The “99 Percent” movement arising across the United States represents the first major public manifestation of disgust and fury at the rampant greed that has concentrated the nation’s wealth with the top “One Percent.” Economic journalist Mark Provost reports on his experience at one front in Boston.
By Mark Provost
The $64 trillion dollar question, “When will Americans hit the streets like people in other countries?” has been answered. In the last several days, occupations have spread from Wall Street to more than 70 cities across America.
The “99 Percent” are rising to voice their grievances against an economic and political system which has disenfranchised them for too long. We share painful stories and common concerns, and seek profound changes to how this nation is governed, and for whom it is governed.
I drove from New Hampshire on Friday afternoon and arrived in Beantown to kickoff Occupy Boston. Dewey Square, the site of the occupation in the heart of the financial district, was easy to find thanks to police and media helicopters hovering overhead.
But rush hour traffic and Boston’s circuitous one-way streets channeled me far from the site, and into an expensive garage.
I asked a well-dressed young man exiting work for directions to the park. He didn’t know the location, and I didn’t tell him why I was going (fearing he may intentionally misdirect me). Unfortunately, my cover was blown when “Brian” innocently asked a coworker for the whereabouts.
The coworker smiled and pointed me in the right direction, but not before he offered his opinion about the protest, “I am a capitalist. I work for an investment bank but I don’t agree with American-style capitalism.” Without pause, he refined his thoughts, “I am a socialist.”
I was running late, so I simply nodded. He repeated this heresy, and wished me luck.
Earlier on Friday, a huge demonstration organized by “Right the City” protested in front of Bank of America and demanded a moratorium on foreclosures. The march ended at Dewey Square, where many stayed around to help launch the occupation.
Gatherers mostly engaged in small groups without direction, waiting for something to happen. I met three young men from Stoneham, one of whom just lost his job as an eyeglass technician. Luckily, his friend, a marine biologist who owes $60,000 in student loans, just landed a job.
“We switched places,” they realized, and gave each other a high five.
After an hour, the confusion subsided when the group began using the famed “peoples’ microphone.’” When anyone calls for a “mic check,” the whole group repeats their words in short sentences.
For large meetings like a General Assembly, the peoples’ mic is supplemented with a six-point hand signal system which allows one to visibly express their position on a speaker’s opinion or vote, without disturbing the group’s discussion.
We organized into seven separate teams: tactical, direct action, legal aid, food and medical, media, local outreach, and creative artists. Dewey Square was transformed into a rain-soaked and muddy experiment in direct democracy.
Despite the bad weather, our ranks swelled to nearly 1,000 people. Ages ranged from seven to 77, men and women, middle-class mothers and homeless recovering alcoholics, carpenters and Ivy League attorneys, gay and straight, Christians and Muslims, bisexual and transgender, anti-war activists and Marine Corps veterans, African Americans and immigrants, Arabs and Jews, Asians and Latinos, unemployed and overworked.
The group fosters an inclusive, transparent, innovative, and democratic process, a testament of their vision. The late Howard Zinn believed successful social movements cultivate both democratic means and democratic objectives. One reinforces the other.
This is a leaderless movement without a central ideology. We are bound only by the understanding that we are part of the 99 percent of Americans getting shafted by the wealthiest 1 percent.
Around 11:00 p.m., after a hot meal and General Assembly, roughly 400 occupants hit the streets and chanted our galvanizing message: “We are the 99 Percent! We are the 99 Percent! You are the 99 Percent!”
Countless cars honked in support, and faces lit up even more as passersby cheered (and a couple jeered). Some joined the march, while others grabbed smart phones and cameras to record the rebirth of America, in the city that started it all more than 200 years ago.
The 99 Percent movement has been ignored and derided in the mainstream press, yet the overwhelming response from the people of Boston is revitalizing. If you join the movement or want to march with us, you will not be stigmatized. On the contrary, your dedication will be praised, honored, and thanked by fellow citizens.
The march returned to Dewey Square significantly larger than when it departed, we did not pick up stragglers, we invited curious citizens and fellow patriots. Political truth exerts a gravitational pull on the body.
Suddenly, and without any prior debate or plan, we sprinted across State Street and charged the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “We are the 99 Percent, You are the 99 Percent” (pointing to the phalanx of police officers lining the building).
The echoes rumbled off the thick glass walls and stone firmament. The scene was tense, but officers remained disciplined while demonstrators played music, sang and danced.
Unlike other cities such as New York and San Francisco, the BPD has made no attempt to corral us, has not tried to block or channel our marches, has not tried to disperse us, and has entered the encampment once due to medical emergency.
So far, hats off to the BPD. By respecting our right to protest, it makes it easier for us to protect their right to collectively bargain.
By 1:00 a.m., it was pouring rain and I told my new friend Murph that I would drive him home to Watertown in exchange for his help finding my vehicle. I returned to New Hampshire, caught five hours of sleep, filled my car with supplies, and headed back to the occupation.
Thus far, the media have ignored the scale and scope of the 99 Percent movement. A spontaneous, continental uprising against extreme economic and political inequity is apparently not newsworthy.
Many pundits claim the protests lack coherence or demands, asking themselves (rather than asking us), “Why are they protesting?”
Each one of us knows why we are here; we share stories and listen to new ideas and strategies. We are a multitude,already planning actions in 46 states, for a multitude of reasons. One by one, we will shatter the silence which has devoured this nation.
The relevant question: Will you join and contribute to the awakening?
Mark Provost is an economic journalist focused on U.S. income and wealth inequality. He lives in Manchester, New Hampshire. He can be reached at [email protected]