On Saturday, January 7, members of at least fifteen Massachusetts branches of the Occupy movement convened at Encuentro 5, a community space in Boston’s Chinatown. The group met to discuss future statewide actions, share common concerns and plan for a General Assembly of Occupy groups from across Massachusetts.
Over fifty people were present at Saturday’s meeting. Occupy groups in attendance included Ocupemos el Barrio, Occupy Acton, Allston-Brighton, Brockton, Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Natick, Needham, Newton, North Attleboro, Quincy, Salem, Somerville, Weymouth, and Woburn. About fifteen activists from Occupy Boston also attended, though all in the capacity of individual participants, not as designated representatives of Occupy Boston. Attendees regretted the absence of Occupy the Hood Boston: the Mass Occupy meeting conflicted with a town hall meeting held at the Dudley Library, to rally against the state’s new “3 Strikes” sentencing law. (Many of these occupations were profiled in issue three of this newspaper: see the article “From the Burbs to el Barrio: Occupy beyond Dewey.”)
The meeting began with a general discussion about “the 1%, the 99%, and the movement”. Bryan Koulouris, of Occupy Quincy and Socialist Alternative encouraged Mass Occupy “to look to the West Coast for inspiration,” noting the port shutdown on December 12 and the upcoming Day of Action for Education on March 1.
Many more perspectives followed. Betsy Boggia, of Occupy Natick, suggested the power of having town councils pass resolutions. “If each town passes a non-binding resolution against corporate personhood,” she said, “that’s going to move up to the state level and then the national level.”
Genevieve Morse, of the International Women’s Day Committee, Socialist Alternative, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, spoke about how “the 1% is looking to smash public education and public services.” She urged those in attendance to “defend and extend” these services instead.
The most galvanizing issue was the MBTA’s recently announced plans to hike fares and cut services. Proposed changes would raise fares by as much as 43%, end weekend commuter rail service, slash bus routes, and reduce discounts offered to seniors and students. (For more on this issue, see “Free Charlie!” on page 1.)
Attendees agreed to hold a second planning meeting in late January. They also set a date and location for their first state-wide General Assembly: it will be held on February 18th, at the Boston Teachers Union’s hall, a space that can hold more than a thousand people.
“There is a lot of work to be done in upcoming weeks,” says Tim Larkin, a participant in Occupy Boston, member of Socialist Alternative, and one of the people planning the state-wide GA. In upcoming weeks, participants will collect ideas and feedback from their respective occupations, reach out to other occupations, and begin discussing the format of Mass Occupy’s General Assembly.
Regarding the GA’s format, Larkin said he hopes Mass Occupy will learn from the experience of other occupations and develop a process of its own. “The GA process should enable discussion to stay focused on action proposals and relevant issues,” he said, “and reduce the chances of stalled conversation and group paralysis.”
Jorge Alvarez, a participant in Occupy Boston’s Facilitation Working Group, said he liked what he saw at the January 7 meeting. “The facilitation was unobtrusive and that’s always helpful,” he said. Alvarez also liked how facilitators used time cards to show individual speakers when to wrap up. “I’m going to suggest that to [Occupy Boston's] Facilitation Working Group”, he said.
On the other hand, Alvarez hopes that Mass Occupy will do more to announce and explain their initiative before their next meeting. He said that many participants in Occupy Boston only learned of Mass Occupy “at the eleventh hour.” As a result, there was a lot of “misinformation,” and concern about co-optation and lack of transparency. “They could do a much better job at educating the public and the Occupy Boston community,” said Alvarez.
Indeed, outreach to Occupy Boston is one of Mass Occupy’s priorities in upcoming weeks, according to Tim Larkin. “Occupy Boston is not only the first Occupy in New England; it is also the one that all the other sites in New England continue to look to,” said Larkin. “At the same time,” Larkin continued, “it can sometimes be difficult to make announcements and proposals at Occupy Boston’s General Assemblies.” Although the General Assemblies are regularly scheduled and their locations are well publicized, their format can be unpredictable. If someone makes a trip into downtown Boston to make a specific announcement or proposal, but then is not able to present it, the experience can be frustrating, Larkin explained.
Lines of Communication
As important as Occupy Boston is, it is just one of an unknown number of Occupy groups in the state of Massachusetts. Convening a statewide General Assembly will mean reaching out to the occupations not yet present at Mass Occupy’s January 7 meeting. As participants in Occupy Boston’s InterOccupy Communications (OBIO) working group can attest, establishing and maintaining these lines of communication can be difficult.
On January 13th, before a regular OBIO meeting, Farhad Ebrahimi explained the group’s work in this way: “We aim to set up the informational infrastructure that will enable individuals and working groups from different Occupy sites to talk to one another. It’s less about content than about building connections.” Ebrahimi stressed that OBIO does not broadcast announcements on behalf of other groups, but they can help these other groups get in touch with one another.
During the OBIO meeting, Wayne Archer-Clark, of Occupy Newton, urged that “InterOccupy and Mass Occupy should be working together.” The January 7 Mass Occupy meeting convened activists from occupations where OBIO has not yet established personal contacts. Moreover, by providing a regional forum dedicated to discussion of politics, actions, and the future of the Occupy movement, Mass Occupy may free OBIO from expectations that the working group will create that forum itself. Instead, OBIO will be able to focus on its core mission: laying lines of communication within this new and dynamic social movement.
The Occupy movement’s ever-changing nature is itself one of the reasons to organize a state-wide General Assembly, according to Larkin. “We can’t expect the Occupy movement to remain at its present level,” Larkin explains. “It will either grow or shrink. For working people, unity is our strength. We need to overcome the things that are keeping us divided and come together.”