On May 12, a group of about sixty people marched through Worcester, MA, with a banner displaying Time Magazine’s 2011 “Person of the Year” — the protester. They did so in solidarity with Spain’s Indignados, the grassroots movement for real democracy that spread to the United States last September.
The assembly, called Occupy New England by its organizers, drew participants from New Hampshire and Connecticut, as well as Boston and Worcester itself.
At Worcester City Hall, marchers paused to announce live updates from well-organized European actions that dwarfed their modest gathering. On this day, hundreds of thousands demonstrated across Spain to mark one year since the Indignados helped inspire a global movement of nonviolent direct democracy. Resisting the antisocial austerity policies dominating the international economy, marchers affirmed, “We are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers.”
Solidarity demonstrations echoed this affirmation in over 60 global cities. The previous day, Friday May 11, London’s Guardian had published the GlobalMay Manifesto of the International Occupy Assembly. It demands “full democratization of international institutions” and a restructured global economy wherein work “is appreciated by its social utility, not its financial or commercial profit.” The envisioned sustainable economy would “support and serve the environment, not private profit.”
Following events on the internet, New England occupiers relayed the live international news via the ‘human microphone,’ a form of communication common to the international Occupy Movement, which involves the crowd restating speakers’ words so that the entire group may hear, even in the absence of permission for a bullhorn. In this innovative form of democratic communication, listeners may freely express themselves to the collective by simply yelling, “Mic Check!”
True to Time Magazine‘s description of its 2011 “Person of the Year,” the group in Worcester opposed the “political systems and economies that have grown dysfunctional and corrupt,” the “sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful.” Occupiers protested at 255 Park Avenue, a building complex housing branches of Bank of America and the Armed Forces Center.
Onlookers frequently encouraged them; car horns beeped, fists pumped, and fingers formed peace signs, all in expression of support. One fist pump arose from a customer at the Bank of America ATM machine. This gesture bewildered some of its observers, because of the pro-Bank of America business transaction that immediately followed it.
Subsequently, a Worcester Police vehicle arrived. The group carried on, chanting, “The police deserve a raise!”
Marchers trudged up Worcester’s hilly streets. Signs on lampposts advertised the community’s Pleasant Street Weed and Seed Initiative, established “to build trust and partnerships” between government services and neighborhood groups. One voice loudly read the advertisement, chanting, “Weed and Seed: making our neighborhoods better.” Several marchers grinned and chuckled, interpreting this as a pun supportive of the rights of cannabis users.
A mellifluous female voice sang the chorus of “Solidarity Forever” before the group marched by some Dominican barbershops, past a cluster of impish child-hecklers in a schoolyard, beyond a corpulent-bellied Caucasian male shrieking “You Suck!” and down Pleasant St. toward their temporary quarters in the grassy area adjacent to City Hall.
The international movement is “not trying to dictate,” Occupy New England organizer Miles Wilkerson explained to the Occupier from the Worcester Green. On the contrary, it is trying to “build connections and build solidarity” to empower people in a working democracy from the ground up.
Looking forward, New England activists will regroup again as part of the Occupy Caravan, a group of journeyers seeking to organize bonds of mutual aid prior to the Occupy National Gathering scheduled for June 30- July 4 in Philadelphia. The New England leg of the Occupy Caravan begins in Portland ME on June 26, and heads south through Massachusetts, Hartford and New Haven. Its purpose is to “strengthen regional ties that have been developing since before May 12,” explains Rebecca Burton of the Occupy Caravan working group. “There is,” she says, “a special sort of synergy that happens when Occupiers from various parts of the world come together, as some have experienced in Chicago and NYC recently.”
And as some have experienced in Quebec. Just as that Canadian province’s mass student strike turned 100 days old, Jean Charest’s Liberal government enacted Bill 78, reducing the liberties of nonviolent demonstrators and helping spark on May 22 what the student organization CLASSE dubbed the “biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.” Hundreds of thousands participated. Every night at 8 p.m., ordinary citizens festively gather in the streets to bang pots and pans in peaceful rebellion against the government’s attempt to silence opposition to its program of austerity. Many sense that the student strike has grown into something greater, something that personifies the vision of the International Occupy Assembly.
As Quebec’s supportive southerly neighbors, Occupy New England will work to harness this momentum in the coming summer months.
After the Occupy National Gathering, the regional activists plan to assemble in New Hampshire on September 1 for a direct action aimed at preventing the corporation Enbridge, based in Alberta, Canada, from extracting tar sands oil and delivering it through Vermont and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine. The industrial project “could transport 200,000 barrels of tar sands oil through New England’s most important waters,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Canadian activists have fought the tar sands for years. The unsustainable energy is the largest source of non-tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, according to the group Climate Justice Montreal. And five years ago, “the government of Alberta approved the withdrawal of 119.5 billion gallons of water for tar sands extraction. Most of the water used ends up in giant, toxic tailing ponds.” The organization of Montreal activists rejects what it deems an “industry with a moral compass so broken that it proceeds without flinching to systematically exterminate the downstream, primarily indigenous, communities through an epidemic of rare and deadly cancers.”
On this issue, as is increasingly the case, corporate interests and state policies differ little. “The Canadian government has turned a blind eye, not only supporting, but subsidizing this project,” the Climate Justice Montreal notes, citing “inherently flawed global models of governance.”
Occupy New England is part of the growing international movement that aims to democratize those models of governance.