Occupy JP held two protest marches on Centre Street in recent weeks, with stops at corporate chains and community institutions, in the new group’s debut actions.
“Occupy JP is mobilizing to protect the working classes,” went the rallying cry that began the Dec. 4 and 11 marches.
The group was formed by socialist activists last month as a way to keep the Occupy Wall Street movement alive long-term by making it local. That approach took on new energy as Occupy Boston was shut down by Mayor Thomas Menino on Dec. 10. Occupy JP and other such local efforts were discussed at a Boston Common gathering in the wake of the shutdown, and the latest Occupy JP march drew activists from other Occupy groups.
The protests were both billed as the “Economic Hard Times Tour of JP.” The message was that a broken system makes America’s richest even richer while communities like Jamaica Plain suffer cuts in social services.
The Dec. 4 march drew about a dozen people and was peaceful. The Dec. 11 march was bigger—about 30 people—and more militant. At one point, protesters provoked a confrontation with a police officer by marching into the roadway after being told not to and chanting, “Whose street? Our street!”
The second march drew Occupy Boston veterans, including a protestor fresh out of jail from the shutdown. Occupy Harvard sent a representative. Some Boston Public Schools teachers and custodians joined in.
Sage Radachowsky, a Roslindale man who lived in a tiny, homemade, bike-drawn house at Occupy Boston, brought his home on the march. It has recently been parked in front of the First Church in Jamaica Plain in Monument Square.
The response of passers-by was largely curiosity or support. Many drivers honked in support, and at the Dec. 4 march, a pedestrian in Hyde Square spontaneously led the protesters in a chant of the immigrant labor slogan Sí, se puede! (“Yes, it can be done!”). Open oppositon was rare, but included a boy of about 12 in Jackson Square who told the Dec. 11 protesters, “Get the (expletive) outta here!”
Both marches began with a wide-ranging agenda statement. It included: establishing a living wage; “equality”; jobs and child care for all; environmentalism; more democratic control of the financial system and the police; and an end to America’s wars.
The marches included stops at various community institutions, such as the Connolly Branch Library and the fire station, to protest cuts to their budgets or personnel.
The protesters stopped at major corporate outlets—including Bank of America, CVS Pharmacy and Whole Foods Market—to protest the parent companies.
Bank of America was criticized for getting a tax refund, and CVS for replacing counter workers with automated checkout machines. Bank of America spokesperson T.J. Crawford later told the Gazette that the bank will not comment on protests, past or future.
As for CVS, “They are misinformed,” company spokesperson Mike DeAngelis later told the Gazette. He said the move to automated checkout meant only that cashiers were reassigned elsewhere in the store, not laid off.
On the hot-button issue of Whole Foods, the two marches had varying tactics. On Dec. 4, one marcher said that Occupy JP had decided to not protest the controversial grocer so it would not “alienate” shoppers. But then the march stopped there anyway, with protestor Michael Russell blasting the grocer as JP’s biggest “union-buster” for its well-known anti-union stance.
On Dec. 11, the march did not stop at Whole Foods, even though it was mentioned on a flyer advertising the march. But the anti-Whole Foods group Whose Foods? Whose Community? joined in the march, carrying a banner calling on the grocer to sign a community benefits agreement.
Whole Foods did not respond to Gazette questions.
Other targets of various protesters’ complaints or chants included the Democratic Party, the “capitalist agenda” and the Boston Foundation, a prominent grant-giver that has supported charter schools. A foundation spokesperson had no immediate comment when informed by the Gazette about the protests.
The Dec. 11 march had lighter moments, including banter with a Boston Police sergeant who checked on the kickoff in Monument Square.
“Who’s in charge here?” the officer asked. “Everybody,” was the quick reply from protesters, who attempt to have a leaderless, consensus-based organization.
The officer also advised the group to stick together: “When you stretch out, it defeats the whole purpose of marching and makes you look like a gang.” When protesters invited him to join them, he said, “Wish I could. Football’s on.”
Occupy JP has not announced any further actions. It is holding an open “General Assembly” meeting on Dec. 18. (See JP Agenda listing.)