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Occupy Boston gathers crowd, pushes for grassroots social change

Published: Friday, September 30, 2011

Updated: Sunday, October 2, 2011 19:10

Occupy Boston

Courtesy _PaulS_ via Flickr

The Occupy Wall Street movement, through which people are expressing discontent with social and financial inequality, has spread to Boston.


Four hundred people converged on the Boston Common Wednesday night to express their discontent about American society's financial and social inequalities, among other issues.

Occupy Boston is part of the larger Occupy movement sweeping the nation, comprised of U.S. residents frustrated with the current social and political climate.

Occupy Wall Street, the movement's first protests, began Sept. 17 when several thousand came together on Wall Street to protest financial corruption.

"There is a lot of anger in our generation because we have seen the revolutions of the past fail and we are upset with the status quo and we are really lost," junior Ben Ross, a member of the movement, said. "I do feel like I have the potential here for my voice to be heard for the first time ever in my life."

The Occupy Boston movement is still in its early planning stages, according to junior Emil Cliggott−Perlt, who heard about the movement on Twitter.

A group of 200 people met to form a general assembly on Tuesday night to discuss staging an actual "occupation" of the city.

A follow−up planning meeting took place Wednesday evening in the Boston Common, at which time the group voted by group consensus to begin occupation tonight.

"Occupation" beginning tonight at 6 p.m. in Dewey Square near South Station, the financial center of the city, will last as long as it takes for policymakers to listen, according to Ross, who attended a planning meeting.

Members of the movement, including Cliggott−Perlt and Ross, plan to camp out in Dewey Square.

"We will maintain a permanent physical presence in a public place until people are satisfied with changes that are made," Ross said. "During the day there will be a variety of rallies, protests and marches … but the main backbone is the physical presence in Dewey Square."

The movement has no hierarchical structure or single leader, Ross noted.

"Direct democracy is sloppy and messy and hard, but at the end of the day it works and it makes sure every single person has a voice in the movement," he said. "It prevents it from being co−opted by one agenda."

While some people have raised concerns about the viability of a movement without leadership, Ross cited this past year's movements in Egypt, Spain and Tunisia as inspiring examples of successful movements organized horizontally through social media.

"I am worried that it could fall apart, but I am made cautiously optimistic by the ways in which people who are living under autocratic regimes have used these tools to maintain one voice and one movement until their goals were met," Ross said.

The Occupy movement, which professes to represent the bottom 99 percent of American society, is protesting against the greed and corruption it sees present in the top one percent of the country.

The movement, which has yet to define a single message or list of demands, has united its members through a common desire to start a public discourse about the issues present in American society, according to junior Danny Foster, a member of the movement.

"At some point the I−Bankers and the Goldman Sachs people and the J.P. Morgan people are going to come out for their lunch break and have to start responding to the people," Foster said.

Individuals within the movement have voiced grievances including income inequality, corporate control in politics, the elimination of social programs and the lack of a safety net for the poor, Ross noted.

"Our democracy has moved out of the hands of the people and is now in the hands of the corporations," he said. "We need to reconstitute our democracy in the name of the people."

The movement has received criticism from some who say protesters need to put forward a clear and unified message in order to grow.

"I think the movement, honestly, is a little unsettling because the protesters as of yet haven't really specified any clear goals and to have a successful protest you need clear, concrete goals," Seth Rattan, a skeptical junior, said.

"The rhetoric expresses a combination of outrage and envy and I have never seen envy inspire anyone to affect positive change," he said.

Rattan questioned the group's ability to achieve its goals.

"I am not even certain they will be able to settle on a message," he said. "When has anyone seen 99 percent of free society settle on anything?"

The movement may not achieve all of its goals overnight, Foster noted.

"I think we can't expect a complete systemic overhaul through these types of movements," Ross said. "I think that requires time and continued energy."

Movement fatigue is of particular concern to some members of the effort, he added.

Cliggott−Perlt acknowledged that while the movement's energy may fizzle out, the actual occupation of the city was only one manifestation of peoples' frustrations. They will continue to air these frustrations until a shift in society takes place.

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