Boston Correspondent Karin Friedemann reports on growing â€œOccupy Bostonâ€ phenomenon
By Karin Friedemann, TMO
Since the end of September, hundreds of protesters under the banner â€œOccupy Bostonâ€ have set up camp in downtown Boston, Massachusetts to support the ongoing â€œOccupy Wall Streetâ€ protests in New York. Their demands are varied, but seem to be focused on unemployment, rising food prices, and the unfairness of billions of dollars of tax money being spent on useless wars and bank bailouts while the American dream of home ownership and â€œa chicken in every potâ€ steadily dies, as ordinary citizens lose their financial security.
Tents have filled up a public park while crowds chant slogans such as â€œTax the Rich,â€ hold up hand made signs and fill the air with music and drumming. Celebrities have come to perform, and the homeless have been receiving free food and clothing. Compared to the scene in New York, Occupy Boston is enjoying a festive atmosphere despite the chilly weather, free of tension without any hint of police brutality. Various people drop by with donations of money, food, blankets and kind words, while the number of campers continues to grow.
The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino and the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick have decided that there will be no arrests of protesters and have in fact stated publicly that they support the right of citizens to express their opinions. The protesters have been told they are free to camp out as long as they choose.
Media criticism has focused on the cost upon taxpayers to pick up the garbage and provide the tent city with electricity. It is highly probable that the City of Boston has decided to avoid the bad press that comes along with police violence against angry mobs. It is also much cheaper to provide these very basic services to the protesters than to arrest and detain them and then pay for all of them to go to trial and provide them all with court-appointed lawyers. Furthermore, there might be some quiet agreement with the slogan â€œTax the Richâ€ among many in the leadership, for this is one of the principles upon which the State of Massachusetts operates, as the only state in the US that provides free health insurance to the lower middle class.
Massachusetts is already well-known as the US state which takes the best care of its poorer citizens out of its wealthy tax base, providing government-subsidized child care starting from the age of one month, after school and summer programs for teens, nearly free sports programs, food and cash aid and reduced housing prices for the poor. Yet it is still not enough for everyone to feel secure. The working middle class is hardest hit by the economy since they do not qualify for most of these programs and often go into debt trying to provide for their families due to medical bills, childcare or the high price of gasoline.
Occupy Boston is not your usual group of punks and hippies with nothing else to do but complain. The movement has been joined by college students, nurses, pilots, and other workers. As I drove on the highway today past the electrical workersâ€™ union I saw a fancy electrical sign reading â€œWe the People Occupy Boston.â€
Americaâ€™s largest labor union, the AFL-CIO with 11 million members has backed the growing movement, stating: â€œThe Wall Street banks and the largest corporations refuse to pay their fair share of taxes while our infrastructure crumbles. They sit on record profits while the rest of the country suffers, and they still refuse to put people back to work.â€
The Boston Herald reports that many of the elderly are showing their support. A retired 71-year-old gentleman, who ran his own corporate headhunting firm, visited the tent village yesterday afternoon to advise the young people to focus on making clearer demands. â€œIâ€™d like to see the group more focused on applying pressure to specific areas,â€ he stated.
Some feel it makes no sense using so much personal energy to speak out against such a vague term as â€œCorporate Greedâ€ without actually naming names of bankers or lobbyists who should go to jail, for example, or demanding some specific reforms of the process of electing public officials. Specifically, Occupy Boston could use its voice to demand universal health care for all of Massachusetts, a measure that would even save the rich thousands of dollars a year. MassHealth is the best health insurance in America, with zero co-payments and even free replacements for broken eyeglasses. Preventing disease is so much less costly than treating it.
Occupy Boston is a unique and bizarre political situation, where banks and financial corporations have opened their doors to the hundreds of anti-bank anti-corporation protesters to let them use the toilet. The unrest seems to be good for local capitalism, since all these people have to eat. One of Americaâ€™s leading pro-Israel advocates Rabbi Michael Lerner has been actively recruiting Jews to participate in the protests â€“ perhaps to steer the conversation away from cutting US aid to Israel, which would be an obvious way to quickly make more money available to the masses of disgruntled Americans.
Even more contradictory are the conflicting views of the people involved. Right-wing Libertarian protesters demand an end to the credit-based economy and want to return to the Gold Standard, while the Leftists and Liberals simply want to steer more borrowed government money into improving and expanding welfare programs. But most are in agreement that jobs are more important than foreign wars and that the government needs to focus more on its citizens not the demands of corporate lobbyists.
Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer