Occupy Boston: Keeping Ground

“We have our permit!” the protesters chanted. “It’s called the Constitution!”

The light hung low, yellow, and rich over Dewey Square and the fervent chatter of protesters. Clutching each other by the arms in a chain around the tent city, demonstrators in the square anxiously waited to see if the cops were really coming.

“We have our permit!” the protesters chanted. “It’s called the Constitution!”

In the background, hand-drums provided a steady rhythm—quick, but not too urgent. The energy was both unsettling and contagious.

By that point, protestors had been camped out in Dewey Square for about a week and a half. Some came and went between classes and work, while others hadn’t been home nearly all week. During the previous few days, a second camp had emerged on the adjacent street, carrying the same spirit: angry and jovial. Angry and jovial, for the record, is really the only way I can describe it. I’d been in and out of Dewey Square all day, until after the arrests started.

Rumors swirled around Dewey Square and on Twitter that the cops were coming to force protestors to leave at midnight. I set out to talk to people, but no one really seemed to know what was going on.

Every now and then, a passing siren would create a lull in the commotion. But, for the most part, the drums kept beating, and people kept smiling. A group of guys sat at the outskirts of the camp playing jazz, biding their time. Everyone was in good spirits.

Someone in the camp began reading a Tweet out loud, warning that cops fully dressed in raid gear were lining up a few streets down. But people seemed skeptical—within sight there were just a few officers wearing neon-yellow vests, and they didn’t look very threatening. They were the kind of cops you smiled at and said hello to.

Then the scene devolved into chaos.

Suddenly, blue and red lights interrupted the yellow hum of the lamp-posts overhead. EMT ambulances and loud voices over blow-horns put an end to the festivities, announcing the arrival of about 100 police officers who were about to storm into the camp.

As the police force moved inwards, they pushed and grabbed protestors by the neck, ripping tents down along the way. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast from earlier, when I had seen a police officer holding a pro-Occupy Boston sign and chatting with protesters politely. Now, handcuffed protesters were lined up outside police trucks, waiting to be taken in.

Truth be told, even in their riot gear, many of the cops were nervous. You could see it on their faces. Some of the protesters ran to the sidewalk to avoid getting arrested. Others held their ground, looking on defiantly. They were determined to stay the course.

By the end of the night I witnessed countless people get arrested, some more violently than others. Some too violently. One woman was held against the ground face-down and then dragged away, shouting unintelligibly. Another man was wrestled to the pavement, and then surrounded by officers trying to block cameras from snapping pictures.

“Shame! Shame! Shame!” shouted protesters from all corners of the camp. The chant was ubiquitous.

“WHO DO YOU SERVE? WHO DO YOU PROTECT?” yelled the crowd. “WE HAVE OUR PERMIT. IT’S CALLED THE CONSTITUTION,” they repeated over and over again. The arrests continued for a long time. The crowd chanted into the night.