Occupy Boston: The New Face of Protest

How long can a leaderless movement last? If anything’s clear from this weekend’s multiple protests and the emerging and national Occupy movement, it’s that there’s a growing body of discontent, and it’s motivated.

Bank of America was the foil in two demonstrations, one an anti-fraudster march on the bank’s corporate headquarters downtown, which resulted in 20 arrests. The other, a peaceful sit-in in Dorchester where residents opposed the foreclosure of a neighbor’s house.

For five days now, people of all ages — though the majority white 20- and 30-somethings — have taken up residence across the street from the Fed, near South Station. They chant, they serve hot meals, they give interviews to the media, and they sloganeer about a wide variety of topics.

Anyone familiar with Critical Mass bike rides knows well that decentralized doesn’t mean weak (as long the moderate majority keeps the vocal minority in line) but the strategy doesn’t play well in politics. Almost every bit of media coverage about Occupy Boston or Occupy Wall Street (including this one) mentions the perceived lack of focus. But that’s only in the details.

At its core, the Occupy movement is a power grab, an effort to repoint the national conversation away from arch conservatism and away from the end of empathy, to recapture a voice in a political conversation that right now sounds more like crazy old people ranting at each other than it does a working dialog of the men and women we voted into office to serve our best interests.

While I know the political costs of identifying with this group are too great to risk, the nation is almost primed for someone, some champion, to step to the podium and ask: Why was Wall Street never held accountable for trash it dumped on Main Street? Why do average Americans work in unsafe and demeaning jobs only to see their wages hold steady, while costs of basic things only go up? Who sold us on the homeowning and education bubbles?

As the Occupiers hold their post in winter, and life in Dewey Park starts to look more like Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge, their passion and their points, whatever they are, will be undeniable.

Let’s hope this leaderless movement lasts that long. Let’s hope more that it doesn’t have to.