Yesterday, October 10, I decided to go see Occupy Boston in the afternoon, before my Veterans for Peace meeting in the evening (in Cambridge). I was impressed and inspired by the peaceful demonstration that I saw. (This picture to the left is one I took during the day. You can see the Gandhi statue on loan from the Peace Abbey, as well as the tents. The picture to the right is one I took of the Veterans for Peace flags that we had at the Assembly, and after.)
Later on, I went to said Veterans for Peace meeting. We heard during the meeting that "they" (police? mayor?) wanted to shut down Occupy Boston. We ended the meeting early and went over together. We got there around 7:45-8 p.m.
I was very impressed watching my first General Assembly. It was very peaceful, very democratic. The Occupy Boston folks (mostly from the Millennial generation) were something to behold. They welcomed us "old timer" veterans very kindly when we came, and they seemed happy to see us.
I just have to note that this Occupy Boston protest was the first protest that I've participated in, in my entire lifetime, where NONE of the people driving by us shouted negative or lewd things... the first time NONE of them made lewd gestures. People either drove by and did nothing, or they drove by and honked, and/or waved, and/or shouted something supportive and/or cheered.
(Photo to the left: I am proud to stand with my Veterans for Peace friends... photo by Iraq War veteran Rachel McNeill.) There were all sorts of rumors all evening and into the night about the police, and what was (or was not) going to happen. Most of the night the word was that the police would come at midnight and close down the camp, possibly making arrests. Midnight came (and October 11 began), and midnight went. No police making arrests... just some police here and there as far as we could tell. (And the protestors were very reasonable about the possible upcoming confrontation, saying things like, "Remember -- it's not 'us versus them'... it's 'us versus us' -- the police are the 99% too!") 1:00 a.m. came. Same thing, no police. Still lots of rumors flying around, but no one knew if the police were coming. Some thought yes, many thought no.
My contact lenses were popping out of my eyeballs (I didn't realize I'd be up at all hours protesting when I left the house, or I would have worn my glasses -- and more comfortable shoes!), so I called it a night at sometime not long after 1 a.m. (I was personally convinced at that point that the police would leave us alone... ) Some other Veterans for Peace folks left at various times throughout the night too, but many stayed.
I walked from South Station to my car in the Boston Commons garage, a little afraid that it was unsafe to walk alone at night in the big city. I saw a few police here and there, but just enough to make me feel a little safer -- I didn't see a big gathering forming. I got to my car just fine, and drove all the way back home (about an hour).
On the way home, after about 30 minutes I made a pit stop. I checked Twitter to see if there were any updates from Occupy Boston and the Greenway expansion controversy. I read several tweets saying that the police had come and were "beating up" the Veterans for Peace. My heart sank. It turned out that the police came maybe about 20 minutes after I left. The Veterans for Peace who were still there were in the front line, and were the first ones treated roughly (pushed down and choked, and dragged off, from two I've communicated with) and arrested by the police. Apparently after that, the police went into the rest of the Occupy Boston crowd and arrested the other peaceful protestors. (See video below, posted by an Occupy Boston participant on Youtube.)
I came home safe, feeling guilty that I left just a bit too soon, as it turns out... but feeling lucky too. I've never been treated roughly by police and arrested before, after all. I feel horrible for my VFP friends and the other protestors who were treated harshly. (Addendum: After talking to more friends from VFP and others who were there, it seems that there were a wide range of experiences in terms of how the police responded. In many cases, the police were very low key and not aggressive at all.)
I'm still sort of in shock. I can't believe it "went down" like that -- that is, I can't believe the mayor told the police to intervene and make arrests. It really did NOT have to be that way. I'm thinking of my VFP friends who were arrested, and all the other protestors arrested... It must have been traumatic! I'm thinking of the police, too, and wondering how they feel about it all. As a veteran, I know the feeling of being told to do something you don't feel quite right about... and the police are definitely part of the 99%. I am grateful for police; I really am. They do a lot of good, and I've mostly had very good experiences with police in my lifetime. It was a sad situation for all concerned, really.
Addendum: Below is an excellent video of the evening's events.
"What Democracy Looks Like: The View From Occupy Boston" from Michael Gill on Vimeo.