Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Boston: Veterans Bashed, but Hopes aren't Dashed

The most discomforting thing about having stayed up late last night to stand witness to the events initiated by Mayor Menino was watching the Veterans for Peace, many of them seniors, stand in front of the rest of the crowd to shield them from the police -- and beaten for it. The whole night was peaceful, non-violent resistance, met by a far more aggressive approach by the police, who cowardly chose to attack in the middle of the night, after all the news programs cut off their live shows and before papers would have time to publish what really happened within the news cycle.

That's why any of the papers that managed to get anything to press had what amounted to fairly one-sided police accounts of what happened, with almost no mention of the fact that veterans were attacked and medics were arrested, along with some among the legal team who were there to stand witness. The cops cut the power to the media tent for the protesters, but luckily they anticipated that and booked a hotel that stood above the attacked encampment, where there was a live feed watched by upwards of 15,000 people.

I could go on about my assessment of what happened (and I do on today's podcast), but I think I'd rather point you to this story, posted on Daily Kos, by one of the facilitators of the movement. In addition to being a fantastic writer, he (or she) really put to pen everything that happened and how it happened from the perspective of someone from within the movement who had some level of ownership of it. Here's just a snippet of how they came to decide to set up the second camp.
The facilitation team quickly realized that with all that was going on we a) couldn't deal with proposals because the quorum was split and we would not get any true consensus, and b) people were going to be consumed with the rapidly unfolding and precarious situation. So, instead of a regular GA, we had urgent group announcements and a facilitated community discussion about what was going on. 
The goal of the discussion was to minimize speculation and rumor-mongering. We could get everyone on the same page and equally informed. 
Though there were some people who expressed dismay at the idea that the beta camp might be jeopardizing the alpha camp, the conversation went very well and we ended up with a strong sense of solidarity. The highlight of that was when the VeteransForPeace showed up. They strolled in with these white, very tall flags of their organization and a couple of US flags. As a facilitator I was facing the rest of the GA when a man asked to make an announcement, "We are here from the Veteran for Peace! We support Occupy Boston and we'll stand between you and the police!" There was a roar in the camp and I turned around to see a phalanx of veterans - men and women - standing tall with a wall of flags. I had been trying to remain calm and I'm not much of a flag waver. Still, I must admit that I was a bit verklempt. It was an impressive view and there really was something very reassuring and heartwarming about them showing up.
It was not an easy decision for them; they knew what was at risk. Yet, the movement has grown so incredibly quickly that Dewey Square alone is no longer large enough for it. They had no choice, and the city has no choice but to listen to them, at least if it wants to be known as a city that respects freedom and democracy and holds to our roots as the cradle of America.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Mayor Menino has some learning to do. His quotes today about the incident last night were some combination of dopey, misguided and frightening for the future of Democracy.
“Civil disobedience doesn’t work for Boston; it doesn’t work for anyone.”
“We will tolerate demonstrations, we will tolerate expressions of free speech but when it comes to civil disobedience we have a real issue with that, that is why we moved in last night.”
In a country and city with a past as colorful as ours, that's a very dangerous -- and faulty -- assessment. Yes, Mayor Menino, civil disobedience works. It works when nothing else will. When society's problems are systemic and government is a part of the problem, civil disobedience is all we have left. Like it or not, the Mayor will face more civil disobedience, not less. His actions last night assured it.

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