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Russell Simmons buoys Occupy Boston protesters

By Mark Pratt
Associated Press / November 15, 2011

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BOSTON—Hip-hop mogul and political activist Russell Simmons told protesters at the Occupy Boston encampment Tuesday that it will take dramatic action to rid the American political system of corporate influence.

Simmons arrived in Boston after police dismantled the birthplace of the Occupy movement in New York earlier Tuesday. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment, evicting hundreds of demonstrators, arresting 200 and tearing down the tent city that was the epicenter of a movement protesting what participants call corporate greed and economic inequality.

"The Occupy movement is under attack," Simmons said, adding that there is no contradiction in a multimillionaire such as himself supporting a movement demanding economic equity. "I benefit off the tax code but I'm ready to pay more taxes and ... I don't like having my secretary paying more in taxes than me."

He told a crowd of about 200 people that a senior member of Congress whom he did not identify has written a constitutional amendment that would bar corporate contributions in federal elections and require that all federal elections be publicly funded.

"The idea is to give the power back to the people and take it away from the corporations," he said, dressed in a red zip-up hooded sweatshirt over a blue T-shirt, jeans and plain white sneakers. He drew a cheer from the crowd when he took off his New York Yankees baseball cap and replaced it with a Boston Red Sox hat donated by a protester.

He said the goal is to find a Republican co-sponsor before identifying the congressman.

"He wants to have very strong bipartisan support for this legislation first," he said. "Nine out of 10 Americans think there is too much control of our government by corporations and special interests."

Protester K. Eric Martin called Simmons' appearance "powerful."

"To have someone like him come down and foster the dialogue is exciting," the Harvard University graduate student said.

Developments in New York had protesters in Boston concerned. Although they said their relationship with police and city officials is good, they still fear police will try to evict them in the middle of the night as well.

On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of Occupy Boston protesters marched peacefully to the Statehouse, where they chanted anti-Wall Street slogans and expressed solidarity with evicted New York activists.

Earlier in the day, the demonstrators filed a lawsuit as a pre-emptive strike against any attempt to remove them from their protest site in Dewey Square in the city's financial district.

The group is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the city or police from evicting them from their encampment, which was first set up on Sept. 30. A hearing on the request is scheduled for Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court.

Christopher Loh, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas Menino, said the city's policy has been to allow the encampment to remain in place as long as it's peaceful, and nothing had changed Tuesday.

Some protesters did yoga while others milled around eating. A sign at the entrance to the encampment in Boston's financial district read "2 a.m. Nov 15. without warning NYPD raided OWS."

Lauren Chalas, a yoga instructor and web designer from Plymouth, spends a few nights a week at the encampment and a few nights at home.

"I guess I wasn't shocked" by what happened in New York, she said. "And absolutely I am concerned that the same thing could happen here. Although I have to admit the police presence seems to be lighter in Boston."

Her boyfriend, John Ford, a bookstore owner in Plymouth who opened a library in a tent at the Occupy Boston site, said city officials and police have assured him protesters would be given 72 hours' notice to move out of Dewey Square.

"The anxiety is still there," he said. "I mean, they have been pulling these cloak-and-dagger police missions in the middle of the night all over the country, and there is always a fear here that we will be next."

Chalas and Ford said they would passively resist if police raided the encampment.

Meanwhile, Ryan Cahill, 26, an Army veteran who served two combat tours of duty in Iraq, said he's not concerned.

"It seems to be every time they evict a camp, the movement just gets bigger and stronger," said Cahill, who is originally from Sonoma, Calif., and now attends Bunker Hill Community College.

What happened in New York "just shows what authorities think of First Amendment rights," he said. "I don't understand fighting non-violence with violence."