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I wrote this book review for Arts Desk.
Somebody had to write the first Occupy Wall Street book. In fact, it’s not a bad marketing strategy: The first full-length, single-author synthesis of that giant thing that slammed into the American discourse last fall is certain to earn some attention.
Boston Phoenix staff writer Chris Faraone’s 99 Nights With the 99 Percent isn’t quite that. The slim, self-published volume is a collection of Faraone’s stories published last fall in the brash alt-weekly, stitched together along with new reflections written in January. Figuring that it dovetailed with his self-declared focus on “oppressed peoples,” Faraone committed full-time to the Occupy beat early on, rampaging through New York, Chicago, Seattle, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Miami, returning often to his home base in Dewey Square. His mad pursuit of the next eviction feels like the conflict-junkie high of a war correspondent: I was right there in the middle of it, man.
“It was a magic carpet ride through an exhilarating tear gas gauntlet,” Faraone writes in an early essay. “And to be honest, I wasn’t too concerned about how it all started or where it might end.”
Like most books rushed into publication after some game-changing event, 99 Nights is not the most analytical or cohesive compilation. It’s also not an objective one, which Faraone announces on page 1: He wants Occupy to succeed where previous lefty movements have failed, and hates on “finance chumps” with the best of his bandana’d subjects. The narrative reeks of class warfare, with Faraone inserting his own digs at the 1 percent to supplement those of the Occupiers. He even goes so far as to actively antagonize them, manufacturing a jaunt with a band of Zuccotti Parkers to an Upper East Side bar in hopes—later dashed—of eliciting some obnoxious bourgeois response. (The episode turns into an admiring essay about the Occupiers’ seriousness and dedication.)
Faraone’s sympathies aren’t completely uncritical. He chafes at Occupy’s tedious, consensus-based decision-making meat grinder, mocks the intellectual blowhards who make every general assembly an hours-long event, and carps about Occupy’s occasional skittishness toward the media. He even pulls off the occasional interesting feature, like a profile of the guy who conned Occupy Boston out of its bank account, and an interview with the activist attempting to bring Boston’s black ghettoes into the conversation.
Mostly, though, the essays read like a press release dressed up as a minute-by-minute travelogue, giving voice to the Occupiers’ aspirations and frustrations, railing against the scumbag cops (and making much of those who were sympathetic). By staying close to the ground, he plays right into the Occupier’s tendency to confuse noise for real impact and nationwide scale for culture-shifting depth.
No matter, really. Faraone is clearly having the time of his life. It’s the perfect assignment for a guy only too conscious of his identity as a movement man, as a laudatory Columbia Journalism Review profile labeled him: a badass gonzo truthteller without the pretensions of mainstream scribes, able to get loose with the marchers in the streets, aided by a grab bag of mind-altering substances. We hear a lot about that part.
“I was a degenerate one-man stampede if there ever was one, but I pulled it off thanks to fistfuls of chemically cocked chronic, face bending boomers, and ecstatic Occupy energy from Seattle to the Bay,” goes a typical self-assessment. Or this, from Occupy Boston’s eviction: “I’d just come home from the raid on Dewey, hadn’t showered in days, and I could smell my balls through my corduroys. My throat and lungs were burnt from choking on cold air and blunt smoke; my toes, wet and frigid, looked like day-old chicken nuggets.”
Awesome, dude. Glad you had fun with this one. Thanks for the memories.