Much has been made of the problems that plagued the larger Occupy encampments in their final days. A few weeks ago, I spoke with journalist Chris Hedges, a vocal supporter of the movement, during a visit to Occupy Harvard. He admitted that the New York camp in Zuccotti Park had become mired in problems: “They lost control of the camp in the last three weeks,” admitted Hedges, “when they went inside their own individual tents.”
These camps were created as examples of an alternative society that was wholly inclusive and equitable. They exercised a horizontal democracy in which everyone was represented and no one could accumulate power: consensus ruled.
It was beautiful idea: living, utopian communities existing in the nation’s public squares and parks for anyone to join. However, the scenario that played itself out over the past few months has revealed a reality far more complicated. These camps, which were open to everyone, became a place of refuge for those who had been turned away by virtually every other mainstream community that exists in our society today. They became places that would accept and care for the country’s homeless and those with serious substance abuse problems.
What does this mean? I was chatting with a man in the media tent at Occupy Boston, who said the New York Times had called him to ask one question, “How bad is your homeless problem?” It’s an example of the manner in which the media has trivialized the issue, treating it as a problem of bad optics for the movement, rather than as an indication of the dire need for inclusive communities like the ones Occupy created.
I arrived at Occupy Boston in late November, weeks before the December 10 eviction that cleared Dewey Square of the hundreds of tents that had been there since late September. I arrived after dark as the community gathered against a towering spotlit brick wall to hold their daily General Assembly. That night, a long, painful, and revealing conversation took place about the fate of one particularly difficult resident of the community, a man named Henry.
Henry was a much loved member of Occupy Boston with substance abuse and mental health issues that had become too unweildy for those in charge of safety to handle on their own.
A proposal was made to evict Henry from the camp.