Boston – They marched and chanted and gave speeches, lamenting the ills of corporate greed. But these are not your typical Occupy Boston protesters.
Meet Ocupemos el Barrio, a group comprised of Latinos from all walks of life. Its participants say they formed the group to address issues within the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, matters – namely, immigration – specific to Latino concerns. It is one of a handful of so-called affinity groups that have emerged since the Occupy protestors first hit the streets.
At its first public rally earlier this month, Ocupemos el Barrio staged a protest in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in downtown Boston, home to the offices of Immigration Customs and Enforcement, in part to highlight the 400,000 deportations that have been carried out under the Obama administration.
It’s important to make immigrants feel safe and be a part of this. Deportation is about the 1 percent, the privatization of prisons – it’s a business.
At the rally, Lando, a Colombian activist – who refused to give his full name – said the group came together about two months ago and has roughly 50 members who are students and workers. They meet primarily in East Boston, a neighborhood with a large Latino population.
“We are part of the movement because of income inequality,” he said, as he hammered on the wooden handle of one of the march’s banners. “That hits us just as much as the 99 percent. But the difference is that we’re an oppressed community.”
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Another activist, David Lamoso, 30, said that immigrants are a key part of the 99 percent.
“It’s important to make immigrants feel safe and be a part of this,” said Lamoso, who is half Puerto Rican and half Cuban. “Deportation is about the 1 percent, the privatization of prisons – it’s a business.”
The protest that day drew nearly 150 people, organizers estimated, in part because protesters from the larger Occupy Boston movement joined in to show their support for their Latino counterparts.
Occupy Boston was one of the movement’s last stalwarts. A judge granted the protesters an order in November giving them the right to stay in Dewey Square, the protester’s headquarters.
But on Dec. 7, the judge ruled in favor of the city, which had raised concerns about public safety in the camp, and the city gave the protesters a midnight deadline to clear out. The deadline passed without much fanfare that night, but Boston police moved in a couple of days later and arrested 46 people, according to media reports.
One of those people was Alex Suárez, a 27-year-old Peruvian-American who came to Boston when the Occupy Burlington camp got shut down. That morning, Suárez said he woke up early to screams in the camp. He, along with a number of others, decided to engage in civil disobedience and locked arms to resist arrest.
“I felt very calm,” Suárez said later. “We were in the right place.”
Suárez said he and the others were taken to a jail in South Boston. He said he was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest, and that he and other protesters were held for nine hours before being released on bail.
“It was a beautiful experience in the jail because of solidarity,” he said of that day. “We were brothers.”
At a general assembly held that weekend on the Boston Common, Suárez said recalled telling his fellow Occupy Boston protesters that the fight wasn’t over.
“I told them that they can take our tents but they can’t take our dignity,” he said. “Our voice may fade but the revolution remains.”
This is a sentiment expressed by other occupiers.
Rachel Plattus, 24, said she got involved with Occupy Boston from the beginning primarily for the same reasons as her fellow protestors. But now she says the movement has evolved into something more – the union of different stories and people who have come together and found power in numbers.
And because the protestors have been evicted from Dewey Square, they are now forced to find other ways of expanding the movement.
“I think it does allow for us to embrace a diversity of tactics even more than before, but we have to make sure we’re unified around issues,” she said. “In a sense that’s harder than turning to the person in the next tent, but it gives us the ability to look at the broader picture.”
And part of that picture means supporting groups within the movement like Ocupemos el Barrio.
The presence of such groups can only add to the movement’s strength, she said.
“We would be weaker without those people advocating for those stories,” she said. “It’s critically important that we have diverse voices.”
The group says it plans on organizing more rallies and marches and pushing for its issues to be heard.
“Our work is going to continue with even more force,” said Héctor Tarrido, 26, one of the main speakers at the demonstration at the JFK Federal Building.
He said he doesn’t believe the eviction at Dewey Square is going to hamper the group’s efforts.
“One of the things we want to do is to take our base and cement it in the community,” he said. “The movement is maturing and putting down its roots.”
Tanya Pérez-Brennan is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.