It's been a long winter for Occupy. Chased from its marquee encampments — Boston included — the leaderless movement has struggled to maintain momentum, even as it's become a convenient target for desperate Republican candidates.
JUST WARMING UP Despite the lack of a physical base to rally around and procedural debates that sometimes border on the absurd, Occupy Boston operatives are hopeful that, with the right strategy, they can reconnect with the larger community.
Many moderates and liberals who sympathized with Occupy during its initial struggle in the streets seem to be detached from the day-to-day progress of core working groups. On the inside, some Occupiers have slowed down or burnt out; others have left due to frustration. A recent proposal passed by Occupy Boston's general assembly signifies the degree to which the movement continues to be bogged down in procedural rigmarole: from now on, two hours per week will be dedicated to nitpicking the facilitation process — this despite already having had five months to get it straight.
As the weather warms, though, the question looms: will there will be an Occupy Spring? Will the movement once again reign in the national headlines — not just as a sideshow tailing presidential candidates, but in cities like Boston, where much of the fall was dominated by Occupy actions and the response to the sudden surge in activism?
All signs point to "yes." In addition to vague plans to establish another camp in April — a surefire way to attract news cameras — daily Occupy Boston strategy meetings remain staffed by significant numbers of dedicated operatives. Saturday-night general assemblies draw roughly 80 attendees. The crowds are smaller than those that rallied on Dewey Square at the height of Occupy intensity, but a core group of direct-action-minded folks are regularly joining more established forces like City Life and the T Riders Union in protesting everything from MBTA service cuts to foreclosures and, this past weekend, prisoner abuse. College occupations are also picking up some slack; earlier this month, a New England student summit at Harvard attracted delegates from more than a dozen schools (as well as Occupy godfather Noam Chomsky).
This past Sunday, members of Occupy Boston were joined by counterparts from around the commonwealth for a statewide assembly at UMass-Boston, and afterward by Occupiers from as far as Rochester, New York, and Washington, DC, at the Community Church of Boston across from Copley Square — a progressive meeting hub that's become their default home base since the loss of their encampment nearly three months ago. At both summits, their joint purpose wasn't simply to network between cities, but rather to share ideas about how Occupations can reach deep into the larger community. Camilo Viveiros, a veteran group trainer from Occupy Providence, came to facilitate the latter program, which was bluntly titled "From Occupying to Organizing." His message: "The corporate press wants to declare the Occupy Movement dead, but you can't evict an idea— if we organize."
"A lot of us weren't activists before this, so we can really use the training," says Mel St. Laurent, an artist and media volunteer from Providence who has worked with Occupy in her city, as well as here and in Manhattan. "In the camps, we just went for it, and did what we had to do to get to that point. But now we need to build on that." Adds Viveiros: "We're trying to popularize the movement to get more of the 99 percent. . . . The question is: how do we seize control on a larger scale?"