Although not as busy as it was in October, Occupy Boston still gets thousands of visitors a week. Most live locally, but others are activists associated with out-of-state occupations. Among those coming to Dewey Square recently was a group from Manchester, N.H. who mic checked Obama on November 22 and a person arriving from Burlington, Vt. to settle in Occupy Boston since the camp he came from no longer exists. Blast interviewed them both.

Occupy Manchester and Obama’s mic check

Paul Brochu, Nikki Brant, Elizabeth Grunewald and Ryan Hirsch were all involved with mic checking Obama during his recent appearance in Manchester. Hirsch was the person who later handed the president of the United States a note with a transcription of the message they tried to deliver.

The note read, “Mr. President: Over 4000 peaceful protestors have been arrested. While banks continue to destroy the economy with impunity. You must stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”

Describing the encounter, Hirsh said, “I was already right up there, and he looked like he was listening to the first part, but then his supporters started to drown us out and I was like, crap…he’s not even going to be able to hear this speech, he’s going to be able to say ‘I never heard it.’ So…[later] I handed it to him…it looks like I just shoved the note in his hand, but really as he was coming down the line to shake hands I was just like, ‘Hey, Mr. President, I just want to say I’m sorry for interrupting your speech…here’s a copy of your mic check.’ He grabbed it out of my hand, and actually he read it…he responded to it by saying…’I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been silent on the issue, but I admit that I could be more vocal.’”

“That’s a pretty good response,” said Hirsch, “If he actually does do it, I will be impressed. He will gain a little bit of points with me. Probably not enough for me to vote for him. But he will gain some points…he handled it pretty graciously.” Hirsch also dispelled the notion that “nobody can get that close to the President, nobody can hand the President anything…I was just this dumb guy, Forrest Gump-ing his way up to the President…and everybody’s blowing it out of proportion like it’s this crazy, unprecedented thing…he doesn’t live in a bubble.”

Beth Grunewald described the mic check saying, “there were some other people from other occupations in New Hampshire, but I would say the majority was Manchester people.” Paul Brochu described how they practiced the mic check beforehand in an area with a high ceiling to determine how loud they were.

Occupy Burlington and the wake of tragedy

Al Suarez and some fellow activists from Vermont first visited Occupy Boston the weekend after Josh Pfenning, 35, a veteran living in the Occupy Burlington encampment, fatally shot himself with a handgun on November 10 thus prompting the dismantling of the tents shortly thereafter. After these visitors talked about the suicide in Occupy Boston’s library, Elizabeth Holmes, an Occupy Boston medic who has also spent time counseling rape victims at Occupy Wall Street, told them they needed to deal with that tragedy as individuals and as a community. The group had planned to stay in Boston for a few days but one member of that contingent, feeling threatened by what he perceived as gang activity in Dewey Square, insisted they leave early.

When Suarez, having no where else to go, returned to Occupy Boston recently he explained, “I’m here to stay this time.” He added, “unfortunately we couldn’t bring the [Burlington] camp back yet, and the cops have been after us, especially the homeless members…everybody knows each other at Burlington, so the cops are very discriminatory in their methods and the media is not very cooperative with us…we’re literally not occupying anything. We have [General Assemblies] at parks.”

Suarez, who has an online radio show, also describes “a very serious [homeless] shelter issue….because they’re overcrowded, they’re small shelters, we’re talking about Vermont here, so they’re small shelters…there’s a lot of people on the street. They’re going to suffer from extreme cold. They’re going to die from the cold…they’re treated like scum of the earth…they’re victims of society.”

Saying that half the people in the Occupy Burlington were homeless, Suarez attests, “just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they’re there to hang out…they’re there because they’re activists like us. And I also became homeless when they closed out the camp…instead of being sensitive to these people who suffered a tragedy, ever since the tragedy’s happened a couple weeks ago, all [the police have] done is take advantage of it.”

Suarez also described the raid saying “they lured us into City Hall…then one of our fellow campers got a text saying they’re taking over the rest of our encampment, they’re taking over our teepee. They lured us there to talk, and then we ran out, and the cops came out ready to shoot tear gas and they started randomly detaining people.” He said events in which the mayor of Burlington was made to like a “hero” for helping to get a detainee released “didn’t exactly happen that way…there’s so many media distortions.”

About The Author

Contributing editor John Stephen Dwyer is in love with his native Boston but has also done work in Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris and other cool cities. In recent months he's photographed notables including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Rosalynn Carter.

2 Responses

  1. Bhemmer

    Just to clarify something….Josh was not a veteran. He was in boot camp for 2 weeks and was discharged. I know it seems a small detail, but to those of us who knew him, it’s huge. Thanks.


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