The South End of Boston has always struck me as too sterile—business suits, straight lines, concrete. It lacks the color of Chinatown, the characters of the North End. I prefer to feel out-of-place, surrounded by foreign words that hold no significance to me on signs made by people with whom I have no connection. It is the process of understanding purpose, place, direction in which I find meaning. I prefer to be forced to locate myself within a setting, to discern my relation to that which is around me.
Today, South Station is as before. Ties, briefcases, heels rush past on the escalator, perpetually preoccupied and behind. They pass. I stand to the right. Within seconds, the push spits us out. The paneled buildings have always had the most beautiful reflections.
Yet, looking ahead, Dewey Square has become unfamiliar—tarps and tents rise between the concrete, grounded under a steel-frame sky. Immediately, Occupy Boston has neither the look nor the feel of revolution.
Scattered voices reply.
“Occupy Boston, have you forgotten? Mic check!”
The response is strengthened by a few.
The scene is a dilapidated museum; I—and many others—pass through. It is a lunch break, a detour, a sideshow. Some pause to talk to those sitting on camping chairs, perched on overturned buckets. Many just take photos. Most, on their way to other things, other places, at least take the time to read the signs: stop the war, stop the hate, stop the greed, stop the inequality—stop, stop, stop—legalize marijuana. A man asks if I am a registered voter—do I have a minute to sign a patient’s-right-to-death-petition? One woman asks no one in particular—everyone, I suppose—why there can’t just be more love. The general consensus is a general discontent. (There are a million different reasons why people are here; that’s what I love about it. We’re not trying to specify it to one thing.)
A mother stops to bend down next to her daughter. She points to a sign.
“Do you see that? What’s that symbol? Do you remember?”
“Peace!” The emblem, in many colors, also plasters the young girl’s sweatshirt.
“So let’s read it together. It says, ‘Lesssss Greeeeeed, More Peeeeaaaace’!”
“I get it, mommy!”
“I know you do, honey. You get it better than a lot of people these days”—more to herself than to her daughter.
To their left stands a plot of wilted sunflowers. Their seeds have been picked, their season has passed. A nearby sign—solid, city-approved, not cardboard like the others—explains its purpose. (What is growing on here?)
Local teachers in bright-red shirts have initiated a “Grade-In.” They are not the problem—say the signs—a lack of funding is. They are not the problem—say the teachers—they are the scapegoats. (Why is it just us taking the blame? Well, it’s not just us. But why are we being treated this way?)
“This is my first day.”
“Why are you here? What do you hope this brings?”
“Well, I haven’t completely thought it out yet. I guess it’s just an alternate voice.”
Boston College students and faculty march by. One woman offers them organic salad on a paper napkin (“Stop the commercialization of food!”) as they pass. A man—late 60s?—from another time—another revolution?—drops off peanut butter and jelly at the food station. At the medical tent (We are standing alongside, not with, the protestors), someone asks to borrow the scissors. “In the future,” he is told, “talk to logistics about this sort of thing.”
A map rests against the information center—there, they are happy to point you to a schedule of the day’s events. One tent, at the end of one row, has a man-powered generator; a short pedal on one of the three sitting bikes can recharge a phone. How you can help the food tent now: wash dishes! The first women’s caucus will be held at 1 p.m. The physical organization, at the very least, is efficient.
But what is the catalyst for this community?
“For the love, for all the people. For the love of all the people.”
“Because only 15 percent of my graduating class last year got jobs.”
“Too many people I love have died in Iraq.”
“I’m just so sick of the system. I’m fed up, really.”
The protest does not lend itself to a focused narrative. The imagery is there, there are plenty of symbols for use—sunflowers, cement, microphones—yet there are too many fights, too many signs, too many exclamation points and bolded letters to convey a message that is succinct. (There is momentum, it’s just momentum in no particular direction.) Energy is not absent, though direction appears to be. It seems that the 99 percent has located itself within society, that many are discontent with their relation to the allocation of wealth—but, without clearly defined objectives, what is to be accomplished?
Admittedly, however, three hours is not enough time to comprehend. Perhaps, for the protest, the voices—for now—are all that need comprehending; action as secondary to at least being heard.
Perhaps, it may seem, the Occupy movement is also in the process of understanding.