REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK Occupy protesters make last stand Thursday
Police use time as their weapon of choice before peaceful eviction
Over 1,000 Occupy protesters gathered for one last stand at Dewey Square on Thursday — making it clear that they would not be deterred Mayor Menino’s notice that after midnight, protesters in the area would be subject to “arrest and criminal prosecution,” according to the Boston Herald.
When I got to Dewey Square at midnight, I was expecting tear gas, mace, or at least police in riot gear. I was disappointed. The police seemed to be standing by, either leaning against their vehicles, directing traffic, or idly chatting with each other. Meanwhile the protesters had lined up along Atlantic Avenue, shouting at cars (which occasionally honked), chanting, and dancing to a band while in the spotlight of dozens of photographers and reporters, who seemed to comprise much of the crowd. I first thought that I had stumbled into a street parade.
Photographers were everywhere. At one point, a man sat down dramatically, draped in an American flag and shaking in the cold; one reporter shouted, “Over here!” to another, and soon at least 12 photographers were capturing the moment, strobing the night with their flashes
There were also many bystanders that just wanted to see the action, including one man who said that he didn’t “support the movement at all,” and was “just there to watch.” Many of the people lined up along the outside of the protest seemed to be such indifferent bystanders, including one that commented that “[the police] wouldn’t make a raid with this many nonprotesters, they’ll wait until some people clear out.”
In another part of the square, there was a large group packed tightly around the MassDOT ventilation building, chanting “we are the 99 percent” and “we are the source of all your wealth.” The most noticeable presence was by the Veterans for Peace group, who stood among the crowd brandishing their symbolic white flags; one of their members, Lee, recalled getting trampled at the last protest. Also at the protest were MIT students Valkyrie M. Felso ’15, Ethan P. Sherbondy ’14, and Dennis G. Wilson ’14, who said this was their first time at an Occupy event.
“I wanted to see what the situation was like,” Wilson said. “Parts of [the movement] make sense — corporate law is kind of broken.” Wilson also added that “this was a reaction that should’ve happened in 2008.”
Other figures silently wandering among the protesters were the National Lawyers Guild legal observers, easily identifiable by their bright green hats. They would not comment on anything, but directed us to their website, which describes them as assistants “at protests, rallies, and other events to document and be a witness to any occurrences.” They seemed to be scattered everywhere that night, scribbling away on their small notepads and watching the situation unfold.
The situation was heating up on the street, though. Initially, the protesters had gotten as much into the street as they could without blocking the two lanes of traffic; police officers regularly walked around shouting at people to “stay out of the street.”
The protesters slowly began to get more riled up. Many had signs on either side saying things like “You want the perk, I need a home,” and “freedom to assemble,” but soon the entire crowd started to shout “occupy the streets: just stop” at the passing cars. Two angry-looking characters repeatedly ran out into the streets, gas masks hanging from their necks shouting “Whose street? Our street!” in successful attempts to rile up the burgeoning crowd, which soon spilled out into one of the lanes of traffic.
On the Federal Reserve side of the street, a lively band began to play, featuring percussion, brass, wind, other instruments, and even an MIT alum — whose only comment was “I like music, man!” The crowd around the band began dancing and singing the only word to what seemed to be the hit of the night: “Occupy.”
The dance party soon moved its way onto the street at about 12:45 a.m. Most of the protesters followed the dancers, completely blocking Atlantic Avenue, and the cars that were stuck behind the group had to back out onto another street. A quiet lull hovered over the crowd for several minutes soon after, and it seemed as if police action was imminent — some bystanders were shouting that they were “ready to get out of [there],” and others sat by the sides with gas masks and goggles on. The silence was unsettling, and I wondered if I, too, should have had an escape plan.
But after about 15 minutes, it became clear that nothing would happen. Boston Police Superintendent William Evans issued a statement to the press saying that there would be no confrontation. On the street, he said that the police would “wait it out,” and when asked if they would clear out the protesters, he said, “eventually.”
The crowd seemed to celebrate their successful occupation of the street, chanting “No, no, we won’t go,” and moving several tents onto the street. The newfound street camp also featured a statue of Gandhi, balloons, and a large banner that said “you can’t evict an idea.”
After about an hour, however, Boston Police seemed to have grown impatient with the camp and began to remove pieces of the camp themselves, including chairs, tables and tents. Protesters were mostly cooperative, and when some of them resisted the police’s removal of a tent, other protesters used the “people’s mic” — consisting of echoes through the crowd — to make it known that “the owners of the tent want[ed] it moved off the street,” a sentiment respected by the crowd.
The police remained calm throughout the night, not making any arrests and avoiding confrontation.
We left at about 3 a.m., and it wasn’t until about 5 a.m. that the police finally evicted the campers, arresting 46 protesters. Some relocated to the Boston Common, and many would go on to participate in Monday’s march that ended at Dewey Square, which was held in support of the Occupy movement’s West Coast attempts at closing ports, according to Channel 7 News in Boston.
It seems as if, though the protesters were evicted from Dewey Square, Occupy Boston will remain in the city for a while.
Stan Gill contributed reporting.