Occupying a power spot
No one is quite sure how long this will last, the protest known as Occupy Boston.
A tent city, more like a tent village, has sprung up on the grassy patch in Dewey Square, across from South Station. Some people there say they’re in it for the long haul. Others say they don’t know how long they’ll stay.
Already there are some who would dismiss this collection of well-meaning, good-natured people as naive hippies or nascent anarchists, young people with the luxury of not having any particular place to be except a protest.
And then you meet Eleanor Seigneur and Leah Barrows and you realize that what’s going on in Dewey Square is more complicated, more nuanced, than some would have you believe.
Seigneur is 42. Barrows is 40. Seigneur lives in Weymouth. Barrows lives in Roxbury. Seigneur is white. Barrows is black. Barrows is a Republican. Seigneur gives the Republicans credit only for getting people to vote for them against their own self-interest. They both have jobs. Seigneur is an accountant at an animal hospital. Barrows is an artist and author of “The Vampyre Cookbook.’’ They have young daughters. Seigneur’s is 6; Barrows’s is 8.
And they have found themselves on the grassy patch in Dewey Square the last few days because they know of no other way to express their dissatisfaction, their utter dismay, over how the concentration of power - money and media - has created two separate Americas, one increasingly rich, the other increasingly poor, with a middle class increasingly squeezed out.
Like their peers in Manhattan, who inspired the Boston protest by targeting financial institutions, many of the young people in Dewey Square complain about having to mortgage their futures with college loans before they can even contemplate a mortgage for a house.
Seigneur and Barrows have almost 20 years on a lot of their younger comrades in Dewey Square, and they worry about their daughters as much as for themselves.
“I worry about what kind of world my daughter will inherit,’’ Barrows said. “She should be able to go to college, own a house, have a family, without living in abject poverty.’’
Seigneur says her father, once a union stalwart, has turned against unions.
“He watches Fox News a lot,’’ she says, as if there is no other explanation.
They complain about spin: If you’re a working guy who wants affordable health care and a pension, you’re greedy. If you’re a chief executive who’s paid hundreds of times more than the lowest-paid guy in your company, you’re a success.
They complain about national priorities: Wall Street fat cats get bailed out by taxpayers. Working people who fall behind on their mortgages get tossed out.
The occupying movement is the natural counterpart to the Tea Party. It is populist. It is genuine. And it is not entirely focused. There is no one issue other than a consensus that something has gone terribly wrong with the country’s direction. Yesterday, a college student in Dewey Square flashed a sign, “Take Our Country Back,’’ identical to one I saw at a Tea Party protest on Boston Common a few years ago.
The small tents in Dewey Square are surrounded by tall buildings, where captains of industry make the money that maintains the status quo that the occupiers rail against. Politicians will always pay more attention to someone who writes a check than someone who makes a homemade sign. So why the protests? Why now? Why not a year ago?
“A lot of people I’ve talked to have mentioned the Arab Spring,’’ Eleanor Seigneur was saying. “People have risked their lives, lost their lives, demanding democracy in totalitarian countries. We supposedly have a democracy, but it’s being sold down the river. There’s one kind of democracy for the rich, and another for the rest of us. If we don’t speak up, who will?’’