I went down this evening to what was supposed to be a facilitator's meeting in preparation for a General Assembly. Instead, I ended up facilitating a conversation in the original camp site, and then a defense planning meeting, as we all prepared for an imminent police action.
What ensued was frightening and completely uncalled for.
I don't know how much of this I'll get documented right now. It's 4:30am and I just got home. There's still a little adrenaline pumping through my veins, but I don't imagine it will last long.
For many in the camp, the decision to occupy the next space over in the linear park know as the Rose Kennedy Greenway, seemed sudden. It's still unclear what prompted it to be this evening. There had been a march and some kind of confrontation with the police. Those on the march were, apparently, galvanized in a decision to expand the occupation today.
We all knew it was a risk. The Greenway Conservancy has tolerated our presence in Dewey Square but had indicated they would not tolerate it elsewhere. Still, the camp was bursting at the scenes. The pressure was organically building. We all knew it was going to come to this sooner or later.
Physically, though, it split the camp in two. Many in the alpha camp site were confused about what was going on, as there were messages such as, "we're occupying the next square and we need people to stay behind to hold the occupation in the original space!" Some in the alpha camp felt left behind. Some felt unfairly put at risk by others. (It had been agreed upon in a General Assembly that at some point the camp would expand, but the groups tasked with the planning had not come back with proposals or specifics, yet.) 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.
Right at the end of the conversation, someone asked why no one in our camp was preparing for the police to come. This led my co-facilitator and I to wonder, "Is there a standard plan in place for what to do if the police come?" We ran around the camp to the Logistics tent and the Direct Action tent. No one knew of one, but most of the logistics and direct action people were in the other part of the camp. So, though we needed to hold our space, we made a bee-line to seek out someone who might know. What we learned was that there had not really been community-wide discussion - say, at a General Assembly - about what to do if the police came.
So, we convened another meeting for defense planning. Now, I've never been arrested before. But, I have been at protests and I was at #OccupyWallStreet where this was discussed a lot. As one of the faciliators, I ended up being the one to relay a basic plan and ask for inputs.
We decided that simple was best. We weren't going to be actually resisting. We were committed to non-violence. Our "defense" was really a statement that we we were peacefully gathered, as is our right, and it would be obvious to the world that we were doing no harm and simply exercising our rights to speech and assembly. We knew that we could not control how the police would behave. We could only control ourselves. Whatever came to be, would were in it together.
We would line the perimeter of the space - in the beta camp, there would also be a ring of people around the tents - gently lock elbows and stand in place until approached by police, at which time we would sit down. If someone was arrested she was to yell out her name. If someone was hurt, we were to back off and let medics, alone, tend to her. We all wrote the phone number of the National Lawyer's Guild on our arms.
There was also a proposal to create a protected media group - a few people who would be tweeting and sending out photos, who would be ringed by others to maximize the time they might be transmitting.
We had called the defense planning meeting at 10. We were done at 10:45. We were ready. All that was left was the waiting.
We lined up and we waited. While we waited, we chanted and sang songs. While everyone was nervous, spirits were also pretty high. There was quite a bit of fun laughter. Medics were situated so that we all could see at least one near us. Legal Observers, in the green hats, were also dispersed along the street. More and more media vans showed up. Cameras were everywhere.
As someone standing on that line, I could suddenly relate quite closely to the sentiment of the young women in Tahrir Square last winter. In an interview, after a particularly tense evening with police there, they implored the world to keep watching. They stated how important it was to them that cameras were one and people were keeping an eye on them. Several times last night, I was greatly comforted by the fact that almost every person in the vicinity had a camera in hand. Professional media were there, but it was the crowd of people across the street, solely there to bear witness, which gave me a sense of peace. Whatever happened, it would be seen. I'm not sure I can explain how powerful that is. You know you might get hurt, but you can live with that possibility because people are paying attention.
There were 'runners' who came by periodically to keep us apprised of the situation at the other end of the camp. We were only one block away, but without these runners, we might never know what happened down there. We had to hold our line. We could step out into the street to look. We were very worried about our friends.
There were also people walking the line to make sure we had water or a snack if we needed it. There was a team double-checking that we had the legal number on our arms. Medics were constantly checking to see if anyone needed an inhaler or a cough drop. We were well attended to while we waited.
And we did wait. There had been a midnight deadline given by the police. Midnight came and we saw a few police come down the street, but nothing happened.
The gathering of the police seemed like a slow trickle. A few cars arrived here. A dozen motorcycle cops there. A group of transit police from South Station. It was a slow boil to those of us standing in anticipation. Then reports came that a half dozen paddy wagons were lined up. The police had set up a medical tent. Ambulance were on the scene. We saw at least ten police vehicles blocking most of the road at the intersection on our corner. There was an eerie silence as we listened for what was happening.
The action started rather suddenly. We heard the police, via bullhorns, giving our comrades around the beta camp a five minute warning. More than five minutes went by and we had a moment of wondering if it was all for show. We knew it wasn't. It was just something to tell ourselves so we could chuckle and release some tension. Next thing we know we hear loud chanting and we can see a lot of movement to our left. Runners start frantically coming one by one to tell us, "The police have attacked the vets!"
That announcement sent both chills through us and a powerful sense of resolve. Most of the vets were older gentleman. They had come to protect us and they had taken the first blows. There was no way we were going to stand down now. So many of us pulled out our phones. Not necessarily to tweet, but to affirm what we instinctively knew: the BPD had just given our movement a tidal wave of support. The twitter stream was going fast and furious. Our livestream had gone from 500 viewers to 15,000. internationally, it was being reported that the Boston Police had attacked US veterans and peaceful protesters. We were heartened.
I will reiterate something here: we had quite publicly announced that we are a non-violent movement. We don't condone violence of any kind. We don't even condone yelling, as that is violent speech. We had made it abundantly clear, on camera, that we would not be resisting. We even talked about smiling and thanking our arresting officers. Every single person on this planet needs to understand that had the police walked up to us and gently moved someone aside, we would have complied. It could have been as easy as that.
Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick (there were state police involved) and the Boston Police Department made a choice. Their very first move was to violently ram people in the face. They didn't even try anything else. Think about that: the police who are sworn to protect us, did not for one second opt for a peaceful approach to dispersing the camp. They brought long staves, rather than the short billy clubs we normally see and they aggressively attacked peaceful citizens who have done nothing but speak out and assemble. We've hurt no one. We've destroyed nothing, well, except the veneer that we've been told is our democracy. Their thuggery was completely uncalled for. From now on, when I say or hear Menino's name, I will say, "..the mayor who attacked peaceful veterans..." May he go down in history as such.
The news heightened our senses. Runners kept coming by yelling, "hold the line!" Then, another runner would say, "At least 5 veterans have been arrested!" Then, "They're shoving people down and bashing them in the face!"
I thought I would be scared. I had been fairly certain that I would tell myself to be calm but, that when violence actually occurred, I would be frightened and nervous. I wasn't though. I was deeply saddened and I felt a lot of empathy for my friends. I was proud of them and worried about them and I felt a little bit of survivor's guilt being at the "wrong" end of the line. As we waited to see if the cops would come into the alpha camp, I felt incredibly calm. When a police supervisor came by, I was seething with anger. I was ready to take whatever came and would have been proud to sit in jail with my friends.
In the end, the police arrested over 100 people. They cut our power, hoping to shut down our media. (Part of our media team had gone to an undisclosed location where they had a clear view and plenty of power.) They sent the professional media away. (I'm pretty sure that's not legal.) It took a while and we held our line the entire time. We watched our friends get taken away in vans with motorcycle escorts, as we waited our turn.
The police marched in our direction and we thought our moment had come. They marched on by, however. We had been given a reprieve. The die is cast, though. We had tried to have respectful relations with the Boston Police. We know that many of them are one layoff away from being in our ranks. Still, they opted to serve the powers that be and exert unnecessary force against us. Occupy Boston has crossed a new threshold and we won't forget.
To the members of the Boston Police force, I'd like say this, "You cannot feel good about what you did. You are our brothers and sisters. Your pensions have dwindled. Your job security is precarious. You are morally obligated to refuse orders which do not serve the good of your community and this country. Please remember that at the Nuremberg trials, we were all made painfully aware that taking orders is no excuse. If what you are doing is wrong, you need to stop yourself. If you bosses are not serving your and your fellow citizens, you must stop being the tool of their abuses. I implore you to stand down. Walk out. Sit in. Do whatever you can to make it clear that you will not be the instruments of the abusive class. We will not go away. We will speak the truth. We will continue to push back against our abusers. Your bosses will not stop with last night's abuse. As we continue to stand, they will command you to escalate. How far will you go? Is your conscience ready for that? Is your future secured by that? Are your children protected by that? You must resist. We are your people. We are you. Join us. Resist."
To everyone here, I implore you to make a donation to Occupy Boston to help with the bail fund. We'll need at least $4,000 just to bail people out. I have no idea, yet, if there will be further legal costs.
Also, they arrested medics last night and destroyed their medical supply kits. We need to replenish those. We need to replace tents, as well. There is a wiki page here where the logistics team lists the current supplies needed. They could be slow updating it today. I don't how many of them are in jail. We were all up rather late and they'll need sleep. So, please be patient.
Thank you all for your support.
UPDATE: Make your feelings about last night's activity known:
White House comments line: (202) 456-1111
Switchboard line: (202) 456-1414
Boston Mayor's Office: 617.635.4500
Boston Attorney General: 617-727-2200
City Council Main Office: 617.635.3040
Police Department: 617-343-4200
Governor Deval Patrick's office: 617.725.4005 (don't let him off the hook on this)
Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy: 617-292-0020 (they had to claim trespassing for the police to take action)