(On the second anniversary of the dispersal of the Occupy Boston movement, North End resident Thomas F. Schiavoni recalls the mid-December 2011 removal of squatters from their Dewey Square encampment.)
I. A Long Distance Call
The phone rang as I was scarfing down breakfast. The tentative voice of my 21-year-old Italian cousin greeted me. Two years earlier we had hosted Michela for a semester of English study. Detecting a slight regression in her conversational skills, I suspected that she was interested in a return engagement. After exchanging pleasantries, the chit-chat took a sudden turn.
Tommaso, Daddy called from Aosta. He saw Christina on the television news. Is possible…excuse, is IT possible …
My heart began to race as Michela struggled to retrieve lost grammar. I had to think fast. A month earlier my daughter traveled to Rome for a work-related U.N. conference on food and hunger. Before departure Christina alerted me that she would not be calling the cousins. Her schedule was impossibly jammed with no wriggle room for socializing. She had agonized about hurt feelings and assumed that any explanation would be misconstrued. Better to slip into town and catch up with la familglia next time around. That sounded sensible. So, off she went. I assumed that in an unguarded moment she had given an interview on camera. How could she have been that foolish?
Is it possible that Christina was at …how you say … Occupy Wall Street in New York?
Smacking my head with an open palm, I suddenly remembered that Christina had made several appearances for teach-ins and demonstrations at Zucotti Park in New York’s financial district after the first protesters pitched their tents. No shrinking violet even as a child, she had always wanted “to make a difference.”
My systolic rate dipped back to normal. So that was where she was photographed.
Breezily, I answered in Italian: E possibile? Certainly! Certo!
I later remarked to my wife how conflicted I felt to have avoided an unintentional slight yet be so blasé about our child’s participation in a demonstration. Her image captured from Lower Manhattan was beamed to a screen in the Italian Alps. Such a small planet we share.
At dawn in the frigid stillness of a Saturday morning in mid-December, I was jarred from a deep sleep by the high-pitched, thrashing drone of news copters racing towards Dewey Square. Instinctively I realized that the removal of the Occupy Boston encampment was underway.
Quickly dressing, I drove from the North End to South Station where city crews with pressurized hoses blasted slogans scrawled on sidewalks and vents. A forlorn group of displaced protesters huddled across the street from a phalanx of garbage trucks spewing fumes into the frosty air. Some held signs that said: “You can’t evict an idea!” They were bearing witness to the dismantling of their makeshift community that had so annoyed the powerful interests that keep Boston humming financially and politically.
I tasted salt on my lips and tongue as my eyes brimmed with tears from stuffed sinuses or, perhaps, from memories of marches on Washington in the 60s when my generation thought that it, too, could make a difference. The authorities were power-washing graffiti and bleaching paint-stained pavement. But, there was no machine yet invented that could eradicate the idealism of youth.
Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life and city living.