BOSTON — Tensions between Occupy Boston protesters and police finally erupted early Tuesday morning when about 100 demonstrators were arrested when they refused to leave their tents on the Rose Kennedy Greenway park.
Boston police had given an ultimatum to protesters Monday to move back to their original grounds on Dewey Square before nightfall or they would be removed, according to Reuters.
When it became clear to police that the protesters refused to budge, officers moved in on the group at around 1 a.m. Before being taken away, the protesters were made to lie down and were cable-tied, MSNBC reported. Some protesters are charging police brutality, saying they were punched in the face and pushed to the ground, according to reports on WBUR. The police, and Mayor Thomas Menino said they would investigate the charges.
The Occupy Boston protesters who remained at Dewey Square were not arrested, only those who had moved to new grounds on the Rose Kennedy Greenway park.
The Occupy Boston demonstrators, whose message is one of outrage at the widening gap between the rich and poor in the United States, had marched through parts of Boston Monday and did not report any arrests.
Some of the protesters are already keen on comparing their movement to the Arab Spring, and though the situation in Boston is very different from the brutal police crackdowns in Egypt, the arrests by riot police is likely only to escalate animosity on both sides.
Many Arab Spring stalwarts have already given their opinion on the matter, and some have urged Occupy Wall Street and its offspring in other U.S. cities to refrain from violence and conflict. But whether protesters take that advice or not, the Arab Spring already has a few admirers in the youth-led movement of the U.S.
An American Spring?
Laura McGowan has a full-time job six days a week at a flower shop in the Boston area, and she has a bed she goes home to every night. But the 33-year-old has made it her part-time job for the past several days to pick up a sign every weekday evening and weekend with dozens of other Occupy Boston protesters and rally with the common theme: “We are the 99 percent.”
When asked about the inspirations for her daily attendance at Dewey Square in Boston’s financial district, she mentioned spreading awareness about the campaign, seeing American democracy in action — and the Arab Spring.
“Movements like that really give people a sense of personal power and responsibility and hope that things can get accomplished through peaceful protests,” McGowan said.
She and her father, 61-year-old Bob McGowan — “It’s my first protest since Woodstock!” — were two of the estimated 300 to 400 people to join the group on Dewey Square on Sunday, two days before the arrests.
They stood side-by-side on the curb of a busy expressway holding homemade cardboard signs. Motorists' responses were mixed. A few shouted, “Yeah, all right!” Others? “Why don’t you just go home already!”
Behind them, hundreds more packed the small park, in front of Boston’s Federal Reserve building, with at least 120 tents set up since the beginning of the Occupy Boston movement 11 days ago. The tents iset up in the other park were taken down by police after the arrests.
To some, the tactics and the general message of the movement in the U.S. are reminiscent of Tahrir Square in Egypt around eight months ago.
Christina Keating, 62, said she doesn’t mean to compare the situation in the U.S. to the situation in Egypt on equal terms because each has its own unique problems. The atmosphere in the U.S. now cannot compare to Egypt before former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February.
She said the thought that the “99 percent” can make a difference is an idea that catches on quickly.
During the revolution in Egypt, hundreds of thousands flocked to Tahrir Square, center-stage to most of the protests, to demonstrate against Mubarak’s three-decade-long rule. The massive number of Egyptian demonstrators successfully organized a campaign that saw Mubarak’s exit after only 18 days.
Keating said she remembered watching the revolution in North Africa and the Middle East unfold and thinking, “Why isn’t that happening here?”
“People have been so quiet here for the last 30 years,” said Keating, who works as an artist in the Boston area. “[The Arab Spring] was inspiring to see and I felt that that needs to happen here. There needs to be more speaking out.”
The movement in the U.S. started out with Occupy Wall Street, a once relatively small and disorganized group in New York, setting up camp on Sept 17, in that city’s financial district. It has spread to 25 cities across the U.S. within the last month, and even a few overseas.
And though it has received criticism for lacking a cohesive set of viewpoint, Keating said the message is clear: Wall Street and the financial institutions are corrupt, and an American version of the Arab Spring revolutions has already begun.
"Our situation is nothing like theirs"
But while even Iran has jumped on the bandwagon this weekend when an Iranian military commander reportedly dubbed the protests the “American Spring,” others aren’t so happy with the comparison.
David Lehnart, 18, visibly cringed at the thought of the Arab Spring as an influence on Occupy Boston.
“Our situation is nothing like theirs,” Lehnart. “I couldn’t compare this at all to what happened in Egypt.”
Lehnart said it was his own desire to see the U.S. return to a “foundational American principle” of getting out of the system as much as a person puts in. The Arab Spring wasn’t a factor in his decision to spend the weekend in a tent alongside other occupiers.
But to McGowan, the florist, it doesn’t seem to matter whether Occupy Boston is copying the Arab Spring’s social-media sense, or how much the movement has been influenced by their counterparts. She said she sees an example of a successful group of people rallying for better rights, and that boosts her own confidence.
“The success of [Arab Spring] gives the general feeling that it can all work, she said, “and there’s lots of stuff that’s been wrong here for a very long time.”