(1) Teach-Ins Continue at #OccupyBoston: UMass-Boston economist Arjun Jayadev did a great teach-in yesterday at #OccupyBoston. His focus was on arguments for austerity that go under the oxymoronic name “expansionary contraction” (all the arguments are faulty, it turns out). There was a nice and steady audience of about 30 people, and they seemed hungry for information and analysis from an economist. There was also a surprise appearance by economist Juliet Schor, whom I promised to rope into doing a teach-in.
There will be two more teach-ins today as part of the #Occupy Boston Economics Forum series we are organizing, and at least one more on Friday:
Tuesday, October 11th, 3pm
(meet at the Free School University Soapbox)
Economics Department, Bentley University
“A Primer on Financialization”
How the finance sector came to dominate the U.S. economy, and what it has to do with the ongoing crisis.
Tuesday, October 11th, 4pm
(meet at the Free School University Soapbox)JOHN MILLER
Economics Department, Wheaton College
“Up Against the Wall Street Journal
How to counter right-wing myths and messages about the economy.
Friday, October 14th, 4pm
(meet at the Free School University Soapbox)
UMass-Amherst Labor Center and Dollars & Sense
“Class and the Shift in the Distribution of Income Against Workers and in Favor of Capitalists”
Come one, come all!
(2) The Crackdown on #OccupyBoston: A partial first-hand report: around the time of our teach-in yesterday, people started moving tents up the sidewalk, northeast along Atlantic Avenue, one block up to the next parcel of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. That parcel is quite different from Dewey Square–grassy and sloped, with shrubs and perennials that have (apparently) been put in recently, along with a new and expensive drainage system, some nice public art (sculptures), and outdoor chairs that look kind of like the ones in Bloomberg’s pedestrian areas in Times Square.
There had been a big march of students from area universities that started in the Boston Common and ended up at Dewey Square, with I would say about two thousand people (including yours truly–click here to see me with my rather lame but appropriately messaged poster, plus some comments I made to a reporter). After the marchers reached Dewey Square, they’d marched down Atlantic Avenue, blocking traffic, as far as North Station, and there was talk (that I can’t confirm, because I stuck around for the teach-in) that they went on the Zakim Bridge and blocked traffic there. I think they met up with busloads of union members along the way.
Anyhow, by 6pm, things were a little tense, because word had come through that the police were not going to allow the expansion to the new parcel northeast of Dewey Square. Protesters locked arms to create a “perimeter” around the new encampment as helicopters buzzed overhead. A bit later, one of the liaisons with the mayor’s office and the police (I forget his name) was telling small groups of people that his contact with the police commissioner had said that if they didn’t leave the new parcel by midnight, the police would eject them from *both* the new parcel and Dewey Square. Meanwhile, his contact with the mayor’s office said that if they didn’t leave the new parcel by midnight, they would be ejected just from the new parcel (which is what ended up happening).
That same liaison recounted the same thing at the General Assembly that happened at 7pm at the new parcel; the discussion (which I left early) was about whether to stay in the new parcel or cave into the mayor and police and retreat. They evidently (and bravely) decided to stay, and were ejected about 1:30am, from what I understand. Another speaker at the GA was Nancy Brennan, who is the executive director of the Greenway Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages the Rose Kennedy Greenway. She was received warmly (lots of “twinkles”–wiggling upright fingers that represent assent and approval in consensusland) by the GA attendees, especially when she characterized the communication they’d had with #OccupyBoston as “superior,” and when she said that although the agreement they’d hammered out was that #OB would stay within Dewey Square, the Conservancy also valued free speech. She also appealed to the group to help take care of the Greenway and its plantings (more enthusiastic twinkles). One GA attendee usefully pressed her: given #OB’s commitment to help preserve and repair the Greenway, and given her statement in support of free speech, would she approach the mayor and the police commissioner and ask them to let #OB stay on this new parcel? Nancy Brennan demurred, alas, citing her role as the head of a nonprofit whose charge is to preserve the plants and the investments they’d made. So much for free speech: irrigation and plantings trump it in Boston, apparently.
I am not so brave as the 100 plus people who stayed on and got arrested. I went home, and heard about the arrests on WBUR, one of Boston’s public radio stations. At around 7:50am, the host of their morning program, Bob Oakes, had a somewhat misleading account of things (he said that the police had arrested about 100 people “this morning” (didn’t say when exactly) “after” they’d tried to expand (not letting people know that they expansion had happened starting the previous afternoon). Then he interviewed Mayor Thomas Menino, with no follow up (in that segment) from anyone representing #OccupyBoston. I need to look at the transcript of the interview to make sure, but my memory is that the mayor implied that the protesters had somehow taken a bad turn (the daily subway newspaper the Metro said things had gotten “ugly,” as if the protesters had gotten violent, when only the police had); he also contrasted “free speech” with “civil disobedience,” and said (if I remember correctly) that while the city could “tolerate” free speech, civil disobedience was not acceptable.
The fact is that over a hundred people have sought to join the protesters as overnight campers. There is no more space in Dewey Square. In order for members of the movement to continue to engage in free speech–a Constitutionally protected right, not something that should be merely “tolerated”–the encampment needs to expand. By preventing its expansion, the city is restricting the participants’ free speech.
It may be that #OccupyBoston should move to the Boston Common, or stay in Dewey Square and open a second encampment in the Common. But I also believe that the movement should reclaim that second parcel on the Greenway, even if people can’t camp there. I called the mayor’s hotline today to ask what kinds of activities are allowed in the Greenway, if camping is not. The guy who answered the phone started out telling me that a permit is required to hold a protest or demonstration in a city park. When I asked him whether we could hold our teach-ins there, astoundingly, he claimed not to know what a teach-in was. Then he transferred me to the Conservency; I spoke with a really nice guy named Steven Anderson, who said that there should be no problem holding teach-ins on the Greenway. But he said that even he hadn’t been allowed into the space this morning–he’d needed a police escort.
Anyhow, I will continue to pursue this–I’m going to ask whatever cops are there about whether we can have our teach-ins there this afternoon (or Friday). If they try to prevent professors from having quiet (or even noisy) question-and-answer sessions with members of the public in a public park, what does that say about the state of free speech in Boston?
(4) Alan Greyson vs. P.J. O’Rourke: This should brighten your day as it did mine (hat-tip to NakedCapitalism):