'Occupy Boston' Holds On As Other Camps Close

It's been almost six months since the Occupy Wall Street movement started in New York City. In most cities, the encampments have been shut down and street protests have dwindled. But in Boston, the movement's organizers are trying out new tactics and strategies to keep their message alive.

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In the past week, Miami, Austin and Washington, D.C., to name a few, began clearing out some of the last remaining Occupy Wall Street encampments. In many places, protesters insist their efforts will continue, but in different, less visible ways.

NPR's Tovia Smith has this update from Boston, where Occupy is turning to new tools and tactics.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: When Occupy Boston was forced out of their tents in December, they fell out of the headlines, but not totally out of sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I knew they'd be back in the spring. I didn't think it would be this soon.

SMITH: Even police were surprised when in the 30-degree February cold some 200 protesters marched downtown in scuba gear to highlight underwater mortgages.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Take it off. Take it off.

SMITH: One rather zaftig underwater homeowner even stripped down to a swimsuit.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SMITH: The stunt was classic Occupy theater.

DAVID LAMOSA: They put - it was like we came back, but we've always been here. You know, we've never left.

SMITH: But Occupy Boston has evolved, says protester David Lamosa. It was hard when he and the others were evicted from their encampment, but as activist Jason Stephany puts it, that may have been the best thing that ever happened to them.

JASON STEPHANY: Once folks got out of the tedium, you know, of needing to protect that space and maintain that space and the things that you need to run a small city, you know, keeping people fed, keeping it sanitized. People were able to focus on broader issues.

SMITH: They splintered into dozens of issue groups, and many joined forces with existing community organizations.

STEPHANY: And now, you're seeing an infusion of new blood, of new energy into existing community groups who have been fighting for these economic issues for decades now have new boots on the ground. And it's only strengthening the movement, overall.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Are you all ready to march?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yes.

SMITH: Just ask Antonio Ennis, a veteran organizer for the housing group City Life, who was suddenly blessed with a mob of very colorful and creative volunteers.

ANTONIO ENNIS: You know, when you got mass numbers and when you got a march that has this much theater with it, you force people to listen.

SMITH: What Occupy Boston gets - by joining up with other groups - is direction and focus.

ENNIS: Early on, Occupy was looked at as, you know, just a bunch of people, they didn't know what they wanted. So they are hooking up now with bona fide agencies that know what they want, that know what they're doing and know how to organize and get legislation passed. So then now, it's just going to solidify us, solidify them.

SMITH: One other way Occupy Boston has evolved: It makes sense that this group that's all about giving voice to the 99 percent...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Hi, Mom. I'm on TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: ...has now begun broadcasting its message through public-access television.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Is my forehead shining? Do I need powder?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No, it's OK.

SMITH: O.B. TV's amateur hosts and camera crews say they're using interviews with activists and academics to keep challenging the 1 percent in ways the mainstream media doesn't.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Nationally, Chartered Bank is able to charge any interest rate whatsoever...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: So they could charge, like, 30 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Actually, they do charge 30 percent.

SMITH: Occupy Boston has little doubt they're being heard. City Councilor Felix Arroyo agrees. For example, he says his city banking reform bill was dismissed as radical a year ago, but now, it's loaded with co-sponsors.

COUNCILOR FELIX ARROYO: The idea is the same. It hasn't changed. What I believe is that the talking points, the rhetoric has seeped into the national discussion in such a way that not only do policymakers listen to it more but the conversation became more mainstream.

SMITH: Occupy Boston says it will continue to push the conversation from out in the streets and inside their studios, where it happens to be much warmer in February. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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