbed the fabric and ran down the gravel path (briefly labeled “Sacco and Vanzetti Avenue” in mid-October but more recently adorned with a sturdy wooden signpost reading “Thoreau-fair St.”) until the light material caught enough breeze to partially inflate. A group of friends entered it, playfully laughing and joking about “occupy the balloon.” Police let them have some fun before insisting it be rolled back up because no new structures were being allowed.

Jacks attacked

The arrest of this man accused of striking a female activist in the face spurred a round of jests about how "white guys in suits" should be profiled as dangerous individuals.

The arrest of this man accused of striking a female activist in the face spurred a round of jests about how “white guys in suits” should be profiled as dangerous individuals. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

A while later, shouts were heard from Atlantic Avenue and dozens of people on camp ran to investigate. But instead of discovering that the raid had begun, they found police arresting a man in a white shirt and suit coat alleged to have followed, insulted and assaulted Robin Jacks — also known as @caulkthewagon, prominent representative of what was once jokingly called the “Twitter Working Group.” After the man was arrested, Jacks hugged Detective Sergeant Jim O’Connor (a familiar plainclothes officer who had recently added a “I am the 99 percent” button to his outerwear) in gratitude.

When Jacks told her tale of ordeal to fellow activists and asked for a “temperature check” on the Boston Police, she received a positive consensus of “twinkle fingers” (the same hands-up, finger wiggling gesture used in American Sign Language to indicate applause) from the crowd. Elsewhere in camp, a stalwart who boasted about defending his tent (but ended up fleeing anyway when police arrived) had erected a small sign saying “no pigs allowed.” Reaction to it was primarily negative.

Police move in

As it got close to 5 am, few thought a raid was imminent and most expected the raid wouldn’t happen until Sunday morning. Robin Jacks, sharing her thoughts about the situation, said “It’s been a waiting game, not really knowing what’s happening. Seeing a lot of people here. That’s good. I mean, for an overnight, this is a lot of people, especially people who are out and active and not just people sleeping. Usually if you were to come here at this point on a Friday night, It’d be dead. Just Safety would be out. So, it’s been nice…[seeing] people I haven’t seen in a while. It’s been nice. I might go home and get some Z’s in like 15 minutes.”

Holding an icepack to her face, she then described how she was attacked earlier in the night but was interrupted by the calm voice of her girlfriend, Meghann Sheridan, saying, “Robin, it’s happening” and the raspy voice of Alex “Troll” De Luca shouting “form up!” a split second later. Her head turning, Jacks said “shit” as she ran to see dozens of police vehicles — including prisoner transport vehicles and the white vans of the Special Operations Unit — coming down Atlantic Avenue.

Police, mostly in yellow vests or coats, lined up along Atlantic Ave spacing themselves at arms’ length away from one another as both similarly-dressed patrolmen and black-garbed Special Ops police approached from Summer Street. Soon Captain Bernard O’Rourke, the tall and stern-faced head of District A-1 who has been present at most of Occupy Boston’s marches and direct actions, walked through the camp with a megaphone, sometimes stopping to point it at a tent while saying, “Good morning. This is the Boston Police Department. You are trespassing on Greenway property. If you do not leave the park you will be subject to arrest.”

O’Rourke didn’t respond when a male voice coming from a tent asked how long would be given to collect his belongings but rather continued walking, repeating the above message, and adding, “Please leave the park in the direction of Summer Street and South Station.” Approaching the Medical Tent, O’Rourke gave his direction, “…leave in the direction of South Station, towards Summer Street, please,” without electronic amplification.

Walking along the path of what had been called “Main Street,” O’Rourke resumed his use of the megaphone while adding “…take your property with you” to his message. As a confused camper exited his camp O’Rourke pointed and said, “Go out towards South Station. You don’t want to be arrested.” Lifting the megaphone again, he urged haste saying “Let’s go, guys. Let’s go, gents. Head towards South Station, you won’t be arrested. Head towards South Station, you will not be arrested. Let’s go.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-o2-Dm2FVXY

The Stand-off

Then, coming from the North side of the park, came the call-and-response of the people’s mic and the defiant Occupy chant, “Show me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like!” The noise was originating from the General Assembly area where the occupation had held its horizontally democratic meetings — many long and fairly boring, others long and filled with drama too overblown for film or stage. Now, some three dozen activist sat, facing Atlantic Avenue, on the zigzag paving stones. They locked arms, a gesture understood by many to invite a charge of unlawful assembly or, even, resisting arrest.

When asked what would happen to their remaining tents and other property, Superintendent William Evans — the small-built police official who had walked through Dewey Square building relationships with protesters almost daily — answered them through a megaphone saying, “We’re going to throw it away…unfortunately…so if you have property, if you have valuables, anything that might disappear, please get it….we don’t want confrontation.”

John Ford questioned Evans further. Ford, with auburn sideburns and military surplus clothing, is the ever-impassioned “library guy” and “safety guy” whose larger-than-life personality caused a writer for “The Nation” to say, “it’s clear that he’s the de facto leader of Occupy Boston.” This statement ruffled many feathers among the devoutly leaderless occupiers of Dewey Square. Ford’s too. But it didn’t cost him any respect among the many people who rely upon his help, council and ability to, as he puts in, “to do things that need to be done. It’s not that hard. Fuck.”

Ford – who fought at Thursday’s General Assembly for the idea that Occupy Boston might leave the park better than it was found – asked Evans to give occupiers until morning to clean the camp themselves if they promised to leave. “We’ve given you two days to get your stuff out, John,” Evans replied, “No, John, We’ve given you two days. Alright? You had plenty of time. You work with us; I know you tried to help. But people have chosen to stay. If that’s what their choice is, unfortunately…”

Interrupted by Ford’s insistent pleas, Evan’s amplified voice stammered saying, “you guys…want to get arrested. We’re doing this nicely as possible, Alright? Please. We don’t want to have to force on anyone or anyone hurt. Alright? We’re gonna use as least force as we have to. Alright? So please. Go easily, if you can.”

Behind this scene, among the many police assembled, a protester stood with a wooden sign that had been displayed prominently in Dewey Square since early October. Its square, black letters on a white background spelled out a phrase used by many occupiers with military or law enforcement experience. It read, “I took an oath to defend the Constitution / So here I am!”

Parting mic checks

Defiantly seated in the same area that Occupy Boston held its General Assemblies, these activists mic checked various messages before being arrested.

Defiantly seated in the same area that Occupy Boston held its General Assemblies, these activists mic checked various messages before being arrested. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

Waiting for arrest, a male occupier shouted for and got the people’s mic. He then yelled, “the officers…are enforcing…the law…in the past…people have…stood up against…laws…so their voice…could be heard…It’s sad…that this…is what it took…for us…to get our voice…but now…we have a voice…and we’re not going to…shut up…we are relevant…listen to us!”

Seconds later, Allison Nevitt mic checked saying, “we have a right…to assemble…it is not up to them…to tell us when…to stop assembling!” Another male voice, mic checking as well, complained that the press had been pushed too far back to record what transpired. A fourth voice, belonging to a person holding a camera and weaving between the police, assured his comrades that the live stream was broadcasting it and had thousand of viewers. Someone yelled, happily, “Thank you, Internet!”

Ford spoke again, standing, mic checking, and calling to his fellows “I am now…going to protest…[using] my individual right here…to not give them my [bail?] money…I have given you my sweat…my blood…my tears…my advice…but I will not give you any here…that’s what I will say…’you will not get another dime from me today’…but I’m right here.” He walked away down Atlantic Avenue, head characteristically bowed, fists characteristically clenched. It looked like he was leaving but returned after passing his car keys off to Robin Jacks and was arrested along with his comrades.

Al Suarez, an activist who had joined Occupy Boston after the Occupy Burlington encampment was leveled by police, had rushed back from the “Take Back the Capitol” action in Washington, DC when he heard Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s ominous words about a midnight Thursday deadline. Suarez mic checked, “I’d like to give a shout out…to Occupy Vermont…we were shut down then…this time…I’m ready to be arrested…for my country…and for the future of this country…for all of our children.”

Another man, indicating that many occupiers called Dewey Square home and had no where else to go to, mic checked, “how do you think…Menino would feel…if we took his home…out from under his feet…and threw all his things away?…He’d sing a whole different song!”

Jose Wiley, a sometimes member of the Safety Team evicted from a different area of the camp, was dragged out as he swore and complained about not being able to put on his shoes before arrest.

Jose Wiley, a sometimes member of the Safety Team evicted from a different area of the camp, was dragged out as he swore and complained about not being able to put on his shoes before arrest. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

Air Force vet Alex Ingram yelled his mic check so loud it forced the molassasy twang from his Georgia accent as he declared, “We are all witnesses…we were witnesses when…they were taking homes…we were witnesses when…the financial system collapsed…we were witness when…we watched other Occupys across the country…taken down one by one…and tonight…we are witnesses…to solidarity…as long as our eyes and ears are open…we will be a witness…to the good…and the evil…through all the world.”

Allison Nevitt mic checked again, her voice possessing less volume but no less message than her male comrades as she declared, “what does…President Obama…have to say…about the over 4,000…arrests of…peaceful assembly…in the United States…when he encouraged…assembly in…Tahrir…Hamas, Syria…Bahrain…Yemen…Tunisia…and Libya…why are they…getting more support from him…than we are?”

Arrests and dismantling of the camp

Their combined voices booming, the demonstrators call-and-response chanted “from Mattapan to Allston…Occupy Boston!” again and again as sanitation workers and police began dismantling tents and throwing them into a garbage truck. Arriving on site, Commissioner Ed Davis told reporters “…just some arrests being made, that’s all” and wouldn’t say much else.

The flag on the left was added to this display by Sgt. Robert Merner, Boston Police officer who rescued if after it had fallen on muddy ground in a different area of Dewey Square.

The flag on the left was added to this display by Sgt. Robert Merner, Boston Police officer who rescued if after it had fallen on muddy ground in a different area of Dewey Square. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

Among these uniformed men and woman was Sgt. Robert Merner, an officer with a shaved head who was around Dewey Square all the time for the first month and a half or so of the occupation. Merner took a small flag that had fallen off a tent and carried it over to where the fire extinguisher near the sign tent once rested. He planted the flag at eye level, displaying it next to an identical one atop a sign reading “Occupy is the highest form of patriotism.” But this tableau, too, eventually made it into the trash truck. Whether the flags were ultimately rescued or just tossed in with the rest isn’t known.

As press was lined up on Atlantic Avenue waiting for those arrested to be filed past their cameras, some occupiers felt it was the bankers, not the people protesting corruption, who deserved a perp walk. “We are not here,” said the people’s mic, “for a publicity stunt…we are here…to voice our voices!” Perhaps in reaction to this, or perhaps as part of a plan to avoid media scrutiny, the police backed their transport vehicles into the General Assembly area, loaded them with hand-tied protesters, then drove them away.

Thirty minutes after the first bout of arrests, Police began arresting a group of five man who planted themselves in the path of a front end loader parked on Atlantic Avenue.

Thirty minutes after the first bout of arrests, Police began arresting a group of five people who planted themselves in the path of a front end loader parked on Atlantic Avenue. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

By 5:40 am, five men sat in front of a front-end loader parked on the street across from South Station and refused to move. They locked arms. Officers used flashlights aimed at people at on the sidewalk in an unsuccessful attempt to hinder observation and photography.

As the police pried the protesters apart they seemed to honor one protester’s request to “please be gentle.”

“You shouldn’t resist, because that’s going to be an additional charge, now, for resisting arrest, which means you will not be bailed out, sir,” a police officer explained, “don’t resist arrest, that’s it. You can lay down, that’s fine, but don’t resist.” One young man, before being taken under arrest, was allowed to pass his backpack to a friend. After several minutes of what looked like careful effort on the part of the police, all four men were handcuffed and placed in wagons.

Press Conference

Speaking at a brief press conference around 6 am, Evans said, “…this morning, we moved into the operation here at Occupy Boston. As we moved in the protesters were sitting down, not putting up much of a fight. We ended up arresting several dozen at this time. Our operational basic plan was very orderly, very methodical. Nobody was injured. And there was no confrontation whatsoever. The several dozen that we arrested we charged with trespassing after we’d given several warnings to leave the premises before they were arrested. There were several also arrested for locking arms and resisting arrest; so we don’t have the exact number, but several dozen, again, after repeated announcements over the loudspeakers to leave or they would be arrested. They wanted to get arrested. It went very well and we’re very happy with the operation.”

 “Occupy will never die”

Just when it seemed no more arrests would be made, these four women bolted into the middle of the intersection of Summer Street and Atlantic Ave and sat down until police took them away as well.

Just when it seemed no more arrests would be made, these four women bolted into the middle of the intersection of Summer Street and Atlantic Ave and sat down until police took them away as well. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

Directly in front of South Station, a half hour after Evans gave a press conference that seemed to indicate arrests were over or the morning, more were made. Ridgely Fuller, an activist with a generation more experience than many of her comrades, joined hands with two other women and lead them past the curb while pausing to decide “what is our chant?” A moment later, the trio skipped into the intersection singing, “Evict us? We’ll multiply; Occupy will never die!” before being joined by Rita Sebastian, an activist whose smiling face would often be seen in the vicinity of the Info Tent. The quartet was soon cuffed, arrested, and taken away by police.

Everyone is a human being

Sage Radachowsky, known in the camp for dispensing enough wisdom to justify his first name, reported in an Ideas Working Group email, “In the early morning raid, one police woman was crying and yelled ‘They are humans too!’ This shows that she recognized so strongly our humanity that she would risk her reputation to say something out of order. Also, shows that she is a human being who cares enough about us to do something at risk of her own position.”

Confirming the report of this emotional display, @Occupocalypse tweeted, “I witnessed the female officer crying. The male cops around her did NOT yell or berate her. They were trying to cheer her up…Reason I clarify this about the crying female cop. Cops do enough shitty things on their own, we don’t need to make things up.”

Summing up his reflections on the totality of events, Radachowsky wrote, “We won respect, of the public, of the police, of the mayor, but mostly of the public. We gained legitimacy. We showed respect and hard work. We showed that we are nonviolent. We showed what we care about. We showed that everyone is a human being.”

“The protesters are human, and us not being officious all the time is important,’’ Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said at a press conference later in the day, “You can get caught up in the legalistic parts, but it’s important to be reasonable.’’

Criticism of the police

Steve Anderson, Director of Park Operations for the Greenway (in green coat) talks with Captain Bernard O'Rourke as workers move quickly to clean the area where Occupy Boston had been encamped just hours earlier.

Steve Anderson, Director of Park Operations for the Greenway (in green coat) talks with Captain Bernard O’Rourke as workers move quickly to clean the area where Occupy Boston had been encamped just hours earlier. Photo by John Stephen Dwyer.

Despite all the indications of goodwill described by some, not all reports of police behavior were rosy. Noah McKenna, one of the plaintiffs on the court case Judge Frances McIntyre ruled against on December 7, was photographed by the Boston Globe being hauled away with a grimace of extreme pain caused by the way he was bound. @Caulkthewagon tweeted about “Noah describing that he got one of the rare officers who wanted to inflict pain. I witnessed & LT’ed this. Will continue to witness for him.”

The Boston Phoenix’s Chris Faraone, himself having grown intimate with some of Occupy Boston’s core people over the past two months, tweeted a picture of the bandaged hand of a masked male said to have been injured during the raid. While injuries seem to have been few, and minor, many dislike that legal observers and the camp’s medics were forced out of the park while the arrests were made.

Numerous journalists and members of the Occupy Boston Media Team took umbrage at what they saw as police efforts to stop them from making record of the morning’s events. The statement that appeared in OccupyBoston.org summed up these complaints: “Credentialed press, citizen journalists, academic researchers, and #OccupyBoston media members were repeatedly corralled and moved to surrounding areas 50 feet away or more, prohibiting many from thoroughly covering the raid. From pointing lights in photographers’ lenses to targeting the two official #OccupyBoston USTREAM live videographers for removal, officials went to great lengths to block media access.”

Before she joined three other women in the intersection and subsequently got arrested, Rita Sebastian complained that while she was being removed from the park, her breasts were touched by a police officer with no visible badge. She also said that specific police officers had refused to identify themselves as they are required, a concern voiced by other people on the scene as well.

Radachowsky, writing about some of the negative reports from the morning, opined, “Some police covered their badge numbers with black tape. This is the ‘black block’ of the police. I don’t think we should decry this. I think we should honor this, as it shows the rebellious spirit of some of the police, their willingness to ‘do what needs to be done’ on the same level as our own Direct Action.”

He added, “There were specific instances of brutality, and we may learn more soon, but we should not let that overshadow the big picture. The big picture is that we built relationships that are very powerful, and included those in power as human beings, into the task of changing the world. This does not mean that we endorse those in power, but we are changing the power landscape fundamentally. This is a huge win for us. We have gained power that we can use wisely going forward.”

Much-needed light

Later Saturday, joining Davis at the police headquarters for a press conference, Menino thanked the Occupy Boston demonstrators for their cooperation during the raid and, in a way, for occupying Dewey Square until police removed them. According to Menino, the protest “…shined a much-needed light, still needed, on the growing economic inequality in this country.”

While words of support are appreciated by many activists, many said Menino still doesn’t “get” the nature of the Occupy movement and why the leaderless, directly-democratic model it functions by is, perhaps, it’s greatest strength.  “If they had leadership and an issue,” said Menino later, “they could be the most powerful group in America.”

Evans, speaking in the lobby of HQ, discussed the strategies adopted by the BPD saying “Our motto is to ‘kill them with kindness’…You can talk your way out of anything. We don’t need sticks out. We don’t need helmets on…We didn’t want it looking like the cavalry was coming in.” Evans also described a last minute effort to leave a specific protester — a long-haired young man with bold ideas for targeted civil disobedience — behind. “I said, ‘Duncan, come on, don’t go. Let me get the cuffs off.’ But he wanted to be arrested.” After the commotion had cleared, Evans called Rachel Plattus, one of the activists with whom he had exchanged phone numbers weeks before, and explained, almost apologetically, “I had to do it.”

There are, of course, those protesters who are still venting their anger at either the actions of individual police or, in rarer cases, the fact that police exist at all.  Many say that Boston, called “the birthplace of American dissent” by some, should have allowed the occupation of Dewey Square indefinitely.

But seen in the context of the brutal American autumn that birthed the meme of the “Pepper Spray Cop,” it’s undeniable that, no matter how one sees the substance behind events that transpired in Massachusetts, they took a remarkably different form than events in New York, California, Colorado and elsewhere.

Nelson Terry, an occupier who was in Zuccotti Park on day one of Occupy Wall Street and helped set Occupy Boston in motion, opined that the BPD’s “kill them with kindness” strategy had worked to effectively move public opinion in favor of “the evil machine” rather than those who opposed it.

A wandering tribe

The effort to secure indoor meeting spaces and other accommodations began over a month before the raid. This wasn’t just a contingency plan in case of raid; anticipation of bad winter weather was also a factor. But this endeavor has only been partially successful, and Occupy Boston soon became a wandering tribe of individuals and small groups of people spread out across Greater Boston.

Problems this creates were demonstrated Saturday morning just hours after the raid when a gang of over a dozen uniformed Transit Police confronted a group of displaced occupiers drinking coffee at a table in South Station. They group was told to leave the property because, in the words of one officer, “You’ve been here over an hour and a half.” When one women noted that she had arrived less than 15 minutes earlier, the officer said, “Yes, but the group you’re with has been here longer” and indicated that she, too, was therefore unwelcome.

Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild were present and confronted the Transit Police. When the police tried to make the length of time since purchase of food or beverage the crux of the issue, one of the lawyers (half of a set of twins familiar to many in Occupy Boston since October 10 when the encampment tried to expand along the Greenway) offered to buy everyone coffee. When the cops said people needed to be commuters if they wanted to eat and drink in the station, the lawyers noted “you’re only kicking out the occupiers” and asked the officers if they’d be confronting every person in the station about their ticket-holding status.

In response to a police officer making vague points about station policy, the lawyers demanded to see record of this policy. The lawyers then located a large list of rules and regulations posted outside the restrooms, but the document made no mention of the length of time people were allowed to stay in the station, or whether the purchase of tickets or food items was a factor. When the police accused the occupiers of loitering, the lawyers told them that there was no law against loitering in Massachusetts and added, “there used to be, but it was struck down as unconstitutional.”

When I asked them if their show of police force was a coincidence that “has nothing to do with these people’s affiliation” with Occupy Boston, the Transit officer answering questions maintained that it was coincidental and just part of an effort to “keep the station…we have a real problem with homeless people and everyone else.” When the conversation ended, however, police backed down and allowed occupiers (and everyone else) to stay.

Boston Common

Following a long standing plan, occupiers held a 7 pm post-raid General Assembly at the bandstand on Boston Common. Police presence — perhaps in anticipation of an attempt to occupy the area with tents — was considerable. Confrontation about small matters such as where signs could be placed seemed to work against the goodwill efforts made by Evans and other police officials.

Called Occupy Boston’s “biggest GA ever,” it was characterized — like Occupy Boston itself — by tension between different priorities. Some wanted to dwell on the arrests and tell their stories from that morning. Others wanted to address the issue of Occupy Boston’s displaced homeless population and the fact that well-intentioned efforts to provide them care and shelter hadn’t totally succeeded. There was also the weighty matter of how Occupy Boston’s various working groups could successfully move forward and perhaps gain, rather than lose, momentum in the wake of the raids.

But police were determined to enforce a 10 pm curfew on the assembly. For some protesters, the idea of being kicked out of the Boston Common (the first stop on the city’s historical Freedom Trail) seemed like a particularity outrageous infringement on free speech and the right to lawful assembly. Despite their indignation, people were cold, exhausted, and drained by a long week of turmoil. Understanding the difference between choosing one’s battles and abandoning a struggle, people dispersed to strategize elsewhere or just to get some much-needed rest.

Epilogue

Most of this text was written last year, hours after the final raid.  Some of the people mentioned here have remained prominent within Occupy Boston through their involvement with Occupy Boston Radio, Occupy MBTA, and other projects.  Others have put their energy into good works  such as “Clean up BPPA” that don’t use the handle “Occupy” but have obvious connections.  Some have assumed a lower profile, and at least one person mentioned above has become notorious for erratic behavior within Occupy Boston and other “Occupys.”

I hope people like the particular slice of history presented in this post. There are many more videos of our last night in Dewey Square posted here.

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7 Responses to “Occupy Boston and the last days in Dewey Square”

  1. KC December 10, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    As one of the women arrested at the intersection, I wholeheartedly appreciate the accuracy of this “inaugural post.” Reading this made me relive the entire night leading up to my arrest and I just want to thank the Author for such a beautiful anniversary tribute.

    “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”

  2. Jason Evan Iarossi (@Jason_E_Iarossi) December 18, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Excellent account of the last day. Thanks for writing it.

  3. Jason Evan Iarossi (@Jason_E_Iarossi) December 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Also, I would like to add that Occupy will Rise up once again!!! It may not be called “occupy” but rest assured that, like the Phoenix who arose from the ashes, We will Return!!!!

  4. Donald Hassig December 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    I am hopeful that Americans will continue to resist the corporate/government culture people who now control our country. For honor, for love, for goodness, for justice, for fairness, for protection of the Earth, and for protection of the public health those of us who are good must take action to bring an end to the rein of the evil ones. Viva the Revolution!!!

  5. Darla April 19, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Very nice article. I absolutely appreciate this site.
    Keep it up!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Occupy Boston and the last days in Dewey Square « 99% Boston - December 10, 2012

    […] Occupy Boston and the last days in Dewey Square. […]

  2. Charges against Occupy Boston have been dropped. So why aren’t we celebrating? « 99% Boston - February 8, 2013

    […] I thought it was time to celebrate.  I was there at the Boston Police raids in October 2011 and December 2011.  I’ve seen how looming legal action has taken its toll on good people from Occupy Boston.  […]

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