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Protest looks to court and beyond

Arraignments this week; new steps discussed

By Travis Andersen and Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / December 12, 2011
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Dozens of Occupy Boston demonstrators will be arraigned on criminal charges this week, some possibly as early as today, following the weekend shutdown of their Dewey Square encampment. The legal action comes as the movement searches for a way to continue its activism in Massachusetts.

The protesters said there were no plans to use the court proceedings as a platform for dissent, as has been the case in some other cities - although they plan to attend the arraignments carrying a statue of Gandhi. As for longer-term plans, they said their next steps were still being developed, with suggestions made at a meeting yesterday ranging from a symbolic placement of tents across the suburbs to an attempt to shut down Boston’s port operations.

Occupy Boston plans to hold a “speak out’’ at 4 p.m. today at Government Center, followed by a 6 p.m. march to Dewey Square, according to the group’s website.

All of the 46 protesters arrested Saturday have been released, except for one man charged separately in an altercation that occurred inside a bathroom in South Station, according to Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the state chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is providing legal representation for the protesters. A Boston police spokesman could not confirm the report of the altercation yesterday.

Masny-Latos said that six lawyers from the guild are providing pro bono representation for the protesters, who offered resistance when police moved in early Saturday morning to break up their 72-day-old tent city near South Station.

The charges are expected to include trespassing and resisting arrest, both criminal offenses. Trespassing carries up to 30 days in jail and resisting arrest up to 2 1/2 years in jail.

Ariel Oshinsky, an Occupy Boston media volunteer, said in a phone interview she thought it was “very unlikely that a large majority’’ of demonstrators will pack the courtroom as they did Oct. 11. That’s when 141 protesters arrested for refusing to leave a section of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway near the encampment were arraigned.

Legal proceedings against Occupy defendants in other cities have been punctuated by colorful moments.

In New York last month, demonstrators broke into applause when one protester had his case dismissed, prompting a court officer to tell the group to “express yourselves outside,’’ The New York Times reported.

Supporters in Santa Cruz, Calif., staged a “noise demonstration’’ Friday outside a local jail for protesters arrested in a raid on San Lorenzo Park, according to indybay.org, an alternative news website.

And in Portland, Ore., in October, a rally in front of a courthouse for arrested Occupy demonstrators drew dozens of people who danced, drummed, and chanted.

Oshinsky said those arrested are proud of the stand they took at about 5 a.m. on Saturday. That was when hundreds of police officers entered the encampment and ordered protesters to leave, three days after a judge lifted a restraining order barring the city from clearing the park. “They [are] all in high spirits for having stood up for their right and for others’ right to be in Dewey Square,’’ she said.

Yesterday, about 20 Occupy Boston supporters, including several people who were arrested Saturday, gathered on Boston Common to discuss the next steps for the movement and reflect on the Dewey encampment. A second, larger meeting was held later in the afternoon, also on the Common.

Demonstrator Jeff Nunes said the group may now focus on community issues, such as home foreclosures. He said a contingent from Boston will join other Occupy groups for a planning meeting in Washington on March 30.

Nunes said that one idea for public action would be to shut down the Port of Boston, but there is no clear plan to do that.

The idea of closing the port, or at least part of it, had been floated at a meeting Saturday, he said, and it resurfaced yesterday. “A bunch of people were just throwing out ideas,’’ he said. “Someone mentioned shutting down the port and people liked that idea.’’

Such a plan, should it win the endorsement of other Occupy Boston activists, would probably prove nearly impossible, given the security in place.

The idea appeared to stem from an effort by Occupy groups on the West Coast to shut down ports, said Rachel Plattus, 24, of Occupy Boston.

That action, targeting areas stretching from Seattle to San Diego, is expected to take place today, according to the website westcoastportshutdown.org.

Another idea being floated is blocking access to the Federal Reserve and other banks, Nunes said.

“We’re going to continue to raise awareness, to [get] people involved,’’ he said.

Plattus urged protesters to “take advantage of the incredible diversity of [tactics] being talked about,’’ such as “Tent for Dissent,’’ a drive to have people in the suburbs pitch tents in their front yards to show support for the movement.

In an interview, Plattus said she disagrees with anyone who might characterize the group as disorganized.

“If people took time to come down and be part of our process, it would be clear that we did have leadership,’’ she said. “Just this meeting today is an indicator. We have been doing something new.’’

After the mass arrest in October, most of the protesters agreed to have their criminal charges converted to a civil infraction with a $50 fine. But some declined, saying they should never have been arrested at all.

Masny-Latos, who was herself arrested on the Greenway in October, said that she and the other holdouts are headed back to court for a preliminary hearing in that case on Friday.

“I felt very strongly that I did not commit any crime,’’ she said. “Therefore I wanted to go before a judge and present my claim to not being guilty of the charges.’’

Prosecutors have identified 12 defendants in that case whose charges of trespassing, unlawful assembly, and remaining in a park after 11 p.m. are pending.

Rich Levy, 65, of Brookline, a political science professor at Salem State University, said during yesterday’s meeting on the Common that he was motivated to support the movement “by the whole idea of the growing social, political, and economic inequality and the need for something to change. This is the most opposition to something I’ve seen in the last 20 to 30 years.’’

Masny-Latos said that passion remains high among the demonstrators, their eviction from Dewey Square notwithstanding.

“Of course everyone is very saddened by the fact that the mayor and the police department decided to destroy this encampment that we had in Dewey Square,’’ she said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said repeatedly during the Dewey occupation that he shared the group’s concerns about economic inequality and other issues, but the tent city presented health and public safety challenges.

Demonstrators will not be deterred by the loss of the square, Masny-Latos said.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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