Occupy Boston occupies JP

Activists, artists visit protest

With Jamaica Plain’s just reputation for being a haven for progressives it’s no surprise that plenty of residents and local organizations have taken an interest in Occupy Boston.

The local protest in Dewey Square in the city’s Financial District, which started Sept. 30, has seen participation from JP politicians, musicians and local youth and advocacy organizations.

During a Gazette visit to the protest site Oct. 15, two JPers said they were there to learn more about what is going on.

“I generally support the movement,” Geoff Modest, a Forest Hills resident, told the Gazette. “I think that the inequality that exists in society is getting dramatically worse. Things are worse than the Gilded Age in the late 1800s.”

Modest, has worked as a physician at the Upham’s Corner Health Center for 30 years, said he has seen first-hand how “people’s lives have deteriorated over the last 10 to 20 years…There are no jobs. Basic social services are disappearing. I have seen my patients struggling more and more,” he said.

Will Holten, a resident of JP’s Springhouse retirement community, said his wife is currently in the hospital, “But she wanted me to come down here so I could report back on what is going on.”

Others, including youth organizers from JP have been actively working to shape Occupy Boston’s message and direction.

George Lee helps run the Beantown Society, a Spontaneous Celebrations-affiliated empowerment and advocacy group, largely made up of youth of color. Beantown Society and the Southern Jamaica Plain Community Health Center youth group are part of a coalition of similar groups that are actively seeking to engage in conversations with the protestors about social justice and inequality issues.

They visited the protest twice, on Oct. 5 and 7, Lee said, “to learn more, be inspired and share.”  And they put together a statement—later adopted by Occupy Boston’s consensus-based decision-making body, the General Assembly—encouraging Occupy Boston to recognize that “young people and people of color are disproportionately affected by economic and social injustice,” Lee said.

Zoe Peters is a 19-year-old organizer with the Racial Healing Project at the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center. “Part of the youths’ statement was pointing out that there are dimensions within the 99 percent,” she said, referring to the international Occupy movements’ slogan “We are the 99 percent”—a reference to wide global and national income disparities.

Lee said that highlighting those issues has had an effect. On Oct. 16, “They held an anti-oppression workshop instead their normal General Assembly meeting,” Lee said. “Folks are learning to talk in that frame.”

Peters was enthusiastic, too, but more cautious. “I think that the occupation has a lot of momentum and is really strong. But what the youth are bringing is the perspective that its important to step back from that momentum and look at yourself.—see what role oppression and privilege plays in your life,” she said.

On Oct. 14, the local music and arts collective The Whitehaus Family Record provided “a little levity” to the proceedings, playing a musical showcase, Whitehaus member Morgan Shaker told the Gazette. “Strictly from an artistic perspective, it was one of the best shows I have ever played,” Shaker said.

Unlike traditional shows, “The Occupy audience was there for a different reason, and it seemed like they really genuinely could use some entertainment….I couldn’t give them each $100 or bring a ton of food down, but I could play my butt off,” he said.

Of the movement, Shaker said that he is hopeful it signals a coming-together of different groups that have been separate. “It has been businessmen in one corner, artists in one corner, activists in one corner. People have been focusing on their differences so much,” he said. “It’s like the veil has been raised.”

For their part, local politicians have greeted the Occupation in various ways. “I stand with you, I thank you, I appreciate you,” At Large City Councilor and JP resident Felix Arroyo said in videotaped remarks to Occupy Boston Oct. 13, “Together we will win. Organized people have never lost.”

District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson also visited Occupy Boston in recent weeks.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano told the Gazette he also supports the protest. “I really think its great that people are espousing things I believe in and finally getting off the couch,” he said, adding that he works for the same things in politics that the movement is calling for. “I hope the two methods can come together,” he said.

Capuano said he has not visited Occupy Boston, and he will not unless he is invited.

“I don’t want to be seen as co-opting them or undermining them or taking credit for them,” he said. “I know this is not my movement per se.”

John Ruch contributed to this article.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Geoff Modest’s place of work was incorrectly identified as the Codman Square Health Center .

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