Pages from my journal about the Occupy Movement
October 6, 2011
Oh, yes, Occupy Boston! A grand event, modeled after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) which has been running for 3 weeks [as of October 31, 2011], spawning local variants around the world. Boston began about 1 week ago, taking over, with municipal participation and approval, Dewey Square which is opposite South Station and at the end of the Kennedy Greenway. I dropped by yesterday on my way to M’s, emailing her to join me or at least to accept my tardiness. Some 100 tents were implanted side by side, a blazing variety of tent gear, many with signs, some showing solidarity with labor organizations. Tents for food, clothing, medical assistance, legal assistance, media, coordination, etc. And a nightly round of General Assemblies at 7 pm, which is a meeting to discuss plans, using the consensus model, but bending this to agree to a plurality. So far the police have been mostly cooperative. As far as I know, no large-scale civil disobedience is planned. This information comes mainly from one young man who’s been volunteering for the past 3 days.
I arrived around 3 pm, as Cornell West, the preeminent scholar, university professor, author, rapper, preacher, and activist co-led a large contingent of nurses in a small march around the square. Even tho I was aware of his key role in supporting the Occupy movement, I’d not expected him here. There is a very powerful YouTube video showing him leading chants for the occupiers on Wall Street. Yesterday many gathered around him, hugged and kissed him, called him a hero. He looked embarrassed by this attention, joyfully hugged and kissed in return. I did my best to show this energy and chemistry, accidentally in a position within brushing distance.
Needless to confess: I am ecstatic about this popular movement, how rapidly it’s spreading across the country, based on the simple call of We are the 99%, that is the 99% of the population who are not rich and dominant. The unifying call is against corporate greed, and spreads out from there to oppose war, advocate for better health coverage and education, and regulations of commerce, especially the financial industry. One young man tried to gain support for marihuana legalization. He began imperiously: the single most important issue is the marihuana laws. Change them. Are you with me? People booed. He moderated his call, but only a handful of supporters cheered him on. This reminded me of a poetry slam or a film festival when the audience votes for their favorite movie. At Occupied Boston, by popular assent, perhaps, the participants may clarify their platform.
October 12, 2011
I’ve minimally edited and posted a 2.5 minute movie about the Occupy Boston march on Monday, Indigenous Rights Day, altho I spotted few indigenous people and no indigenous organizations. Estimates were as high as 10,000 marchers—I guessed 3,000 when pressed by Rachel and Abby. Lots. And mostly young, I’d estimate mostly students. Most white, most looked middle class. Which might be one key weakness in this movement. R pressed me to join the support group on Monday night that would try to block the police from removing the occupiers who by then had expanded their zone past Dewey Sq. to another nearby site along the Greenway. Police justified this removal by stating that the Greenway had been recently improved there and would be ruined if occupiers used it.
Park Street Station & Boston Common
Guarding the Army recruitment center
In front of the Bank of America
In front of Verizon
By some accounts the removal was violent. I’ve seen several photo sets and movies which have not clearly demonstrated this quality. In fact, in most of the media I viewed the police did not wear riot gear. Reportedly the Veterans for Peace group stood between police and occupiers to “protect the kids,” and the police handled the vets roughly.
I declined R’s invitation on the grounds that 1. It would be late and dark and so it would be nearly impossible to photograph, 2. I’d already been on the job for the afternoon with lots of photos, 3. I’m not too interested in photographing yet another confrontational scene, and 4. My role is primarily a photographer, not activist.
There seemed to be confusion about leadership and communication during the march. Who is leading? Periodically everyone sat down and the “peoples’ mike” was brought out: this is a novel technique for amplifying voice. For instance, I might speak, using short phrases, as if expecting translation. The crowd nearest me repeats my phrase, thus amplifies it. Anyone can call for the mike. At the Charlestown Bridge, the projected end of the march, chosen because it represented how money could be better spent on infrastructure rather than bank bailouts and Wall St. support, blocked by police (with the justification that the bridge would not support so many people), once again the peoples’ mike was put into use. Several groups shouted out their requests: one to stay at the bridge and one to return to the campsite to protect it. The former were mostly the anarchists, most of them wearing black and covering their faces with bandanas. They suddenly and inexplicably ran down a side street.
I asked one young man wearing a bandana, why the bandana? For the gas, he replied. Really? I said, quizzical. And might have asked, what gas? The police give no sign of shooting tear gas. I suspect the mask is primarily to prohibit identification in case the group decided to attack property. And also as a fashion statement and a way to identify one’s politics. However, for many viewers it might signal terrorist, criminal, someone with something to hide. Not a very positive statement.
In photographing the march I searched for high places, like the parking garage, for an overall view. For the climactic photo of the series I anticipated they’d cross the bridge and rather than photograph them from a first person viewpoint, in the march itself, I cleverly chose a different position—from the waterfront near the Charlestown locks so I could show them streaming across the bridge. I anticipated this position from prior experience. So I sat awhile, took the opportunity to pee into the water, waited and waited—no marchers. No signs of marchers. A helicopter hovered overhead so I knew they were still nearby. Had the police blocked them? Probably. Wouldn’t surprise me. I phoned R, he’d left the march (Wimp! And then he berated me for not showing up for the nighttime confrontation.) Reluctantly I left my treasured position, abandoned the final dramatic view, and found the marchers stalled by the police.
Providentially the Program on Negotiation and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio at Harvard Law School had scheduled a screening of the new movie last evening about Gene Sharp, How to Start a Revolution. Sharp, the movie director, and the deputy head of the Albert Einstein Institution which is Sharp’s main vehicle for disseminating his ideas about nonviolent change, were present. During the discussion following the screening and talk I asked Gene, how can a leaderless movement like the Occupy movement formulate the detailed strategy that you call for? He answered humbly, I don’t know. I have my doubts that they can.
Had I the opportunity I might have asked a second question: some, like Grace Lee Boggs, Martin Luther King Jr, Vincent Harding, and Joanna Macy, suggest that the revolution should be about values rather than regimes. Since your methods seem most useful for regime change, as with Serbia, Egypt, Ukraine, and other nonviolent eruptions, how can we adapt your principles to this shift in focus? One of his latest writings, Self Liberation contains the phrase “and other oppressions” to suggest the methods can be translated to this new orientation. I should read the booklet. All his writings are downloadable from the Einstein Institution website below.
His lessons, effectively portrayed in the movie, suggest careful attention to detailed planning: know one’s adversaries, prepare for different contingencies, be resilient, etc.
On a personal note, the film and Gene himself resonate with me in at least 2 ways. Like Gene and the movie, someone made a movie that features me, Eyewitness Gaza. And like Gene I find myself in a mentorship role, sometimes with very attractive young women. In Gene’s case it is Jamila, head of the A Einstein Institute, a refugee from Iran, extremely beautiful and youthful, devoted to him as a daughter might be to a father. He is in his 90s, I have no idea about his interests in her, whether they range further than mentoree or father-daughter. Perhaps at one time they did. Now he looks feeble. Might I be him in 20 years (if I survive that long)?
The various manifestations of the Arab Spring bring needed attention to Gene Sharp, nonviolence, and the movie. I wish all well.
I should apply his techniques to my own life, at least my life as an artist and activist: what are my goals (to open eyes, doors, and hearts to new realities, so that my deeper goals of enlightening myself and others and ending suffering can be realized), what is my strategy (make evocative media, true to my heart, prepare for harsh criticism and much avoidance), who are my adversaries (“good liberals,” pro-Israel folks, many Jews, some Quakers coming from a misguided culture of peace, etc), how to deal with them (by truly working from an open heart as I attempt to practice with Sderot, the Israeli town frequently attacked by rockets from Gaza), and who are my allies (such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, some Quakers, some Israel-Palestine activists), etc.
One major recalled dream from last night: I was on a hiking or camping trip with a large group and I knew no one. First we were to climb down a long ladder and then swim. I’d brought only my mobile phone, camera, and wallet, but, altho I knew we’d be immersed, I’d forgotten to bring plastic bags. Following an older woman who needed help climbing down the stairs, we reached a respite spot. It was connected with a Protestant church and featured a bar filled with liquor. I wanted some. But I wanted plastic bags more so I surreptitiously scouted the kitchen and toilet. I finally found a few bags that I believed might protect my gear.
As central as the bags were, even more central was my need to shit. Where would I do it and when? Somehow the toilet exploration didn’t figure into my calculation. Seemingly a non sequitur, when I emerged from the bar—happily with my plastic bags but still needing to shit—I walked thru a porch on which a young black boy was getting a haircut.
TO BE CONTINUED
“Occupy Boston: Veterans clash with police, scores arrested” by Elizabeth Flock in the Washington Post
Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook by Ruaridh Arrow, Director of Gene Sharp – How to Start a Revolution