TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING First Night–goers and Occupy Boston activists mingled peaceably to ring in the new year.
If the Boston Police Department had undercover officers embedded in the Occupy Boston First Night operation, they would have found a whole mess of juicy goods to bring back to the Suffolk County district attorney's office. From the baking of free cookies to the holding of signs, prosecutors could have implicated a number of activists in unspecified crimes against no one in particular.
Days before Christmas, news broke that the DA had subpoenaed Twitter hashtags and handles linked to the movement. Occupiers await results on that front, as documents remain sealed from a private hearing with a Suffolk judge last Thursday. But while the ACLU fought in court to protect the First Amendment rights of those slapped by the subpoena, local activists persevered, and on Saturday organized a First Night barrage that revealed the sort of tomfoolery that might be making authorities nervous.
The Tiny Tent Task Force was on the prowl, armed with little paper tents made of cardboard and cancelled credit cards. Strategically situating their metaphoric miniatures around Boston, the squad used their creations as conversation starters with potential sympathizers. It was a brave move for the team of artists, whose chessboard-size encampment outside of Bank of America's Boston headquarters last week prompted a BPD intervention that played out like Gulliver's Travels in both scale and allegory.
At the Community Church of Boston above Copley Square — a congregation point for various progressive causes, so an obvious choice of headquarters for Occupy First Night operations — the movement's local Screen Print Guild got stamping. In the final hours of 2011, they committed countless acts of free speech on T-shirts and bandanas.
Outside the Community Church, they hung a story-high banner: another world is possible. Beneath that sign, at around 8 pm, dozens of former Dewey Square regulars stood on the sidewalk and across Boylston Street waiting for the Occupy Boston Women's Caucus to shine its "bat signal." Before long, messages of hope and solidarity — plus their enduring "We Are the 99 Percent" mantra — projected over Copley, while activists cheered and chanted with some unsuspecting First Night–goers joining in.
Authorities could have found any number of suspicious activities underway — the peace vigil could have been easily mistaken for a satanic séance, and who knows what was in those holiday brownies? Still, the Occupy New Year's scene in the Hub was far from what transpired in Manhattan, where more than 60 were arrested trying to reclaim Zuccotti Park. Occupy Wall Street's Boston counterparts went for a decidedly different kind of spectacle, planning weeks ahead of time to make a positive first impression on visiting suburban crowds.
There was collateral payoff to their jovial approach. In the middle of it all, something happened that summed up the attitude that many Occupy Boston folks say they hope to embrace — in some form or another — in 2012. Frank Tosney, who famously helped run the food tent in a Flinstonian fur coat at the Dewey camp, was hanging at the Community Church, when a young Occupier approached him. "I just want to apologize for any shit that might have gone down back at camp," the kid said. "Don't even worry about it," Tosney told him. "All that stuff is behind us now."