Bernie Buckley, 63, came from Clinton to join the protest. Like many involved with Occupy Boston, he’s a commuter protesting on Dewey Square during much of the day but sleeping in his own bed at night. He says he’s involved “because the multinational corporations are controlling more and more, and Congress isn’t being held responsible to the people.”
In his opinion, “the whole system needs to change…a few crumbs will not really change anything if we are dependent on (the corporations’) mercy.” Despite this, he soon admitted, “I don’t think we will have what people were striving for in the Arab Spring.” Buckley then started suggesting comparably meager hopes such as “everyone should have affordable health care.” Eyes brimming with sadness, he justified the protest itself by explaining “this is the only thing we can do to even feel like we have input.”
Some of those gathered at Occupy Boston talk with voices hinting that they might have grown up around books and PBS documentaries before going to a decent college. Joe Gallivan, 54, doesn’t. His is a very working-class voice, raspy and peppered with the sort of casual and jocular profanity that raises no eyebrows in the grittier drinking holes of cities like Boston. “I’m homeless. This is my house right now,” he says pointing to the nylon tent behind him.
Gallivan has his personal demons, and he doesn’t want to blame his past four years of homelessness entirely on the system itself. But Gallivan is also resentful. Like certain poor white people everywhere, he sometimes feels there are special advocates for every sub-group in the country except his own. “I’m white. I’m an Irish Catholic. Is anyone looking out especially for me? Whatever there is, I’m last in line.”
Then Gallivan quickly dismisses his own concern, as if it might be misconstrued or judged to be petty. He explains that everyone there has their own particular gripes, and that none are necessarily more important than the others. “What I know for sure? Things have got to change.” He won’t speculate on how long the protests will last but asserts, “They think this was going to be a two-day thing? This has just begun. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“I’m $60,000 in student debt and I have nothing to do with my degree” says Tim Gallant, 23, from Hanover. “My age group has an unemployment rate of over 30% and we are struggling to survive. This is my boyfriend and we both live with my parents.”
Society’s expectations have gotten so low that a 23-year still living at home seems like a normal state of affairs. But Gallant won’t buy it. “I was raised and promised that if I went to college, I would find a job…My loans were guaranteed by the Federal government. But they were sold off to private companies, and I have watched my interest rate skyrocket even after the banks were bailed out. Sally Mae and Bank of America have refused to consolidate my loans, and I’ve run out of grace periods. All I can do is work (part time) and try to pay them back…if things don’t change, I’ll be carrying this debt around for the next thirty years.”
Gallant and his partner, Spencer Cavanaugh, 18, are planning to commute back and forth from Boston to the suburbs so they continue to meet obligations at work and school. Gallant, whose degree is in political science, has lots of specific ideas about how the nuts and bolts of the economy need to be swapped out for new ones. But his overall goal for the Occupy Movement is more abstract and ideological. “I’d like to see this start to be a grassroots movement that changes the way America thinks about its citizens.”
Adam Luca, 24, lives in Lynn. He arrived Saturday, returned home Sunday night, and showed up again Monday. Once again, for someone involved with something seen by many as radical, his immediate hopes seemed modest. “I’d like to see the cost of education go down. I’d like to see America be more a country than a corporation. I’d like to see people have a fair shot.”
Any protest in the United States seems somewhat incomplete without at least one guy dressed like Uncle Sam. On Monday afternoon, Vermin Supreme, 62, was that guy. Like Ariana Webb discussed above, Supreme uses a moniker he designed himself. His costume, too, smacked of the original. A blue bikini was stretched over the outside of his white and red-stripped pants. Novelty red devil horns and a red clown nose protruded from his face. The long gray hair and beard were his own.
A question about his motives caused no hesitation “What’s my gripe? The system! The whole stinking ball of wax. It’s a scam!” Before another inquiry could be made, Supreme did a complete spin, smiled broadly, and shouted “Look for a new world ‘odor’ – this one doesn’t smell so good!” before bounding like a rabbit down the gravel pathway along one side of Dewey Square Park and disappearing into the hole of an unknown tent.
With patches pinned to his clothes and rubber bands securing the plaits of his partially-bleached hair, Julien Jacquelin, 18, has cultivated the look of radical. He was involved with the planning stages of Occupy Boston and says the protest “has impressed me every step through. It’s everything that I hoped. The way we come to consensus is very thorough.”
Seconds before being interviewed, Jacquelin was helping to attach numbers to tents for the benefit of emergency services and just general order. “I’ve been working non-stop, but this isn’t work, it’s living.” He describes the community in the camp as “a perfect system” and attests to having “seen people moved to tears by how well we organize.” Jacquelin was part of the inaugural group on Friday afternoon and has only parted ways with his fellow protestors so as not to miss any classes as Boston University where he’s a student.
Absence of sunshine
Despite Julien Jacquelin’s testimony that a “perfect system” had fallen into place, and all the mutual admiration being thrown around, there was clear evidence that creating a mini-Utopia overnight was harder than some had envisioned.
By the time came around for the 7 pm assembly on Monday night, a cloudy day had turned into yet another rainy night. As the assembly dragged on, people became increasingly wet and decreasingly satisfied with decision-making processes that seemed to serve so well just days before. The “people’s mic,” a system by which the crowd repeats an individual speaker line for line, was indelicately criticized by someone who didn’t want to let the matter drop. Faced with this and other obstacles, the facilitators (the assembly has no leaders) increasingly failed to keep the tension out of their voices as they tried to explain what categories for discussion were priorities at the moment. A list of ten discussion points was criticized for having three items that were the essentially the same. Minutes later, someone else put forth the same complaint about three items being similar. This prompted terse inquiries as to whether the speaker had been paying attention minutes before.
By this time, the hard-pressed facilitators seemed more like frustrated schoolteachers trying to keep control of their classroom than members of a happy and egalitarian throng of idealists. The discontented took the mic to expound on some of the more serious problems Occupy Boston had experienced.
The areas around Downtown Crossing and the Common have a large population of long-time homeless and the problems they bear. Certain interactions between these veterans of the street and the newly-arrived protestors created conflicts no one was in the mood to rehash, but it was made clear that no group of people should be getting berated or verbally trashed. In response, just as basic medical training had been provided for those who wanted it earlier that evening, the plan for Tuesday night was to make available some guidance in dealing with people with mental and substance abuse problems.
Another announcement concerned the mistreatment of transgender people at the rally. Soon a voice over the microphone also described “people called cocksucking faggots, people called bitches.” Then came the admonition that “turning people over to the police when something goes wrong undermines the protest.” A speaker asked if the head of the Internal Conflict Resolution Unit was in the audience and identified her by name. Probably taking a well-deserved break by this time of the day, her absence at that moment created yet another awkward moment in an assembly already overloaded with them. The rain continued to fall and even an announcement that vegan pizza was ready to be eaten brought no happy noise from the crowd.