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Occupy movement's last big stand: Boston?

With Occupiers cleared out of New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, and the status of the San Francisco camp in jeopardy, the last major encampment is Boston, which recently got a stay of eviction of up to two weeks. What do Occupiers do if they can't occupy public spaces anymore?

By Correspondent / December 6, 2011

Occupy Boston protesters march through Boston's Downtown Crossing shopping district. A Suffolk County Superior Court judge has granted Occupy Boston an extension of the Nov. 16 restraining order preventing the city from evicting their Dewey Square encampment.

Michael Dwyer/AP

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Boston

Occupy Boston, one of the few remaining protest encampments left in the United States, will stay up and running, at least for now.

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Despite that temporary victory in court last week, and the continued presence of Occupiers in smaller cities, the “occupation” phase of the Occupy movement seems gradually to be coming to a close. Already, protesters evicted from their camps are gearing up with other forms of protest. On Tuesday, an offshoot of the Occupy movement protested foreclosures in some 25 cities around the US with talk in Los Angeles and elsewhere of helping families take back their foreclosed homes.

But can the Occupy movement survive if it's no longer occupying anything?

The breakup of the camps has advantages and disadvantages for the Occupiers, says David S. Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California Irvine, who studies protest movements. ‘The advantage of a geographical presence is visibility, and giving people stuff to do.... A disadvantage is that your community is defined by the people who show up, and that doesn’t necessarily make for smart decisions.”

Another drawback is that the encampments force the protesters to spend a lot of time on housekeeping matters, at the expense of fighting for their ideals.

"These general assembly meetings at the camps mostly deal with logistics,” Dr. Meyer says. “Taking the occupation out of it means they have the time to focus on core issues, like income equality. There’s more active civil disobedience, and some protesters are even starting to work in political campaigns. It should make for a more creative and diverse movement.” 

But members of Occupy Boston see maintaining their Dewey Square encampment as a top priority, intrinsic to their message.  As they argued in court Thursday, the camp is in the city’s financial district, highly visible from the buildings of banks and other financial institutions that the Occupiers see as responsible for the nation’s financial problems. “There’s been a lot of discussion as to whether or not the encampment phase is over, but having it in the financial district is very important,” says Stephen Squibb, a protester and Occupy Boston spokesman .

“We have attempted to prioritize human needs – food, clothing, shelter, the freedom of speech and assembly – so as to highlight their betrayal by those working around us,” the group stated in a press conference on the steps of the Suffolk County courthouse Dec. 1.

Thursday, Suffolk County Superior Court judge Frances McIntyre granted the Boston protesters an extension to a Nov. 16 restraining order against the city, protecting the camp from eviction until Dec. 15. Around that time, the judge will render a “final decision” on whether the Boston tent city will go the way of encampments shut down in several other major cities, including New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” protester David Lehnerd said during a court recess just before the judge handed down her extension. “Like more optimistic than cautiously optimistic, but not fully blown optimistic.”

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