Occupation Boston

Police and demonstrators outside the Fedearl Reserve Bulding in Boston last week. (Photo by Ryan Ademan for The Sun Chronicle)

The signs told the story.

On the cusp of Boston's Financial District, just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, a collection of homemade posters and handwritten messages conveyed the collective frustration that fuels the Occupy Boston movement.

The sentiments ranged from anger to desperation:

"Eat the rich."

"How do we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we can't afford boots?"

"America, this is your intervention."

"The only banks that need bailouts are food banks."

"Use my tax dollars for jobs and education, not war and occupation."

"Too many problems to fit on one sign."

Occupy Boston is one of about 150 offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street protests that began almost a month ago in New York City, condemning corporate greed, government bailouts and politicians more concerned with the interest of lobbyists than citizens. Providence's version got under way Saturday night.

While the movement has a tendency toward self-absorbed rants and vague objectives, it also calls attention to significant problems, from skyrocketing unemployment rates to staggering income inequality.

Tuesday night's gathering on Dewey Square felt like part protest and part hippie retreat.

Rows of tents filled the plaza - most as makeshift homes for demonstrators, and a select few designated for legal affairs, food or medical supplies - as marijuana smoke wafted by sporadically and a few bored-looking policemen stood watch along the edge of the demonstration.

Things were much more charged on Monday night, when police arrested more than 100 demonstrators, but by Tuesday night, tensions had subsided. As passersby stopped to read signs, snap photos or listen in, organizers took turns speaking into a microphone.

Some spectators draped themselves in the U.S. flag; a few wore masks.

A driver passing by in a pickup truck heckled the crowd, yelling: "Get a (expletive) job!"

For the first 90 minutes of the general assembly, speakers seemed more concerned about the police "brutality" and "cruelty" they'd experienced the night before than the issues that prompted them to demonstrate in the first place.

As one after another speaker described spending "13 hours in a cell" or watching the "horror" via the Internet, it became clear that Occupy Boston is a protest tailor-made for a social media-driven culture accustomed to using public forums to air personal gripes.

Many of Tuesday night's speeches seemed almost like drawn-out Facebook status updates or tweet tirades about the trauma of being "arrested and brutalized," or watching people being "arrested and brutalized," or reading about the arrests and so-called brutality on Facebook, while the issues they originally gathered to fight were all but forgotten.

Around 8:30 p.m., organizers bantered back and forth about whether to have a group discussion. Then, more speakers took to the microphone, some addressing issues besides the arrests.

"Our money needs to be serving us, not the businessmen who are thriving on the business of war," said one speaker who identified herself as a Muslim Moroccan-American.

In terms of ideology, Occupy Boston seems little more than a chaotic clutter of complaints. But on a technological level, Occupy Boston is supremely well-organized.

The movement has its own Facebook page (facebook.com/OccupyBoston), Twitter account (twitter.com/Occupy_Boston) and website (http://occupyboston.com).

It also has its own publication, The Occupy Boston Globe (occupybostonglobe.com) that publicizes Occupy Boston events, including a Labor Rally with the AFL-CIO, an event with Verizon workers, an Anti-Oppression Working Group and "Drumming Meditation with Karl."

The group has also founded Free School U, with classes that are reportedly attracting 30 to 60 people in topics such as Anarchism, Socialism, Active Listening, The Economy & Wall Street, Compassion Training and Anti-Racism.

The revolution is even being televised on LiveStream at livestream.com/occupyboston.

The web-based outreach is allowing locals to keep up with the movement even when they can't make it into Boston for marches, general assemblies, concerts and civil disobedience training.

Samantha Simpson, 25, of Attleboro slept in tent city Oct. 7, attended a march the following Saturday and has followed the movement online since. Simpson said she has fears about how the country is being run.

"I'm not jobless and I'm not looking for a handout," she said. "I work 40 hours a week, I have a 4.0 GPA and I want people to know that this isn't something that should just be cast aside.

"People need to pay attention to what's going on here. There are real problems that need to be addressed or things are going to keep getting worse and worse. So, we need to make a change."

Regarding the movement's nebulous agenda, Simpson, a student who works third shift at a coffee shop, said there are no easy answers or solutions.

"We've only been out there for about three weeks," she said. "Right now, we're just figuring out what the problems are, because there are so many problems right now.

"We're just in the first steps," she said. "It's hard to say exactly what needs to be done, but we've started an open discussion for everybody here and around the world, so we're working on it.

"It's not just a bunch of hippies sitting around playing drums," Simpson added. "There's real work being done out there."

Rebecca Crockett, 27, of North Attleboro said she has been actively following the Occupy Boston Facebook page, and made a bail donation for demonstrators caught up in Monday night's sweep.

Crockett, who passes Dewey Square on her way to and from work as an associate editor in a web content firm, said the movement's message resonates with her own situation.

"I wasn't able to gain steady employment for over a year and a half, and it was a miserable and somewhat terrifying experience," Crockett said by email. "Now I am fortunate enough to be employed full-time, but I know many people who are not. If I wasn't, if this was happening at the same time last year, I'd be living in tent city right now. It's just unfair that so many people are hurting so badly right now when many companies are making record profits."

Crockett said that although some media channels have tried to trivialize the movement by implying it's "just a bunch of angry college kids," she's seen participants ranging from senior citizens and war veterans to entire families.

"We all have different complaints, many of them very similar in nature," she said. "Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street and all of the other similar movements are simply a way of letting corporate and government officials know that the way things stand now is unacceptable."

Sara Bilman, 27, of Medford works as an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Centro Latino in Chelsea, and said she joined the movement Tuesday night because she is frustrated with the "incessant corporatism" that is taking over the country.

"I'm not standing here with a pitchfork saying kill the rich people," Bilman said. "The idea is we are pro-business but why are these corporations able to lobby and gain so much control over politicians?

"Corporations have hijacked our democracy. There's no way we can continue on this route with corporations having power they do. I'm fearful for the country."

Bilman said that her father, an immigrant from Istanbul, was able to realize the American dream by opening a small day care business that provided comfortably for his family. But, she says she sees the same opportunities denied to her ESL students, most of whom work two or three jobs and struggle to make ends meet.

"We need small businesses owned by minorities, and I don't see that happening," she said.

A 24-year-old man who wanted to be identified only as "Frank" has been sleeping in tent city since its debut night.

A sales engineer who sells digital microscopes by day, Frank waved a sign Tuesday denouncing corporate bailouts, all the while wearing his shirt-and-tie work getup.

A resident of Brighton and Danvers, he says that those who dismiss Occupy Boston as a "hippie, leftist" movement with no objective misunderstand the group's role.

"No one really has a solution, but we're here to recognize and bring light to the problem," he said. "We're criticized heavily for not knowing the solution, but we vote people into power to make those solutions. I'm trying to call attention to the problem."

In addition to students, young working adults and members of activist groups such as Veterans for Peace, the homeless population has also joined the movement.

A 49-year-old painter named David P. said he lost his job after he was "outsourced by Latinos who worked faster and for less" than he did. When his savings dried up, he lost his home.

David says he doesn't agree with Occupy Boston's "extremists" and has found the movement "chaotic."

He said several of the younger protesters instigated police on Monday night by moving beyond the group's designated Dewey Square space.

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