A rock and a hard place

As Occupy Boston struggles with a sex-offender ban, its weaknesses have been laid bare

It was after 10 pm on Tuesday, January 10, in the stale, bright basement of the Arlington Street Church, where now-nomadic Occupy Boston was holding a meeting. At issue was something that would seem straightforward: a proposal to prevent level-three sex offenders from being a part of Occupy. But suddenly, it felt as if the entire movement could be splintering. Two nights earlier, the sex-offender proposal was blocked. And now, as the Occupiers attempted to deal with the aftermath, the room filled with a tense whirlwind of emotional outcries about feeling triggered and targeted by misogyny, sexism, and homophobia.

Within the first half-hour of the assembly, it was clear that a typical GA wouldn’t work for the night’s anxiousness. So instead, it became more of a Quaker-style community speak-out, with rows of about 75 chairs reorganized into a circle. The facilitator told the group to “let a spirit guide them,” and to speak as they felt inclined, without being called on. Someone handed out stress-relieving clay; the room even took a moment for “spiritual grounding” as someone from the Faith and Spirituality working group sounded a Tibetan singing bowl. It all worked surprisingly well for the first three hours.

But eventually, it broke — people started lashing out, yelling, antagonizing, walking out of the room. A new hand gesture was soon established for the night’s GA — a fist covered by an open hand, to signal oppressive language or verbal abuse — but it wasn’t working. Overall, the night confirmed that, as one Occupier put it, “Shit’s boiling over right now.”

The fight over whether to ban level-three sex offenders has become an even larger issue — highlighting the weaknesses of the open, consensus-based process that Occupy GAs rely on. And according to representatives from other Occupy cities, the issue isn’t unique to Boston.

“As it went on, it became really painfully obvious how broken things are and how far we have to go to repair them,” Women’s Caucus member Ariadne Ross said the next morning. “By the end of the night I was feeling worse than when we started.”


The conversation surrounding sex offenders began percolating after December 20, when the GA passed a “Mutual Aid Working Group Proposal” allotting cash to help homeless persons who’d been displaced by the dismantling of Occupy’s Dewey Square camp — a pool that at least one registered sex offender attempted to access.

So on December 27, an Occupier named Sarah Barney brought a proposal to the GA to ban sex offenders. Her proposal generally states that if a member of Occupy Boston is found to be a level-three sex offender (a person convicted of a sexual crime whom the court deems to be at especially high risk for reoffending), the Safety working group would ask them to leave for one week, during which time the GA would vote on whether the accused should be asked to leave Occupy Boston permanently.

For Barney, a mother who often brought her five-year-old son to Occupy Boston, the issue was larger than the mutual-aid proposal.

“It stemmed from one specific incident, finding out that someone who lived at Dewey Square had gone to jail for nine years for two counts of sexual assault and rape of children under the age of 16,” said Barney.

When Occupy Wall Street began they intentionally adopted a strategy of “occupying” public spaces in defiance of the law. They didn’t want permission, they wanted to engineer confrontations with the police in order to get publicity and sympathy. That strategy worked fairly well for the first month or so.

It was easy to foresee the flaw in that plan – the encampments would be magnets for the professional homeless and other dregs of society. Free food, shelter and a group of people who refused to cooperate with the police is a criminal’s dream.

At first the Occupiers didn’t mind these newcomers. It swelled their numbers and provided a core group willing to physically live in the encampments through the oncoming winters. But some of these newcomers were predators. The rebels without a clue found themselves dealing with people their sheltered lives had not prepared them for.

The Occupiers had painted themselves into a corner. They couldn’t deal with the sexual assault problem themselves and they couldn’t call the cops. They were terrified the publicity would harm the movement but they couldn’t cover it up. They tried to cover it up and that ended up making things worse.

They sowed the seeds of their own destruction.

If you need to set aside a special space where women can be safe, women aren't safe

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30 Responses to A rock and a hard place

  1. HELENK says:

    absolute freedom is a lot like absolute power it corrupts.
    By voiding all responsible responses to rapes and other crimes, what did they think would happen?

    • WMCB says:

      That little turd Markos is telling the truth. “Nobody really cares about that” little minor issue of rapes at OWS camps. He’s right, the people he’s speaking to don’t.

      What’s the degradation of a few whiny women (who are probably making it up anyway), if it forwards the noble cause? They should shut up and take one for the team.


  2. foxyladi14 says:

    rape is wrong.defending it is worse. 👿

  3. votermom says:

    If you need to set aside a special space where women can be safe, women aren’t safe

    Women’s safe space = women’s ghetto.

  4. votermom says:

    OT. LOL.

  5. DandyTiger says:

    …highlighting the weaknesses of the open, consensus-based process that Occupy GAs rely on.

    That was the entire point of the design of the movement.

    Go nowhere fast, spin wheels, keep liberal energies focused on nothing in particular, but easily controlled and focused by the real leaders when needed.

    Got cult?

  6. DandyTiger says:

    So the bottom line here is that these “progressives”, esp. those involved with OWS or those defending it are denying this stuff, are actually anti-women.

    Interesting upside down world we’re living in. Maybe it’s always been that way and I just didn’t see it. They make noise about being pro women, but the last thing in the world they want is to actually help women in a permanent way that would take away their wonderful women related wedge issues. Same goes for the poor and for minorities of course.

    New Dems = Cynical Bigot Party

  7. DeniseVB says:

    Seriously OT: I wonder if it’s too late to start a Facebook Write-In campaign for my husband for Barney Frank’s seat ?


    Joking! But I did offer my husband up for the MA GOP ticket when Frank announced his retirement. Mr. VB was born, raised and educated in this district, though hasn’t lived there since he was 22. Even offered to move back if there was a residency requirement. (like that stopped the GOP from running Alan Keyes against Obama for US Senate!). Our campaign was going to be a pick-up truck and visit all the fast food restaurants. It’s really a depressed area, I can’t imagine why a Kennedy would be caught dead in it 😦

  8. yttik says:

    “The rebels without a clue found themselves dealing with people their sheltered lives had not prepared them for.”

    That’s what I kept saying when I first heard of OWS! They were like, “We The People are the 99%!” and I was like, wait….have you ever met “The People”??!

    I think on the statue of liberty we refer to them as the “wretched refuse.” Sad to say, but we aren’t all clean, idyllic, and dedicated to utopia fantasies. That’s kind of why we created a Constitution, a democracy, and even capitalism. It’s the best we can do with what we have to work with.

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