Without A Camp, Occupy Boston Seeks Next Phase

Ousted from its Dewey Square encampment, what's next for Occupy Boston? (Joe Spurr/WBUR)

Ousted from its Dewey Square encampment, what's next for Occupy Boston? (Joe Spurr/WBUR)

BOSTON — The Occupy Boston movement plans to join a rally on Causeway Street Monday afternoon against federal housing policies. More than a week after the dismantling of the Dewey Square encampment, opinions vary on the effectiveness of the movement.

Even before police swept through the encampment, demonstrator Noah McKenna predicted that the dismantling of the camp wouldn’t be the movement’s end.

“The Occupy movement is very resilient and we are not only going to keep existing when this camp is destroyed, and many protestors arrested, we are going to be strengthened,” McKenna said.

Tim McCarthy, an expert on social movements at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says he also doesn’t think it’s over. “I think this is the twilight of the first act,” McCarthy said.

“The next part is to say: what are some of the solutions, and how do we garner support for those solutions?”
– Barry Bluestone,
Northeastern University professor

A lot of people watching this movement give it credit for changing the national conversation about social inequality.

“Everywhere I go, no matter where I am or who I’m talking to or what I’m doing, the Occupy movement is on everybody’s mind,” McCarthy said. “It’s been a complete game-changer for the conversation.”

Even President Obama called economic fairness and balance “the defining issue of our time” in a recent speech on the economy. Finally, people are talking about what she’s spent years teaching, says Boston University sociology professor Susan Lee.

“I think it’s been very effective in bringing out the fact that this top 1 percent has really benefited enormously from changes in the economy over the last 20 to 30 years and the bottom 99 percent has barely hung on,” Lee said.

Observers say the tent encampments were just the beginning and the movement will have to enter another phase of organizing if it’s to accomplish policy changes. Some demonstrators say the movement will become floating — occupying warehouses, banks, closed schools and foreclosed properties, which Occupy groups around the country have already done.

Northeastern University professor of political economy Barry Bluestone believes the next phase for the movement will also be teach-ins. He helped organize Northeastern’s seven-hour-long series of lectures that attracted 800 people.

“What the Occupy Wall Street did was call attention to the issue, that’s the first part of a real movement,” Bluestone said. “The next part is to say: what are some of the solutions, and how do we garner support for those solutions? That’s what the teach-in tried to do.”

He says teach-ins were key to spreading the Vietnam protest movement among young people. But a new nationwide poll shows young people don’t care about the Occupy movement. The poll, done by the Institute of Politics at Harvard, says less than one in four Millennials (people ages 18-29) support the movement. One third don’t at all.

“Half weren’t paying attention, so maybe if they were paying attention they’d participate,” said Trey Greyson, who directs the Institute of Politics. “The second thing is it’s relatively new, it only started a couple months ago, it primarily has been in urban areas, not in suburban or rural areas.”

And there’s a high degree of skepticism that the movement will accomplish anything. Will the demonstrations help change U.S. economic policy? Thirty-eight percent of young people polled say no.

Paul McMorrow, of the independent think tank MassINC, shares that skepticism because the movement has no platform.

“I don’t think it’s a complete movement if you are only critiquing without advancing some alternative,” McMorrow said. “I don’t think you’re participating fully in the process.”

But historians say other social movements have started without a list of unified demands or clear leaders. McCarthy says they have a horizontal structure and they ebb and flow.

“Past movements have had lots of different iterations,” he said. “The abolitionist movement had thousands of different auxiliary anti-slavery societies. The civil right’s movement was a series of different kinds of campaigns in different locations throughout the South.”

McCarthy says social movements can take years to build and the Occupy movement, if it continues, is in its infancy.

Earlier Coverage:

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  • X-Ray

    The Occupy movement really needs to develop some concrete goals. Calling attention to received grievances and protests isn’t enough; solutions and actions need to be suggested, proposed or demanded. Otherwise it is a protest movement without a purpose.

  • Anonymous

    In all social systems there are the rich,  not so rich,  and the poor.  In the old Soviet Union this was the case as the government workers in general were the middle class and the high government workers were the upper class.  There are some good points in the movement but we have a political system that handles this change.  I suggest these people work for or bring in new people to run for office.  I do this and work the streets for people I agree with in the national elections.  Most of what these people do is a wast of time.

  • Eury

    “The civil right’s movement,” huh? Would that be as opposed to the civil left’s movement?

  • Guest

    If you need ideas for your next step and want change- make change.  Do something constructive not destructive.  If you feel there are social & economic injustices in this country volunteer at a Soup Kitchen/veterans organization/homeless shelter/etc. Donate time/money to a charitable organization. Vote. Voice your concerns to your state/local government representatives. Or better yet run for state/local government.  Win friends and influence people by doing good, not by blocking ports- this is halting business growth for all Americans.

  • MK_in_Brighton

    My experiences with Occupy Boston are frustrating.  I like the overall idea of the Occupy movement.  I do agree with change, and I agree with some of the things that have been stated within the always-changing volume of ideas that need addressing.

    BUT – the people within Occupy Boston specifically are off-putting and unwilling to listen to anyone but themselves.  More than a few in the camp were downright hostile, particularly if you asked questions.   And if you suggested kind but gentle criticism of any behavior or suggestions to progress past the camp, you were immediately dismissed as being against the movment/not getting it/too stupid/part of some random sheeple collective.  

    They demanded you get involved if you wanted to change things – but isn’t that what giving constructive criticism IS?

  • Occupybostoncomune

    The Boston Occupy movement too is riddled with problems of  Non transparency ,Race and misuse of finance ,where some veteran members of color raised issues like people being paid and out side players (individual,organisations political PACS) planting their people  in running various committees and individuals who are critical of  such issues asking for more facts are booed out or mike checked as irrelevant.
    The internal bickering has reached to such levels, people are simply asking  for money to do their things which they say are part of movement and questioning only some people having access to regular expenses.

  • Stupid Monkey Pea Brain

    Did they tell us something we didn’t already know?  The rich are rich and they are going to keep getting richer and richer.  Have the rich ever been brought down by a bloodless revolution?  I think Occupy stole the “99%” moniker from the real everyday 99% in service of their own twisted and confusing ambitions.  Here’s what the 99% want: a bigger flat screen TV and a softer couch (hence pepper spray and tramplings at Walmart)  Nobody wants to bring an end to capitalism and political corruption is just part of the cost of doing business.  If that’s what people really wanted, there  would have been 10′s of thousands in the camps.  Yes, I am quite cynical, but I live in the real world.  

    If they really wanted to make a statement, they should take it to where the 1% live,the Wellesleys, Westons, Waylands, Dovers and Sherborns, etc. of the world.  Although their camp was in the heart of the financial district, most of the folks in those buildings a worker bees, not multi-millionare titans.  Why interfere with those folk and the small farmer’s market.

    Occupy, you’ve had your fifteen minutes and then some, time to fade to black  

    • Beez

      For one thing they would have been arrested immediately in those towns, and another, they would not have gotten the same attention.
      From what I’ve heard I don’t think they want to end capitalism but rather find a way to bring it to a more equitable place. I think the overwhelming majority of people agree with what the Occupy movement stands for, hence, the popular support at the beginning . 
      Americans have turned very complacent, and since 9-11, it seems as though any questioning of authority comes along with a stigma of being anti-American or something like a “dirty hippy”. The 99% want things to change but don’t want to be part of that change. They are too comfortable on the couch they have now. You said it yourself; we already know what they are protesting about is a problem.
      I don’t think you’re a pea brain you just need to understand that your reality is not necessarily “the” reality.

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