Photographers encountering Occupy Boston and similar occupations gravitate towards folks dressed or coiffed distinctively. Unusual looking people make photos more interesting. But the truth is, most people in the Occupy Boston community dress pretty boring without much hint of a hippie, hipster, or any of the other cultural stereotypes being associated with the movement. Visually, the most noticeable thing about many Occupy Boston protestors is the gear and accessories they carry.
These can jokingly be called “protest-ssories” but they have more serious uses than fashion. Just five days before Occupy Boston took Dewey Square, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna used his pepper spray on protestors in New York, and that image is still strong in people’s minds. Police haven’t used pepper spray on Occupy Boston, but much of the gear carried by local occupiers is designed to protect against it. While none of the items listed here are just for show, if enough are worn properly at the same time, even a devotedly non-violent occupier can look like a total bad-ass.
Eyewash: These look like small plastic water bottles full of milk, but it’s really a mixture of Maalox and water designed to lessen the effects of pepper spray. It’s mostly carried by occupation medics as well as by members of Direct Action, the group within Occupy Boston most likely to clash with the police over acts of civil disobedience. Eyewash needs to be readily available in an emergency, so it’s typically hung from the belt or worn in some sort of bandolier.
Bandana: Paisley patterned and otherwise, bandanas and scarfs are a popular accessory among Boston’s protestors. Their most important use would be to deter breathing pepper spray from entering the lungs, but in the meantime they mostly get used to wipe sweat off peoples faces when Occupy Boston goes marching around the city for four or five hours.
Mask: A bandana works, but other kinds of masks are worn too. The creepy mustache face (actually a mask representing Guy Fawkes, a terrorist who plotted to blow up the House of Lords in 1605) is associated with the hacker group “Anonymous,” but some wear this mask without any sympathies for that group. Other protestors wear half-masks of the kind popular with skiers, and a some young men in Direct Action have adopted these as part of a ninja-like costume. Some people wear masks for anonymity as well as protection against the threat of pepper spray. In contrast to this, one curly-haired young man in a Grateful Dead t-shirt explained that he goes masked “to emphasize that I’m the everyman, I’m representing more than me out here.”
Glasses: While wearing contact lenses is supposed to make getting hit by pepper spray worse, eyeglasses offer some protection from it. Sunglasses offer an equal amount of protection, and they also help conceal one’s identity. When combined with sunblock available for free from the medic tent, sunglasses are useful protection against the autumn sun at long rallies and marches.
Ink: The scribbles on protestors’ arms aren’t tribal tattoos (mostly). It’s the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild, written on the skin in case of arrest. Some also write these digits hidden beneath their clothes where it’s less likely to get washed away by perspiration or rain. Besides having this number handy, people engaging in civil disobedience as part of Occupy Boston have a network of supporters behind them, including lawyers who will work pro bono and people willing to donate bail money.
Camera: Many protestors, perhaps even a majority, carry a camera or some device to record images. It’s no secret that they are especially interested in capturing images of police misbehavior that will rally more people to their cause; more remarkable is the fact that Occupy Boston protestors seem unanimously uninterested in goading the police to violence. While some photographers are consciously saving space on their memory cards in case of confrontation, lighter subjects abound. Last Saturday, for example, featured a visit from Governor Deval Patrick, a performance by Native American dancers, a colorful rally, and a march that took a twisted route to Back Bay and back.
Flashlight: These help a bit when trying to shoot photos or video in the dark. In the closing hours before the 141 arrests on October 11, a savvy person from the Occupy Boston media team distributed cheap flashlights to those hoping to photograph whatever might take place. Some of the images from that night – especially that of Veterans for Peace members getting arrested – are said to have brought new people into the movement.
Sign: Often there are just a handful of people holding signs along Atlantic Ave. But when Occupy Boston goes on a major march, thousands of people take to the streets and they take hundreds (if not thousands) of signs with them. Occupy Boston has a whole tent devoted to signs and sign-making supplies. Some people are eager to make their own while others help themselves to the considerable “library” of messages the sign booth has collected over the past three weeks. Some are serious, some are funny, and a few of the most popular signs have been seen at numerous marches, each time carried by a different person.
Flag: Signs are easy to make and easy to read, but flags are more romantic. The American flag is a popular emblem to carry into a protest; Veterans for Peace fly this and their own flag at rallies. The rattlesnake “don’t tread on me” flag from the 1700s was recently popular with the Tea Party, but at Occupy Boston it has been carried for several weeks by a young man called Bob C. who explains, “this flag has many different iterations, and I feel it’s a strong part of our American history and we need to preserve that. It has been tarnished by several groups, and we need to reclaim it.”
Graphic-T: Some people are writing directly on their t-shirts or other garment so as to broadcast a message even when when they aren’t lugging a sign around. Last weekend, hundreds of people – from preschoolers to octogenarians – got the words “Occupy Boston” emblazoned on their clothes (for free, of course) by volunteers working outside the sign tent with stencils and cans of spray paint.
Rechargers: Responding to the needs of occupiers, the Dewey Square shantytown now has a “recharge tent” where one can power up phones, laptops and other devices. Here, electrical power doesn’t come off the local grid but is instead generated by peddling one of two mounted bicycle generators created by people with experience at MIT and Burning Man.
Armbands: Interestingly, these were used at Occupy Boston at one time and then abandoned. Green represented members of the legal team, logistics used blue, and both the medic team and Direct Action used red arm bands. There may have been others in use as well. Armbands’ popularity peaked the morning of the October 11 arrests and they pretty much disappeared from camp immediately after. While color-coded armbands are gone, legal observers still use green hats and the medic team still identifies themselves with red crosses. Members of the camp’s security team – better know as the “safety team” – never used armbands but do tend to employ reflective safety vests that make them easy to locate.
Shoes: The camp gets muddy. The marches go on for hours. Comfortable, sturdy shoes are one of the most important things a protestor needs.
Boston is trying to charge OB with the policing fees of the protest. What’s your take on that?
Mine is that the charges for policing the protest were never necessary but since they are attempting to collect money they should perhaps turn to the Wall St cronies and corporations that have deceived the public by burdening the public with out sourcing jobs, not paying taxes, health care fraud, etc. They are the crooks. Not the people expressing “freedom of speech”. Furthermore, the arrests and knocks were costly, not necessary and only meant to discourage and end the protest. So I would say that the city has blown money on their own and not due to the protest itself.