Needham, Ma is perhaps 11 miles from Dewey Square in downtown Boston and light-years away when measured in terms of social anxieties. In Needham, those concerns are about how much we will vote to raise our taxes to pay for the latest educational need, while in Dewey Square every raw social issue is expressed on hand lettered signs. One theme throughout the square is social inequality and how the system has been perverted to serve the privileged. Occupy Boston has another theme and that is more about the need to reach consensus on how to solve these issues. Needham is also connected to Boston and probably Dewey Square in a more physical way.
Beginning In the early 1800s and lasting until the early 1900s, the hills of Needham were scooped up, hauled by rail, and used to fill the Back Bay and other areas around Boston. As an historical footnote, the one gold nugget found in Needham, now resides in the Harvard museum. There’s a metaphor in all of this. (The hills of the farming community of Needham sent their essence to Boston and their one nugget to Harvard?) It’s only fair – now Boston sends its essence and gold to Needham.
With that history in mind I traveled this rare autumn afternoon by the Green line from Riverside at the end of the line, into the earth at Kenmore, to Park Station, transferred to the Red line, traveled two stations, and stepped out of South Station, into the sunlight, onto the edge of the current revolution in Boston at Dewey Square. The other more violent revolution started several blocks over back when this area was still under Boston Harbor. Other history factoid: Dewey Square was named after Admiral Dewey of Civil War and Spanish American War fame.
When I came out of South Station I stared across Summer St and Atlantic Ave. Normally this tiny park, less than an acre in size, is home to an organic Farmer’s market. Today the Farmer’s market is still there but has been pushed to the South end of the park. The rest is covered with tents and protest signs. I decided to walk around a get a few pictures.
In my mind, honoring those fallen in battle in Iraq isn’t a protest but more a reminder to us to remember our veterans. Lance Corporal Alexander S. Arredondo was on his second tour of duty when he was killed in battle in August 2004 while fighting in Najaf. Read more about Arrendondo
Continuing down the Atlantic Ave side, the mood changed. An earnest young guy dressed in camouflage was explaining his life view to a uniformed Boston cop who listened politely, interrupting only to say how a food donation could be delivered.
There were a few protest signs neatly arranged along the Rose garden and a tent covered with slogans from friends and well wishers.
Around the corner was the answer to Mitt Romney’s “Corporations are People” absurdity.
Turning inside the park, a group was drumming. Note the solar panel on the left. It turned out to be providing power to the media tent and not the band’s equipment.
Eventually, I went down an alley, a narrow path through the tents rather than the nice path, and listened to some mental health professionals calm down an overly excited young man. A number of social workers and mental health professionals volunteer their services as Occupy Boston is a focal point for all of society including the disturbed.
Ken was seating in a chair along the main walk chatting with a pleasant middle aged woman. She was trying to convince Ken an articulate black guy with the ability to ask insightful questions that almost immediately summed up his viewpoint and generally answered the question. The pleasant woman was trying to convince Ken that this country was the best ever after all “Wasn’t Obama a black guy president?” Ken looked around and just shook his head. The polite woman went on to say to me she liked coming down to Occupy Boston because she liked the food better than at the soup kitchen. I chatted with Ken for a while but he was much better asking questions about me than I was asking questions about him and getting any information.
After Karen chatted with the media tent’s inhabitants, our tour continued past the band, and left down Atlantic Ave past some other tents who were there as a sort-of squatter like addition to Occupy Boston and down to the street to look over to an unoccupied bit of park. Earlier this month some people had tried to cross Congress St. and expand further into Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. At this several hundred police arrested some and the others were persuaded to return to Dewey Square. Mayor Menino always has a sense of the political wind and his actions hinted at a belief that peaceful protestors camping out in Dewey Square are one thing and allowing the tent city to expand into other areas would look like a loss of control on the issue.
Karen eventually led me to the Farmer’s market where she needed to go to pickup a food donation for the food tent. The food tent relies upon donations, either that which can be served raw or is delivered cooked. Cooking is not allowed and evidently neither are Porta-Lets. South Station and its restrooms are open 24 hours a day. I thanked Karen for the tour and went back to the statue of Gandhi and to Ken and to listen to him interact with Bob who turned out to be one of the volunteers. From time to time, teams of two walked by carrying microphones and overly large TV cameras looking for people to interview for some of the local cable channels or maybe for their class media project. Today the major media were somewhere else. No blood, no riots, no major media presence no coverage.
Today Bob’s concerns were about attending the security discussion and how the question of who might volunteer to act as security could be handled. The sense of the issue was the Occupy facilitators wanted more volunteers to be involved with the security issues. The general philosophy is no one is all-the-time in charge of anything. Bob moved on and after a while Ken moved along. One of the things Bob mentioned was I could connect to the free internet, here at Dewey Square, with my smart phone and shortly afterward, some people could view Occupy Boston’s activity in real time video, in a café in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia where it all began.
Shortly after that a pleasant but serious man came by handling out “FreeArnold” literature about the size of long postcards. Arnold Giammarco is in danger of being deported and the pleasant but serious man was a relative. FreeArnold Arnold is a veteran has made a mistake or two in his life but seems to have turned his and his wife’s life around and now is in danger of being deported.
It was getting late so I walked over to South Station, got on the Red Line, transferred to the Green Line at Park , boarded the D to Riverside car, arrived at Riverside, picked up my car, drove to Needham, stopped in at the local sub-shop, listening to protests gives one a hunger for a small super steak, drove home, where Wendy was working on a mosaic creation, and eventually sat down with a Dos Equi lager, turned on the TV, sat back and ate the small super steak sub, watched the news, sipped a little and thought about my day.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters are often criticized because they don’t have demands. They can’t have demands because the things they are objecting to are symptoms of a malfunctioning social system.
Some of the symptoms are “Income Inequality”, “Unemployment for large numbers of people”, “Large amount of private and public debt”, and “Local and Federal Government running deficits” just to name a few. The Occupy movement is about building consensus, not about agreeing we have problems, but about a consensus on what to do. It is too early in the process to have demands. The country is only beginning to stir and it is early in the beginning of the election process. So far the discussion has been “let’s spend more money” and “let’s not.”
EDITORIAL COMMENTARY: I’m ready to hear the proposals that go beyond “tax the rich“ or “flat tax” and address how some the gains in productivity can be used to correct this “Income Inequality.” I don’t know if correcting this inequality will help with the other problems but it’s a good start. We might try making the market work by putting “failure” back into “Too big to fail.”
The inequalities that led to the Arab Spring began long ago, but nothing happened until a street vendor in Tunisia, in Sidi Bouzid, felt so hopeless and so disrespected he set himself on fire in a public place. He could just have easily disappeared into some prison and then into in a secret grave in the desert. But he didn’t, he met his end in a public way, into the internet, into the Arab Spring, and hence to Dewey Square in Boston. The internet has connected us one to one so that obscure events in a unremarkable North African town have us occupying a square in Boston, occupying public spaces around the country, and in a nice turn connecting Dewey Square to Sidi Bouzid, that remote city in Tunisia.
The Boston Globe for October 27, 2011 has a nice article on local activism in Needham, Ma. It’s interesting how some guys in some tents in a Square in Boston are influencing actions in Needham a place where I thought the concerns were on “how much to raise our school taxes.” I should pay more attention.
Boston Globe Occupy Boston