After much anticipation, Friday was my first day at Occupy Boston. First impression – disappointment.
Yes, I expected it to be a bit messy but the clash between reality and dream can be harsh. Despite the impressive number of tents, perhaps a couple hundred, only a few dozen people showed up for the morning General Assembly. Meeting within any organization dedicated to consensus is always difficult but the presence of several persons consumed by their own psychotic demons is a challenge that I had not imagined. Much time was spent allowing individuals, both sane and less so, to vent their frustrations. I had hoped to hear of dreams and aspirations.
Yet as time passed, my attitude slowly changed. I began to notice the efforts of individuals quietly and discreetly working to focus the group. Whenever a particularly disturbed individual began to disrupt, one or two young people would move over to him and quietly talk him down and draw his attention away from the larger group then listen to him. It takes real bravery and dedication to stand toe to toe with a large, angry, spitting psychotic and calmly talk.
I began to see some of the informal understandings and structures that had developed to facilitate cohesion within the group. And as time passed more people showed up and group coherence improved as the proportion of disturbed individuals was diminished. The assembly eventually became large enough that the human microphone became necessary. If someone could not hear, they would shout, “MIC CHECK” and the crowd would respond in unison, “MIC CHECK”, and after that every phrase uttered by the speaker would be repeated by the front of the assembly so those in back could hear. This simple solution had a remarkable unifying effect. It reminded me of the “call and response” at the Southern Baptist church of my youth. We shared a communion of thought as we spoke the same words of the speaker. Can there be a better way to truly listen than to repeat the words spoken by another?
In the afternoon, I was delighted to hear Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz speak on the history of social movements. After 50 years of activism, she is still a dynamo. She has seen wave after wave of progressive movements come in and retreat but she believes that the tide is ever rising and she welcomes each wave with enthusiasm. She spoke to the moment when she pointed out that reality is not always what we want or pretty but seeing and speaking truth is such an important step that she has come to believe that “truth and reality are always upbeat.” At that moment I was glad that I had come to Occupy Boston in the early gritty hours. All of Occupy Wherever is not pretty but despite the distractions the truth and reality of Occupy Boston are definitely upbeat.
– Iron Filing