(Photos: Julie Stone)
It was the last afternoon of 2011. A small crowd had gathered in front of the Community Church of Boston, on the north side of Copley Square. Volunteers carrying trays of buttons and fliers engaged passers-by on the busy sidewalk, while other activists stood talking and smoking cigarettes in the mild chill. Overhead, the church’s third-story window opened. Cheers broke out as a large homemade banner unfurled, displaying the message: “Occupy Boston: Another world is possible!”
The banner and the tray-toting volunteers were part of Occupy Boston’s actions coinciding with the city’s “First Night” New Year’s celebration. First Night’s parade and sponsored events were expected to draw almost a million people to the Hub. For weeks, Occupy Boston working groups had been preparing for the occasion.
The Info Tent Working Group, for instance, had printed thousands of copies of a leaflet introducing and telling the story of Occupy Boston. They had also ordered five thousand “Occupy Boston” buttons for distribution. The pamphlets and buttons were loaded into homemade carriers, which volunteers donned before heading into the crowd to share information and cheer. Kevin Maley, a 27-year-old sustainability associate from South Boston who had helped organize the action, said he was pleased. “We really reached a lot of people today,” he said.
One of the items passed out by Info Tent volunteers were swatches of cloth that had been screen-printed with an image of tents at Dewey Square. These were the creations of one of Occupy Boston’s newest working groups, the Screen Print Guild. Inside the Community Church, which served as the day’s central meeting place, their efforts continued. Volunteers were printing logos onto clothing, accessories, and mementos for occupiers and New Year’s revelers. Everything was free for the taking.
The working group members were also teaching people how to decorate their clothing themselves, walking them through the steps of screen printing. One of the organizers, Jay Kelly, a native of Brockton, Mass. who had helped run the “Signs” Tent at Dewey Square, said he was happy with the group’s first major action. “We’re planning to collaborate with other working groups,” he said. “We’re looking for new members and new ideas for actions.” By the end of the night, dozens of shirts, hoodies, banners, and flags were hanging on clotheslines, drying and awaiting new homes.
Occupy Boston’s medics also helped out with the First Night action. Charlotte Badler, a nurse and member of the Medical Working Group, was busy affixing labels to a stack of chemical hand-warmers. “We have about to two hundred to give away,” she estimated before heading out to distribute them among the crowds watching the parade.
One of the highlights of the night came a little after 8 pm. Copley Square was festive and surreal: ice sculptures glowed, a group of Hari Krishnas drummed and danced, and hundreds of “First Night” revelers waited in anticipation of the night’s festivities. Suddenly, high on the side of an office building across from the square on Boylston, “99%” flashed into view. Then the video, projected by the Occupy Boston Women’s Caucus, directed the protesters below in a series of chants. “We are the 99%!” “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”
At one point, the names of dozens of occupations around the world began to appear, accelerating to a blur. Occupiers tried to call out the names as they raced by, but their efforts dissolved into cheers. The list of occupations served as a powerful emblem of how many people the Occupy movement had reached in its first few months and of what it might accomplish in the new year.
The day included plenty more: a vigil and procession by the Peace Action Working Group; occupiers marching in the First Night parade; a Meet & Greet Open House at the Community Church; a roving mobile projector that threw colorful videos about the Occupy movement onto buildings in different parts of the city, and more. The number and diversity of actions would seem to indicate the ongoing vitality and energy of Occupy Boston, a passion which promises to power the movement into 2012.