In light of Stone Soup's recent coverage and discussion of recent activist movements, we are pleased to publish an account of Occupy Boston from poet and past Stone Soup feature April Penn.
My personal story about Occupy Boston
by April Penn
What is it all about?
For those who don’t know what Occupy Boston is, let me explain in my own words: There is a public park in the middle of Boston’s financial center where protesters have gathered and set up a make-shift village of tents as a way to have an around-the-clock protest of the tremendous and growing economic inequality in this country and abroad. It was modeled off the movement in New York called Occupy Wall Street, inspired by Wisconsin’s occupation of the capital and the Arab spring which brought revolution in Egypt. Protesters in Boston, New York, and cities all over the country, also stand in opposition of corporate greed, corporate tax loopholes, special interests and lobbyists that buy out politicians. For example, CEO salaries have increased by 300 percent in the last 15 years, whereas the minimum wage has not been raised. Another issue is education. College students are graduating with an extreme amount of debt while there are fewer job prospects. Of those who are employed, many are under-employed (working part-time jobs) or being grossly underpaid. I myself am working two part-time jobs and am no stranger to minimum wage. I currently make about 20,000 dollars a year, for which I consider myself very lucky. I am also lucky that I don’t have any college debt due to the fact I was on scholarship. (I graduated third in my high school class and received numerous awards for writing.)
Getting back to the issues that Occupy Boston protesters and protesters in all the occupation movements are focused on, it is important to note that this is also an anti-war protest. On marches, protesters frequently chant: “How do you solve the deficit? End the wars and tax the rich! Other chants include, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.” “Who’s streets? Our streets!” “Money for jobs and education. Not for banks and corporations.”
What happened on Monday that resulted in Occupy Boston making national news?
I have been going to Occupy Boston marches and general assemblies (made up of the people who show up and vote on issues) since the movement kicked off in Dewey Square. I have been to several marches and numerous general assemblies as well as served as a sidewalk protester where I held a political sign (with the same kind of message as the chants previously noted). After going to the march on Columbus day, I had an appointment so I left for a few hours. On my way back home from the appointment, I got several text messages from comrades at Occupy Boston stating that we had an emergency situation. Police were planning to possibly shut down the latest expansion of the occupation into a field of grass across the street from the original occupation site. We had to expand because so many people brought tents and wanted to join the occupation movement that we were running out of room. In order to protect the occupation sight-- the meeting ground and heartland of the growing movement for economic change if not all out revolution—the general assembly met and we decided with a consensus that we would stay to occupy the sight of our peaceful protest. We locked arms in a circle around the tents while others with flags encircled us and many stood in front as another line of defense and look-out.
How did the police attack us?
The police came in and issued a warning saying that if we did not disperse we would be arrested. There were large trucks nearby which we knew were to clear all the tents and items on the greenway. We held our ground and repeated that our constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly permitted us to be there. The police burst in from the rear of the greenway and knocked over many veterans for peace who were holding flags. They pushed those who were locking arms in the circle. When the police pushed me, I couldn’t help but step back and back because I would lose my footing. The line of people locking arms to my right fell so I was split from them. My comrade to my left was still locking arms with him but no one was on his other side because that is where the police broke the circle and began bringing down the tents. Police were manhandling someone further down the circle to my right. They arrested my comrade to the left and I was left standing on my own. The police officer put my hands behind my back and cuffed me with plastic ties. I walked out to the street with him without speaking or putting up any fight. He had me stand between what he called “paddy wagons.” I prefer to avoid such a racial slur against the Irish and instead say “police wagon.” Then he had me walk with him to the back of one police wagon. I was the first to get in so I had to scoot all the way to the back. Eight other women soon joined me. I quickly learned that the police had banded some of the other woman’s arms so tight they were losing sensation in their hands and fingers. When they asked a police officer to loosen it, the female police officer who began asking us for names, height, weight, birth date, said she didn’t care if it hurt. Fortunately, mine were on loosely so I didn’t have any trouble with loosing sensation. The police wagon was dark as we bumped along the road. We sang songs like Amazing Grace and talked about our backgrounds. We debated about whether the police were part of the 99 percent—the working class who are subject to the oppression of the ruling class state. I believe that the police may come from a working class background but the institution of the police sides with the ruling class. In New York, for example, the NYPD received millions of dollars in donations from JP Morgan before the police decided to arrest 700 protesters. Once we got to the police station, they kept us in a small cinder block holding cell. Our numbers in that one holding cell grew from nine to 18 women as more arrived at the station. In all about 140 peaceful protesters were arrested and dispersed to nearby jails. There was some writing on the cinder block wall that appeared to be scrawled in blood. Some of the women asked a cop about the mysterious handwriting on the wall. One said it must be menstrual blood. Another suggested it might be from a wound. A police officer told us it spelled out the name of a gang. He made a joke saying, “If I give you a hammer will you stop hitting yourself in the head with it?” I didn’t understand his joke but he thought it was funny and kept repeating it. They took a group of us out of the holding cell because we had enough cash on us to make bail. They moved us to another holding cell where we waited for hours to be processed and released. It turned out that Occupy Boston had already raised enough money to cover everyone’s bail so I didn’t have to pay out of pocket. They fingerprinted me and scolded me for not having an ID but said they’d let me go anyway. I didn’t have an ID because I knew about the risk of arrest and had given Brenda my purse. I only kept some money on me just in case. I got a court summons for Thursday morning with the charge being “unlawful assembly.” Then I was released.
What happened after I got out of jail? And Concluding Reflections
A few comrades from Occupy Boston greeted me with a cheer so I smiled real big. Brenda arrived a few minutes later after she had finished driving someone else home. I was happy to see Brenda and gave her a big hug. I have a mix of emotions. I feel very loved because so many people helped support me in this process. I am grateful to everyone at Occupy Boston for carrying on the movement even in the face of personal sacrifice and the adversity that comes with police brutality. However, I also feel deeply hurt and confused why we everyday people were not permitted to peacefully assemble. I do not know what awaits me at court. It isn’t considered a serious offense so I probably won’t have to do much but pay a fine. Many people in our community, especially people of color, have endured far worse consequences at the hands of police brutality. I am humbled at my privilege as a white middle-class looking female. I am appalled that I can even refer to myself as privileged because most Americans like myself are far from privileged, from problems with healthcare to employment, education to police states, we are not going to be okay unless this movement continues to strengthen and give voice to the oppressed. We must tear down the capitalist system and replace it with one based not on human greed and profit but on human need where community and democracy are the highest goals.