Occupy Boston: The roots of peaceful protest

Video of interviews taken on September 30, 2011

On October 9. 2011, this picture-perfect Boston day, I took a walk over to a part of Boston called Dewey Square. On September 30, 2011, this little section of Boston located between the Federal Reserve Building and the Financial District became the home of a protest movement called Occupy Boston. This movement is associated but separate from the one in NYC known as Occupy Wall Street.

My only exposure to this movement was only through some press coverage in the Boston area. The interpretation that I was left with from the press is that these were a bunch of people that didn’t know how to organize of have a real agenda. I decided to find out for myself.

As you approach this meridian patch of land nestled between two main roads, it looks like the local EMS is having an outdoor tent sale. As you get closer the people come in focus, then the signs. It really is a hodgepodge of both people and messages on the signs. As I approached this urban campsite, there were spectators, “residents” and skateboarders in the mix. I was struck by hand made signs that adorned different tents. “Library”, “Sacred Space”, “Students” and of course an “Info” were the first tents I saw.

Once entering this dense collection of tents, I was struck by how organized it actually felt. There was a main path with tents and a swarm of meanderers on either side of me. I passed the food tent that was offering free food to anyone that asked. I then made my way to the “Media” tent and spoke to a few people there. It was amazing to see how connected this media tent was. Computers with social media publishing tools, some video being watched and some sound equipment accented the hum of organized chaos. You could feel the energy that people had. They were part of something bigger than themselves and they were all in!

I continued my own walkabout to discover a fair amount of young adults that dressed and smelled like many of the people that followed the Grateful Dead. While I never toured with the Grateful Dead, I did have my share of Grateful Dead experiences. However, there was one distinct smell that made it unlike a Grateful Dead show, or should I say the lack of one… pot. There was no Mary Jane adding to the experience here. Bravo for to the organizers for taking that out of the mix. Clearly some things have changed since the time of the Dead shows.

As I walked to the other entrance/exit of this mini tent city, I saw a motorcycle with a Ron Paul sticker. A young man who looked to be about 20 was holding a sign that said “End the Federal Reserve”. To be fair, he was clearly part of the Ron Paul folks there. You gotta love the Ron Paul movement, they leverage any opportunity to get their message across. Having not done a podcast with Jeff in over two months, I was itching for a good political debate. Now was my chance. End the Fed, I thought, putty in my hands.

I approached this young adult with a smile and a question “Why do you want to end the Federal Reserve?”. His answer was filled with passion, if not anything else. “Because they caused all the problems with this economy,” he said. I responded, “Can you give me an example of how they have caused this economic downturn?” Clearly struggling with an answer, he grabs his friend next to him and says, “This guy wants to know why we should end the Fed.” His friend laughs and says, “It’s all you man. You are holding that sign, not me.” While I was disappointed that I was not going to get my debate, it did emphasize something that struck me about the Occupy movement in general, they are a protest, not a solution.

This is where the press does the movement a dis-service. They are treated harshly because they don’t have a 50 pont plan to solve the economy. They are taken lightly that they can’t articulate the specific causes for the economic turmoil that we face. However, they don’t need to. At least not now. The movement needs only to maintain the vigil. This allows the conversation to be changed. It allows the conversation to not be about the wars. It need not be about how taxes can’t be raised under any condition. It IS about how people are hurting, how they are frustrated and how they feel left out of the American Dream.

I am one who prefers to debate the issues with facts and come to a conclusion on what direction we should go. This, however, is a peaceful protest that has social media savvy. As these disparate Occupy groups come together using the very social media tools that have a business model of high revenues and low numbers of employees, they also empower themselves with one of the most powerful and efficient ways to organize people and disseminate a message. If successful, these groups can tap into a generation that now finds itself in a world far less embracing than the virtual one they grew up with on XBox. If this generation mobilizes, it can have an unprecedented impact on both our political and economic environments. This could be the movement that dumps a different kind of TEA back into Boston Harbor.


2 responses to “Occupy Boston: The roots of peaceful protest

  1. I probably disagree with what a lot of the “solutions” that the occupiers would propose, but I stand up and cheer their constitutional right to do it.

    Where we do have middle ground, ironically is in the vain of libertarian thought. I too believe that Wall Street has run ammuck – however – it’s mostly the federal governments fault through a combination of over-regulation, bad regulation, and a desire to pick winners and loser. It’s bastardized capitalism and it creates what we have today. Hybrid crony-capitalism without moral hazard.

    The kind and compassionate thing to do would have been to let the banks go under, let GM go under, let everyone get thrown out of their homes who cant afford their mortgage, and start the re-balance and the recovery. Instead, we’ve bailed the whole thing out, and we’ll be in a slow decline to a real bottom that will come 5-10 years from now as the feds manage the collapse of our economy over the next decade. It will be a soft landing, but we will be left with a mountain of debt that will lead the nation to 50%+ tax rates and eventual default 10-15 years down the road.

    Wars are bad – they piss people off who then attack us, and cause us to be less secure and more economically unstable.

    Safety Nets are Good – except when people become reliant on them and you borrow against the trust fund to buy other stuff. Unfortunately, ours our poorly designed and bankrupt. Must be reformed – which means cut.

    What do you do when you borrow 40 cents of every dollar you spend? I don’t think that everyone really gets that.

    When we buy a new tank to send to Iraq – we borrow 40% of the money

    When we send out a social security check, its 40% borrow money that we pay interest on.

    When senior citizens receive health-care, the feds pay that bill by borrowing 40% of the money

    Every dollar, every day, 40% borrowed with interest. Regardless of your political beliefs, you have to admit that’s bad.

    Our system needs re-invention, some call it revolution. Ironically, both the Tea Party and the “Occupiers” will help that cause. Again, as much as I would disagree with many of the solutions they would propose – deconstructing the current system is something we can agree on.

  2. While I haven’t experienced them personally as you have, I have read many of their demands published in various outlets. Like Jeff I was struck by the libertarian component and the fact that many of their demands were in line with Tea Party issues.

    What bothers me is that they are going about it the wrong way if they want to win people to their cause. Their actions are pissing off the people who might agree with them when they impede commerce, traffic, and leave a big mess for the city to clean up (and for taxpayers to pay for).

    I’m happy to hear that it’s not the hippie heaven that many who have only read about it and not experienced it seem to think, though I have seen many and heard other personal accounts that were a lot different — and not in a good way. But I do wonder what if anything these people do when they’re not camping out in the Greenway. Your experience that in truth they don’t really know why they’re there beyond the slogans is also unfortunate. They can’t be a force for change if they don’t understand the impact of their demands and can’t articulate the reason for their protest. That’s a shame.

    Until they can they’ll be little more than a brief story and won’t be an effective agent for change.

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