United by differencesMuch of people’s time in the camp is spent discussing “the way society has been screwed by the ultra-rich and the government it seems to have by the cajones.”
On this level, people are quick to agree with one another. Beyond this level, differences are deep.
The Ron Paul supporters are widely regarded with horror because of their belief that civil rights issues should be decided on the state level (“yeah, great, just like when we had slavery”).
The anarchists are exchanging emails saying things like: “The problem, as usual, is liberals. We’ve been scrambling frantically since the first planning meetings to keep them from co-opting the whole process and turning the occupation into a Democratic Party-themed camp-out.”
If the wrong person gets wind that you’ve said something nice about Obama, or Al Gore, or the unions, you might discover there’s a certain crowd who now considers you an infiltrator rather than an ally.
And all around camp, at any given time, one can find political conversations in which both participants clearly think the other person is a complete idiot.
So far, the group has kept it together. There always seems to be at least one person at a given General Assembly meeting willing to remind the group to concentrate on that which is agreed upon rather than than which isn’t.
Organizers from Occupy Wall Street arrived earlier this week and held meetings to instruct protesters to organize themselves into “affinity groups” of like-minded individuals.
Keenly wary of anything that might divide its ranks, the Occupy Boston community has been so-far successful in redirecting the frustration of its members away from each other and against the super-rich 1 percent whenever things get too hairy. Protestors mostly — but not always — do a serviceable job evaluating each other’s ideas on a point-by-point basis rather than damning an idea because it came from a person with different politics. At any rate, the differences between protestors are both a problem that is wrestled daily and a source of strength and pride for the group.
It takes a village
Occupied Boston, as mentioned, has its own versions of what you might find in any of the towns around Boston.
Its police force is a security team that reacts to conflicts such as arguments over sleeping space by calming people down and drawing them into compromise.
Its government is the General Assembly, a democratic legislature willing to move in slow motion to make sure it really does reflect the will of the people.
One doesn’t need money to go to the “restaurant” — actually a food tent where donations ranging from fresh baked bread to boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee are distributed freely to anyone who wants them. This spot is sometimes staffed by vegans with a tendency to decide that certain food donations — especially junk foods — should be hidden away rather than handed out. But this doesn’t mean you won’t discover sweet desserts or a big pile of ham and cheese sandwiches here if your timing is right.
Logistics (the “home goods store” of the camp) is the place to go if you need warm clothes and blankets.
The medical tent has useful supplies (such as cough drops and toothpaste) as well as people trained to deal with minor issues such as dehydration and over-exposure.
There’s also a “Sacred Space” where people of all faiths go to pray, a tent solely devoted to sign-making and the materials used for it, and so on.
To a very few idealists, the various institutions within Occupy Boston should replace their hierarchical or profit-based counterparts in the larger society beyond Dewey Square. To more, they are simply evidence of people’s ability to come together in a crisis and to provide essential needs without the assistance of corporations or governments. As expressed by one college-age woman wearing the red cross symbol of a medical volunteer, “our medical tent can’t replace a hospital…but the way you get treated as a person when you show up at the medical tent should definitely replace the way you get treated as a problem when you show up at the hospital.”
Looking forward and back
Members of the Occupy Boston seem to be aware that they have a place in history between those who came before them and those who will follow. The massive civil rights movement of the 1960s is mentioned often, as are the struggles of Native Americans, LGBT people, and other groups throughout the ages.
John Carlos, an athlete who gave the Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics, received a warm reception when he visited Friday afternoon. On the other side of the coin, children passing through the camp have been told, “pay attention. You’re the next generation of this struggle.”
This awareness extends even into their leisure. On Music Row, for example, people stay up well into the night to socialize and play tunes. The tend to talk about funny things that happened to them in high school, what a jerk their old boss is — anything except the exhausting politics which occupies the attention of many throughout the day.
But even here, the context of history seems inescapable as the big Gandhi from the Peace Abbey seems to watch them from the corner of his eye. One morning, around 3 a.m., a college kid with a guitar sang a beautiful and unhurried rendition of “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” a song commemorating a union leader who was executed almost 100 years ago. Whatever else happens to it, it seems likely that Occupy Boston will also be long-remembered.