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by Elisa Mai and Ann Coleman
On the evening of November 2, 2011, an estimated 500 people marched through the streets of downtown Boston against recent violent police crackdowns on the nonviolent Occupy movement and in solidarity with the Oakland General Strike.
Marchers held signs of support for Scott Olsen, an Iraq War Veteran who remains in serious condition from a fractured skull. Olsen was struck in the head by a gas canister during the October 25th police action against Occupy Oakland protesters, the inciting incident which led to Wednesday’s protests.
The Boston march lasted just over two hours and stopped in front of the Hyatt Hotel, the Massachusetts State House, and the Boston Public Schools headquarters before passing through Quincy Market and returning to Dewey Square. Similar demonstrations occurred simultaneously all over the country.
Speakers at the march drew parallels between issues highlighted by the Oakland General Strike and local concerns. At the downtown Hyatt hotel, the crowd gathered with chants of “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” and “Shame on Hyatt!” Hyatt management fired the entire housekeeping staff at its three Boston-area hotels in August 2009. Many of those laid off – some long-standing employees – were required to train their replacements before being fired.
Their replacements are now being paid minimum wage.
Marchers were encouraged to join the Unite HERE Local 26 boycott, in support of fired housekeepers. At the Massachusetts State House, several speakers addressed the crowd about union rights, drawing attention to the role of the union support in Oakland.
The march worked its way toward 26 Court Street, where a Boston Public Schools Committee was to hold a public meeting. The building was surrounded by police by the time marchers arrived. Inside, the meeting room was at capacity with more than 300 people, many of them students, teachers and parents speaking out against the recent defunding, and privatization and even closure of their schools.
Boston Police kept the marchers from entering the building, citing occupancy limits. The group remained outside and marched around the building, holding signs in the windows and chanting “Separate is not equal! Good schools for all people!”
The crowd moved on to Fanueil Hall Marketplace, marching through the historic Quincy Market. As marchers went by, people working at the food counters waved in support. The crowd gathered inside the great dome, pausing as speakers used the People’s Mic to explain the situation in Oakland, their words resounding in great echoes.
Overall, the mood of the march was ebullient. “There’s something in the air that hasn’t been here in the past couple of weeks,” one participant said. He thought that the march had more energy, and more people, than other recent marches have had. Another participant, a computer science graduate student at Harvard, said that he was very excited about the march. “We need to show our strength so that the police can’t shut us down,” he said.
Many attendees ended the night by sharing their experiences and twitter feeds from Oakland and other cities hosting solidarity marches. One speaker read from Occupy Oakland’s Declaration of Solidarity with Neighborhood Reclamations, which “supports the efforts of people in all Oakland neighborhoods to reclaim abandoned properties for use to meet their own needs.” This was followed by a larger discussion about alternative nonviolent actions, such as a move to occupy foreclosed homes, in addition to marching and protests.
In Oakland, an estimated 10,000 people came out over the course of the day to participate in more than five hours of rallies and marches. Teachers and students from local high schools and colleges walked out of class to join the strike, and organized labor – including SEIU Local 1021 and the Oakland Teacher’s Association – gave their support to the protesters. Shops were closed and the port of Oakland was shut down for the day, with the complicity of the local longshoreman union’s rank-and-file members.