didn't expect more than 40 people to turn up at the
anniversary of Occupy Boston. Some formerly hyperactive participants
told me they were too frustrated with their comrades to attend, while
others declared online that the movement failed not just them but the
community. On top of that, it was butt ugly out and raining, plus I
heard that some of the group's recurring characters work weekends, or
couldn't make it in from out of town.
was seriously surprised when I arrived outside the Statehouse Sunday,
and found well over 100 shouting heads. Many were familiar faces,
with signs and slogans that I'd seen: “End The Fed,” and so forth.
Some were people who had camped at Dewey Square, but for any number
of reasons deserted Occupy Boston – for jobs in other cities, out
of frustration, and in some cases, to join the larger front in New
York. Finally, there were a few new stragglers attending their first
then there were the cops. A few dozen of them, posted up in uniforms and
in plain clothes (i.e. mom jeans and white cross-trainers), and
rolling bikes and cruisers alongside and behind activists who marched
from Beacon Hill to Dewey. Once Occupiers arrived at their former
camp, officers even literally circled a wagon a few times, presumably
to communicate what consequences there would be if tents popped. It
was just like the old days, with BPD tolerating free speech . . . up to
a certain point.
at Dewey, I spoke with the square's original occupiers, as in the
homeless crew that's been hanging in that area since way before the
rest arrived. They told me that the prospect of a re-occupation
screwed their last few weeks severely; year-round Dewey resident John
says authorities have been harassing him and the rest of the local
homeless population, booting them from benches where they usually
relax in peace, and even tossing their belongings while they're in
the bathroom at South Station.
the returning Occupiers; though there were serious speeches near the
Statehouse, and countless conversations about things that Occupy did
right and wrong, the anniversary was more of a party than anything
else – there was even lots of cake to grub. This, of course, was
worlds apart from what happened in New York two weeks earlier, when
affinity groups planned and executed pointed direct actions, many of
which landed them in jail.
the end of the gathering, there seemed to be some agreement between
factions – Ron Paul supporters and Socialist Alternative types;
older organizers and young radicals; everyday activists and
peripheral players. Specifically, they felt that it was possible to
shelve some stale animosity toward one another, and perhaps begin
communicating again. In the least, it was unlike their dialogues on
Twitter, where Occupiers bicker endlessly, and where those on the
antiquated side of the digital divide are not represented.
would be a stretch to say that Occupiers had anything more than a
spiritual win on Sunday, though that's significant. Just the reminder
of what they once had may be enough to spark cooperation if the
lot of them decide to put the band back together. As for connecting
with the larger public that they ultimately failed to reach – that's
still the main challenge. To quote a twenty-something yuppie who walked by marchers on Sunday: “Is this the same thing as last
year, when they stayed overnight and stuff? What are they all about again?”
course, Occupy was hardly the biggest Boston protest story of the
past week. While that group reminisced down at Dewey, more than 1000
janitors from all around New England gathered in East Boston to count
the hours down to their contracts expiring. Banded by the Service
Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, the group was riled and
ready to go, bolstered by big endorsements from the likes of Mayor
Tom Menino and State Treasurer Steve Grossman, the latter of whom
energized the crowd at LoPresti Park.
the rally at LoPresti, janitors filled the Church of the Holy
Redeemer near Maverick Square. This was no average mass; the priest
offered a politically charged homily about working class family
values, and agonized over the number of families that lose sons and
daughters for the simple reason that their parents work long hours,
and are unable to keep them off the block. This message, it seemed,
underlined the demands of all those in attendance.
priest and the powers-that-be ceremoniously blessed the janitors'
brooms – a tradition on the night before this kind of strike –
word around the church was that a deal was imminent. Still the
workers seemed prepared to picket. Even as the mass cleared out,
there was a significant degree of uncertainty about where they'd be
the next day – carrying protest signs on city streets, or wielding
mops like they do on most mornings.
end, the SEIU came through for its members, while New England
building owners showed a slice of humanity. It took the threat of a
strike – and of having to clean up after themselves during that
strike – but the suits finally agreed to a 200 percent increase in
full-time work, pay boosts that exceed 10 percent, increased job
security measures, and to establish an official outlet for janitors
to air grievances about excessive workloads, among other things. So far it's just
tentative, but member voting starts tomorrow, and the 30-person
bargaining committee recommends the deal.
at the church in Eastie, I noticed that the SEIU workers were
sporting shirts with a familiar motto: “The 99 Percent.” For
all the talk about how bad of a job Occupiers did of attracting
people of color – and of reaching out to the larger population –
they did engage the hearts and minds of many, including service
workers and others who've been beaten badly by the current system. So
while Occupy struggles to maintain relevance in its original form, on
the Boston theater's first birthday, it was clear that its fight to
empower mass movements rages on. Because a victory for janitors, no
matter how you dice it, is a huge win for the 99 percent.