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After Occupy Wall Street crackdown, what about Boston?

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  November 15, 2011 02:02 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Occupy Wall Street was full of activity on Nov. 6.

The pre-dawn raid today to clear the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York, along with recent clampdowns on protesters elswhere, signaled a shift in the campaign to call attention to what protesters say are economic inequalities. It also raised questions about what will happen in Boston now.

A spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department said Tuesday morning that it was impossible to say how much longer Occupy Boston protesters will be allowed to remain in Dewey Square. Spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said there were no immediate plans to clear Dewey Square, but that could change.

“It’s difficult to say what will happen moving forward, but we will make those decisions on a daily basis,” Driscoll said in a telephone interview.

But the pressure appears to be building.

Just yesterday, Occupy Oakland protesters in California were evicted for the second time, and police in Portland, Ore., cleared out an encampment on Sunday. Over the weekend, protesters in Burlington, Vt., agreed to peacefully leave their two-week-old camp after a man shot himself to death inside a tent there, the Burlington Free Press reported.

The Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square was founded less than two weeks after Occupy Wall Street began and shared many elements with the New York City camp, but from the beginning, the two have seen markedly different responses from their municipal governments.

Both camps were established in their cities’ financial districts, within easy walking distance of their city halls, and in parks of less than an acre. Inside, the protesters have set up similar information tables and resources for food, legal advice, and media contacts. Both camps have created working groups to tackle issues such as outreach, demonstrations, logistics, medical needs, sanitation, and public safety.

But police departments in the two cities have responded to the protests in strikingly different ways.

Occupy Wall Street was met early by an aggressive police response that famously included a Sept. 25 pepper spray attack on two unarmed women by a high-ranking officer, who was later reprimanded. And New York Police made one previous, unsuccessful attempt to clear the park for cleaning before entering it with batons and plastic shields early Tuesday.

The National Lawyers Guild later obtained a court order that will allow protesters to return, but the final outcome remains unknown. A week before they were evicted, one protester said they were working to find common ground with police and planned to march for better wages for officers.

“A lot of the police realize we’re here for them, too,” said Kanaska Carter, 26, a musician and tattoo artist who came from Newfoundland, Canada, to New York City for the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and remained to join the protest as it began.

“I think that’s really important,” Carter said. “I think once we [march for better wages for police], it would be nice if they actually march with us. I think that would be an amazing thing to happen.”

In Boston, relations between police and protesters have largely been civil. With the exception of the Oct. 11 eviction of protesters who attempted to expand to the next block of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, in which 141 protesters were arrested, Boston Police have not attempted to remove protesters.

Boston police have arrested some in the camp for drug-dealing but have left law-abiding protesters alone, and they have remained impassive or reacted with humor even when protesters challenged their authority.

Where Boston Police usually have two or three officers stationed in Dewey Square, there are often more than a dozen New York City Police at Zuccotti Park, and police have installed a Sky Watch mobile tower adjacent to the park that can be raised two stories into the air and overlook the entire park.

The New York camp was louder and more disorderly than the one in Boston, full of protesters but also of resporters, photographers, and vendors selling souvenir t-shirts, buttons, and canvas bags. The greater foot traffic of Manhattan guaranteed a larger audience, and the media coverage and large online presence of the New York protest ensured tourists from around the world will pay the camp a visit.

But despite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statement on Tuesday that it was necessary to clean the park, it appeared one week earlier to be generally clean. Though crowded, there was no accumulated trash visible, and the camp lacked the pervasive smell of rot that haunts the area around Occupy Boston’s food tent, where the protesters’ sanitation efforts seem to have had little impact.

In both cities and in others around the world, protesters say they share a resolve to their movement alive until it has effected the change they set out to make. For many, that means staying through the coming winter, despite the hardships, and returning again and again to their camps if the police remove them. Carter, the protester from Newfoundland, hopes the movement will last far longer than that.

“I see this as a conscious community created by the people, for the people, where all of our needs are met, where people can feel welcome, feel safe. I don’t want to see it go anywhere,” Carter said. “I think that this should exist indefinitely. … These changes aren’t going to happen overnight.”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @DowntownUpdate.

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