Thirty minutes after the eviction deadline issued by Mayor Thomas M. Menino at Dewey Square, a remarkable act of defiance took place. However, this time it had nothing to do with the familiar Occupy iconography of Anonymous masks and blue tarps, but rather a different kind of event, one equally audacious albeit in an unexpected way.
A thousand people flooded the area around the financial district and in the middle of the crowd, Aaron Spagnolo and Nanore Barsoumian exchanged their wedding vows.
The young couple hadn’t planned to make Occupy Boston’s scheduled eviction their wedding night. Spangolo proposed via the People’s Mic, a decision Barsoumian referred to as “spontaneous” on Twitter, but irresistible because “the night was just perfect.” (photo by @AyeshaKazmi)
It appears there is something about an Occupy campsite that inspires young couples to take the plunge. In November, Jonathan Lopez, 19, and Ivan Cabrera, 18, were wed in an “unofficial” same-sex ceremony at Zuccotti Park. Cabrera told the Daily News he was angry that OWS had been kicked out of the park. “They say we have freedom of speech, but we don’t. We’re nonviolent, and we got kicked out and hit. We’re trying to make this cause for the whole world,” he said.
Before them, young protesters Emery Abdel-Latif and Micha Balo stole the public’s heart when images of them looking bright-eyed and smiley before their wedding swept across the internet. Undoubtedly, these couples decided to tie the knot at Occupy because the movement is a large part of their lives. For Abdel-Latif and Balon, Zuccotti was an appropriate location for their wedding because they met at Occupy. When asked why she held her wedding at the park, Balon responded that she wanted the day to be not just about her and Emery, but about people.
While a love for Occupy is certainly a major reason young people seem to almost compulsively pop the question, there does seem to be a degree of rebellion underlying their vows. Everything about an eviction night demands the worst from its players. The police officers are to assume the roles of the authoritarian bullies, tearing down tents, and destroying books, laptops, and other personal items of protesters, who are expected to cower in the presence of the state’s awesome power and await their imminent arrests. Weddings are a rejection of that paradigm of fear and oppression - a way for young people to peacefully show they are capable and willing to determine their own fates.
In the case of Boston, the wedding was a sort of new dawn that heralded another day survived by one of the last major Occupy camps left standing. The police never came to raid the park, and while two protesters were arrested after moving a tent into the street and blocking traffic, the mass arrests feared by many protesters did not occur.
Occupy Boston’s future is of course at the mercy of Menino’s whims, and the mayor has expressed concern over the familiar “public health and safety hazard” clarion that has always marked the beginning of the end for the activist camps. Considering Boston lacks the huge crowds seen at OWS and Occupy Oakland at their heights (the crowd usually ranges between 100 and 150 activists,) it’s impressive protesters have managed to remain in Dewey Square for over two months and maintain a high level of passion for the cause.
From the Houston Chronicle:
“If it comes down to it, I will be spending the night in jail,” said a protester who identified himself as Mike Smith, 23, of Boston. Smith added that he was not surprised by the order.
“They have been trying to get rid of us from day one,” he said.
Eric Binder, a 38-year-old massage therapist from New Mexico and Kentucky who has lived in the camp for the past month, said he may try to move his tent to Boston Common.”
“Every town, every city should have a place to peaceably assemble,” he said. “Where in the city of Boston can we set up our tents?”
Everything about Occupy is intended to show the state that the people are capable of creating a new world in which peace, justice, democracy, and egalitarianism are possible. The campsites function as villages, complete with kitchens, libraries, medical tents, and media centers. OWS was even beginning to experiment with creating its own power generated by stationary bikes before the city evicted the campsite.
In addition to sleeping in the tents, protesters have experienced the entire gamut of human life at Occupy: struggle, victory, loss, but also tragically death in the cases of a veteran’s suicide at Occupy Vermont and a young woman who died after overdosing at Occupy Vancouver.
Then there are the new beginnings, the weddings that serve as a reminder to authorities that protesters are more than pawns in a play of fatalism. The exchanged words of love, the smiling faces, every act is a way for activists to indicate they’re more than the stereotype of the angry, sign-waving protester. When surrounded by their supporters, the wed pair is part of a community and that sense of solidarity emboldens not only the couple, but also the larger movement.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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