I see them every day when I cycle to work, the squad of tents nested snug to the
ventilation shaft that exhausts the highway buried beneath the city. The round canvas domes with tarped doors faced off against the Federal Reserve Building, that towering aluminum behemoth with
two clunky legs that might have been the original inspiration for Transformers. The tents are dense packed; the city keeps the squatters’ stake small. Police loiter about in clumps chatting with one another, paid special duty time to keep the 99% who are by now overtired and smelly from tent living from the other 99% of us, fresh showered office workers scurrying to their cubicles.
The Occupy Boston camp is littered with signs. Thumbs up to peace, justice, and cooperatives, vets, teachers and workers; thumbs down to war, corruption and capitalism; generals, tycoons and banks. The graphic designer in me is appalled; the signs are jagged, soggy, too small to read from the street. But they are urgent, as if the issues scrawled on them might be eclipsed by some greater tragedy during the time it takes to craft careful block letters.
There are few people out and about the campground at 8:00 am. I imagine they are all still in their tents; unlike me they don’t have to go to work. Then again, they are already at work, full time witnesses to the chaos of our financial system. A system that is
supposed to help people achieve their aspirations but has been coopted into a self-serving profit center that rakes in income like dry leaves in autumn but when winter comes and the trees go bare and overextended loans collapse they clamor for handouts with more audacity than any Pine Street Inn beggar would dare muster. Men in suits are self-confident and entitled.
What do these people want? That is the question on the face of the workers heeling their way from South Station to the Financial District. Their demands are not clear, their message is not clear. Actually, they don’t even have demands, at least ones we can grasp.
We can envision “Free Attica Seven’ and maybe even ‘Out of Iran’, but none of us can imagine what ‘End the Fed’ would look like.
I think Occupy Boston wants two things.
First, they want to make us think. I like that they do not have a pat list of demands. They are coughing up complicated problems that we created over decades and will not resolve easily. By being non-hierarchical Occupy Boston avoids being simplistic. If you want simple answers, watch a Republican presidential debate. If you want a complex picture of the mess we are in, settle down at the camp shadowed by the Fed.
Second they want to make us uncomfortable. Every morning when I ride by I think, why I am here, on the employee side of the police line instead of on the camp side? I will not cross over, I don’t have that much activism in my blood, but I appreciate that they make me confront that slack in my character. When the morning is dry and warm I think they have it all over me, when it rained in sheets overnight, I feel sorry for their wet bodies. It is impossible to pass Occupy Boston without acknowledging it, without considering problems we are inclined to ignore.
What is the future of Occupy Boston? Winter is coming and the cold will force its death. Does it have the persistence of a perennial to pop up again next spring or are the cluster of tents just fall mums? We don’t know, and that uncertainly it part of the camp’s vitality. Two months ago no one could have foreseen how Occupy Wall Street would spread, would thrive, would capture the media interest it has garnered. It is like we have been hungry for a good old fashioned protest and so have heaped attention on this action.
I have no idea how Occupy Boston will affect change, and neither do the folks in the tents. But I do know that the camp is a living, breathing, public testament to the reality that things are rotten
in the State of the United States for too many people and that we have to change course. The how and when will happen later, by others, but for now Occupy Boston and Denver and LA and Wall
Street and even Akron are infecting our consciousness and even if there is not yet a tent city in every town across America, they are sowing seeds in our minds from coast to coast.
Will we actually face what we’ve become and form enough of a voice to really, truly change? Power is so entrenched in government (supposedly us), lobbyists, and corporations. Although I’ve participated in, even lead, peace and justice actions, I haven’t become actively involved in the Occupy movement, other than doing a lot of reading, sharing, and posting on Facebook. Teaching fourth grade in public school and restoring myself after divorce are full-time jobs for me, but I believe the United States cannot continue on this path and stay true to being a “shining city on a hill”. I look at some of the models in the Scandinavian countries and ponder whether we can begin, at least incrementally, to adopt some of their enlightened ideas, such as publicly-funded child care and early childhood education, single-payer healthcare, more equitable and respectful education and employment…As is said: “may you live in interesting times” – curse, or blessing?