Being politically conscious isn’t easy. With most people too apathetic to vote, trying to start a conversation about economic injustice is even harder. “People don’t like bad news like layoffs and bad government spending and whatnot. They want to avoid it,” Jon Noble, a member of Occupy Worcester, told me. The Occupy movement is a godsend for the kind of people who try to start conversations: there’s always someone willing to talk. Moreover, in bigger occupations like Boston’s, there is a pool of hundreds ready to get out in the street at a moment’s notice.
Smaller occupations don’t have that luxury. At Occupy Worcester, average GA attendance is about 20. Accordingly, their direct actions tend to be pretty small. Hundreds of people marching with flags and signs is formidable and empowering, but if you only have a dozen or so people, you can’t help but feel a bit silly.
Luckily for Occupy Worcester, Jon Noble is no stranger to feeling a bit silly. Jon is the kind of guy who got made fun of in high school a lot. Usually, he wears a battered blazer and either a comic book-themed T-shirt or a button up with a bowtie. He works as a busboy at the Sole Proprietor, a seafood restaurant in Worcester. He has a tradition of giving tacky dollar store curios to all his friends on his birthday.
He may be exactly the kind of person Worcester’s small occupation needs to survive.
Jon was introduced to the movement through a march with Occupy the Hood in Boston, which may be why he’s so enamored with direct actions. “I saw a lot of concerned people, and it really resonated with me. Bad things are happening because people don’t care. I see Occupy as a way of bringing them into the light,” he said.
Around the time the furor over the National Defense Authorization Act was at its peak, Jon saw the culmination of a plan he had been brewing for a while. He wrangled a cardboard coffin into the back of his parents’ car, stopped at Walgreen’s to pick up plastic flowers and a role of duct tape, and made it to Worcester common only fifteen minutes late.
The purpose of all this was to march with other occupiers to the Worcester Statehouse and then hold a mock funeral for the Bill of Rights. People had promised to be there at ten A.M. Up until eleven A.M., Jon’s only company as he struggled to erect the prop coffin were a pair of curious homeless folks. At eleven-thirty, there were as many occupiers as there were going to be: seven. “Apparently someone on Facebook suggested postponing the action for a week and a few people thought it was agreed on,” Jon said.
After walking in silence through one of the first cold snaps of the year, drawing questioning glances from pedestrians the whole way, Jon and the other pallbearers set the coffin down right in front of the Worcester Statehouse. Jon gave a thoughtful if overwrought eulogy, and invited the assembled occupiers to say their piece. The display was unequivocally ridiculous: a handful of chilly protesters standing among the withered decorative plants, tossing plastic roses the color of cheap lipstick down on a cardboard coffin with “liberty” written on the side in duct tape, a few of them muttering halfhearted words of mourning. One solitary police cruiser looked on, driven by a patrolman the occupiers called Officer Bob, who everyone seemed to actually like.
A lot has been made of how silly the Occupy movement can sometimes look to outsiders, with its mustachioed masks and twinkling hand signals. You have to be a little off to react to the world as it is today with anything other than cynicism. As for Jon, the low turnout didn’t slow him down at all. He’s planning another action: “We’re calling it the community group call in: we’re going to get people together, talk about important issues, and then call our representatives. So many people don’t care that people in elected office get away with murder. I want people to know that they can do something.”
A few weeks after the first attempt at the funeral, Jon tried again. About three times as many people showed up.