“Ba de ya, say do you remember
Ba de ya, dancing in September”
-- Earth Wind & Fire, “September”
Dancing with debauchery and disorder, despite projecting a message of harmonious dissension, “Occupy Boston” first pillaged Dewey Square, Boston, on Sept. 30, 2011. For 72 days its participants appeared to be darlings of left-leaning media and left-leaning office holders until the lawless occupation of public space was finally dismantled. Today, remarkably, the Occupy movement is a fast-fading memory, its professed “cause” aimless and irrelevant. What happened?
The so-called “contagious protest,” better known nationally as Occupy Wall Street (eventually spreading to eighty-two countries), began in New York City’s financial district on Sept. 17, 2011. It spawned mini movements across America, including Boston, as a means to express outrage over social and economic inequality.
Remember the random “General Assemblies,” “people’s mics” (individual: “We…!” echoed by group: “We…!,” repeating the rude call and response ad nauseam…) and nefarious public behavior (Bella Bond was conceived in a tent in the Occupy Boston encampment)?
In a post-mortem, The Boston Globe determined that Occupy attracted “populist dreamers, anti-corporate crusaders, and street-weary homeless people to the site near South Station.” And further concluded that “city officials embraced much of the message, but eventually tired of the methods.”
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Frances A. McIntyre initially let the lawlessness to continue before allowing an “orderly dispersal.” For a group without permit, the late Thomas Menino, Boston’s Mayor, cited “patience” and “respect” regarding their repeated intransigence. It is hard to imagine that judges and politicians would allow conservative groups -- like the Tea Party -- such leniency, given that past decisions were largely political reactions, not legal imperatives.
Wired.com even went so far as to write that Occupy changed “Americans’ political and social dialogue.” Really? Occupy was mostly devoid of ideas and dialogue. That may explain why it is largely confined now to social-media meanderings. Today, @Occupy_Boston (boasting “we are the wicked pissah 99%”) and occupyboston.org seem more interested in the Dakota Access Pipeline than local matters involving social justice.
Then, as now, scattershot Occupiers commanded little attachment to policymakers, had no vertical or horizontal governance and no inclination to create a structure that would allow greater integration into the political process. In New York, an internal battle erupted at one point between incessant drummers and speakers interfering with one another’s “space” and “respect” (today, those same people would consider such acts as microagressions). It was an unsustainable, ungovernable morass.
Just two weeks before Occupy Boston began, Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat that was “occupied” by Scott Brown. Brazenly, Warren said, “I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they [Occupy] do,” adding that, “I support what they do.” If anyone was going to be its leader, Warren surely was that person. It never happened. But that is a reflection on Occupy, not Warren.
Where was Occupy when Warren the other week rightly and publicly rebuked Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf over the bank’s illegal and unethical behavior (creating as many as two million bogus bank and credit-card accounts without its customers’ authorization, resulting in 5,300 Wells bankers being fired) that continued for years? Where are the demonstrations in front of Wells Fargo Boston offices? (Mr. Stumpf has since been forced to resign.)
Undeterred, diminished prestige notwithstanding, Occupy Boston still believes that it is a viable political project, as apparently do local mainstream media.
Barely concealing its enthusiasm, Boston Magazine recently reported that Mike Connelly (a self-described “proud, progressive Democrat”), “will almost certainly be the first member of Occupy elected to the State House.” The community organizer, lawyer and activist “vanquished” (according to boston.com) incumbent state Rep. Tim Toomey in a primary contest. Toomey, who has held a seat on Beacon Hill for over 23 years and believes that too much government is not enough, will still continue holding a seat on the Cambridge City Council. Just what Massachusetts needs, more progressive, big-government advocates.
Its ephemeral legacy still intact, Occupy still possesses an enduring lust for believing that more and larger government is the solution to correcting all unfair social and economic inequality. Not a thriving private sector.
Occupy was, and still is, an out-of-tune, undisciplined political cacophony that lacked, and is lacking, a needed conductor. Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa and Ronald Reagan with Margaret Thatcher, were serious leaders for whom a movement could attach an emotional and intellectual connection; they produced lasting results.
Occupy failed to remember that statues and monuments are built in remembrance of great men and women, their ideas, their leadership and their noble achievements. For those anonymous roving circles clattering in hoodies in 2011 -- where artificial rebellion and flimsy political construct was a form of hobby -- their movement’s memorial was always going to be discarded power-washed cardboard signs and kitschy cyber junk, fitting codas.
After five years, the ideas are still bankrupt, the dialogue is dying and Dewey Square is once again a public place of grandeur.
James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and a former Cape Cod Times columnist. This piece firstran in The New Boston Post.