BOSTON/Dewey Square - Bringing the first full weekend of the 24-hour occupation of Dewey Square to a close, the #OccupyBoston movement held a regular evening General Assembly yesterday. Over 350 people crowded into the space between the tents and the "stage" area - a grassy knoll abutting a large, security camera-studded wall. Despite cold, clammy weather, the GA meeting was well-attended by full-time "occupiers," other movement activists and first-time attendees alike, many of whom shared their goals for the movement's message over the course of the two hours.
Before launching into an open discussion of topics of interest in the second hour, the group spent the first hour with various working groups presenting what they had discussed in their separate meetings earlier that day, and getting "temperature checks" from the group as to whether to move forward on those ideas. Hand signals designated whether people felt positively (hands up), lukewarm (hands flat) or negatively (hands limp) about the groups' proposals. Working groups for the event include legal, outreach, direct action, food, logistics, meeting facilitation, spirituality, finance, media and the newly-named "recess" group, which had previously been known as "arts and culture."
Notable reportbacks included the outreach working group, which had spent the afternoon in Dudley Square - a major center of the Boston's African-American community. It is also the bus transportation hub of Boston, and connects to several other Boston communities of color and immigrant communities. An outreach team had traveled there with flyers in English and Spanish to make sure that more residents and passers-by in that neighborhood knew what was going on.
A reportback that triggered intense discussion was the "recess" group's discussion of creating a play area for children at the encampment. People expressed concern about placing children in danger given the movement's "uncertain future," and even chided the facilitator for using invective, given the children present, before moving on and leaving the issue unresolved.
Near the end of the reportbacks, a member of the audience named Gary presented himself as a member of the homeless community in Boston. Expressing his gratitude for #OccupyBoston's presence, he vowed to do his best to ensure that local homeless people did not "tax the group's resources." The facilitator took a "temperature check" on the idea that the resources there were available to anyone. All hands went up. At that point, the facilitator exclaimed, "Consensus! I like that!"
Once working groups had reported out, the focus of the evening's GA was discussing "the message" of the new movement. The initiator of this conversation remarked that he hoped that #OccupyBoston's message would focus on shared values, and shy away from specific issues. Despite the group's apparent support of this idea, it was short-lived, as the next speaker listed out issues that had been mentioned in previous GAs. These mainly focused on the end of corporatism, but spread into other social justice issues as well, including justice for Palestinians, gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer rights and the end of capitalism as a whole. A number of attendees then spoke for two minutes apiece.
No message was agreed on, but future discussions were promised and the meeting came to a close. Some attendees expressed frustration with the process as they left, remarking that it was discouraging that there was no consensus on message. Others felt frustrated by specific aspects of the facilitation methodology and yet more were just tired, hungry and thirsty. The assembly ended at approximately 9:15 p.m., and was followed by working group meetings.
The event was peaceful, and the only intervention by the Boston Police Department was an announcement that pizza had arrived.