Richlee

I’m Waltham right now, but I’ve lived in Massachusetts for probably the last 30 years… in different parts of Massachusetts. And I’m a social worker, so I’ve worked in a variety of places in Massachusetts as well, and been able to experience a lot in terms of the kind of concerns of different parts of the state, and different communities that are involved in Massachusetts.

Where we lived in Holland, Jews were hidden in our house during World War II. And so I learned a lot of stories, because I was a child. And I think kids absorb a lot of sense of justice and fairness and suffering, and I learned a lot about that.

I do think that my upbringing really is very significant in terms of my being here today. I was very fortunate that for much of my childhood I lived in Europe, especially in Holland. And I went to Dutch schools. So I became really aware, an international focus, where we were learning how to speak French in second grade. I was learning that in a Dutch school. So I think I’ve been very lucky when many, many Americans have not been able to leave this country. The focus that they bring to the problems, whether it’s war or justice, is kind of insulated in some ways. So I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to go out a lot. So I bring back a different viewpoint than many Americans, I think.

I loved it. I would probably be Dutch, except they don’t need any more people. I keep asking if I can be Dutch. I think in some ways, at least then, it was a community that we’re trying to create here. There’s a real emphasis on community and social welfare. I think a lot of that is changed. It’s probably become a little more capitalist. But then, if you had a dog, you had to pay a certain tax to clean up after the dog, and that was a while back. So that was very much community oriented and a sense of general welfare, which I think is really important – the common good. Whereas here, the United States was founded on individual rights, so it makes the understanding of the common good more difficult than in Europe where a lot of societies and countries are very much closer together. Languages are freely intertwined. You’d never meet anybody who didn’t speak less than three languages. And since then, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time in Europe. I’ve spent time in the middle east, I’ve been to Latin America working projects. I was in Syntagma Square last June and July to see the Greeks that have such an experience with democracy and that they will absolutely, the people’s voice will not be silenced. We were there where there were two thousand tear gas canisters hurled a night into Syntagma Square by the police, and the Greeks just kept coming back. And I never thought that within three months, ever, we’d have Occupy movements here. So I’m ecstatic and I just love this on so many different levels.

I had kind of a split. Where we lived in Holland, Jews were hidden in our house during World War II. And so I learned a lot of stories, because I was a child. And I think kids absorb a lot of sense of justice and fairness and suffering, and I learned a lot about that. And I think the notion of justice and fairness is something that stayed with me. And that probably helped find the field of social work. I worked with kids throughout my life. So I have a masters in social work and I’ve done a lot of different things in social work, but I also have a masters in international relations, because I’ve, clearly, from living all over the world, that was an area of interest as well. So in some ways I’ve been able to combine the two. I’ve been in Gaza, working with children in Gaza, and helping train social workers and young adults in terms of trauma work with kids. So I’ve spent a lot of time in the West Bank as well. So I’ve been able to combine them. I’ve been incredibly lucky.

First I got a masters in international relations at Tufts in Fletcher’s School of Law and Diplomacy here. And people would come here and occupy our stacks, because they thought we had CIA material, it was pretty funny. The students went on strike over in Cambodia, the bombing of Cambodia. So that was interesting. There’s always been a political, kind of justice feel to it. But it was really boring. We spent six months studying one foreign trade agreement. So it seemed kind of dry. And I immediately got a job working with Head Start Day Care parent… and trying to organize them. So that was incredibly exciting. And I spoke some Spanish, so that was useful. And from there, I ended up wanting to get a masters in social work. I think organizing has always been, maybe a common denominator of both my interests in international work as well as social work. Organizing for justice kinds of issues.

I have sons, who are in their twenties, and the young people here, being so intimately in a community with homeless folks, people have who have addiction problems, that is all about empathy. You learn empathy, and it changes one’s life.

The job that I’m best suited for is in the info tent where people from all over come through and want to know more about Occupy Boston and about the occupations. Yesterday I was just standing, talking to somebody from Leominster, somebody from China came through, and someone from England right there meeting him, and a woman from Russia. And so I suggested they take a tour together. And the guy from China had been here a little longer and seen the tour. So, I really like that, and linking people up, and I think that this is a world wide effort now. Just that we’re getting to meet people we wouldn’t normally talk to is going to bring change. Our lives will never be the same again.

People talk about different levels of change that’s going to come through this, and I think one of the things is inner, personally. I have sons, who are in their twenties, and the young people here, being so intimately in a community with homeless folks, people have who have addiction problems, that is all about empathy. You learn empathy, and it changes one’s life. I think our system keeps us so isolated, and it’s hard to remember, and get in touch with our own empathy. So I think once that gets connected, once that starts sprouting then one’s individually and collectively is going to change. And I think it will form a lot of the kind of social direction and goals that we all have, which certainly is part of this occupy movement, in terms of a real search for economic and social justice.

In later September, there were several general assemblies that were called in the Boston Common to decide whether there should be an Occupy Boston movement and where it should be located. So it was really exciting to be part of the initial general assemblies. I think the Occupy Boston part of what I really like about this is that the occupation itself, the encampment, (and they don’t like being called campers, it’s important to acknowledge that), it’s a physical space and it really represents a community of people who probably would never have gotten together in other ways. And so it’s exciting to figure out how to live together in a way that promotes a justice and equality that we’re all about. And when there are problems that come up, as they would in any community, we try to develop ways of mediating and not doing traditional sanction of issues that we have a hard time with.  So we’re trying to create new models, and it’s a very long, slow process. And it’s learning as we go. But I think that’s exciting. But also, there was an Occupy Boston summit from two to six, and what was, to me, very exciting, in the main room was an overflow. There were 200 people, and about 25 of those 200 were actually living here. So I think that speaks to how this movement has grown outside of the direct encampment. I went to an “Occupy the Burbs” meeting in the bottom of a library in Natick, and there were over 50 people from a lot of other towns. And a few were here daily as people come through, especially around now, the holiday time. They’re from outside of Boston. And so this is really spreading, and I think that that’s really exciting. So the actual encampment, even though it’s incredibly important, represents just a part of the whole 99% movement. So that’s exciting. It’s great. Of course it’s not 20 below. But it is great. It’s wonderful. It’s very energized and it’s incredibly exciting. Maybe because I’m in the info tent, so people who come through are already curious, and most of them are positive.

I’ve also spent time, my first occupation before this happened, was in Washington D.C. because I’m a member of Code Pink, which is international. It’s a women’s inspired peace and justice group. So I’m very involved in Code Pink. And as part of Code Pink, we occupy Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. in, I guess it was in early September. I feel like time has flown. We were there with Veteran’s for Peace and many, many other groups. So that had been organized last spring, before the occupations really started. And so I went there and it was incredible, too, in terms of the direct action at what it’s able to do in Washington D.C. is very different from here. The Chamber of Commerce closed down as we marched up. They locked. On their sign in Washington, their headquarters, it said ‘JOBS’ in big letters. And so people in Occupy Freedom Plaza made an equally big sign that said ‘GREED.’ And we went with our words there, they just locked. And there were other places that just locked down. We went to the Smithsonian because the Smithsonian has an exhibit, it’s an incredibly militarized museum actually, the air and space museum, and they were having an exhibit of drones. And we were very, very concerned that it would have gone to some of the companies that manufacture drones while we were in D.C., and had big signs and protests there. So we were going to do a die-in in the Smithsonian, and my job was to coordinate the people who were going to die-in. And someone else was going to drop a banner over three stories. Then the Veterans for Peace were going to do a take-off on the Air Force… but we gathered so many people on our way there, that the minute we walked in the first group of doors, the guards saw all these groups of people, and they came out and started pepper spraying us right in this little hallway. But they pepper sprayed so indiscriminately, they had to close the museum down. And they got hit as well.

So there are a lot of actions and different occupations that have a lot of strength because of where they’re located. Here in Boston, I like that we’re really connected with some of the communities – the Latino community in east Boston – and really, there’s a large Latino community in this area and we’re very concerned about the police action. And that the secured communities act, which is so ridiculous…. So, we’re trying to help them with that. And two students, Latino students, successfully avoided being deported within the past week, which is great. So that was a real success. And then we’re also involved in the Hood, which is in Roxbury, trying to build this cross community connections. And hopefully we’ll get more involved with foreclosures, families whose homes are being foreclosed. City Life is a wonderful local organization that has been doing that kind of work for eons. Hopefully now we can lend some bodies to their effort. So a lot of what we do is support local groups, because they really know what’s going on. They know a lot better than some of us who come down for the day what it means to live as part of the 99%.

My name is Richlee.

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