An uncut conversation with the superstar author of 99 NIGHTS WITH THE 99 PERCENT.
Before he went on to blow up all over the world with his Occupy coverage for the Boston Phoenix, Chris Faraone was the staff writer here at the Dig. So when we learned he had gone and published a goddamn book, we jumped up and down. Straight up, Chris is one of the best journalists in Boston. We sat in our conference room and talked about his book 99 Nights with the 99 Percent: Dispatches from the First Three Months of the Occupy Revolution.
David Day: So you were saying there are about 1,000 new words? First of all the haikus.
Chris Faraone: There’s 100 of them.
Did you write them along the way, as you were doing it?
Yeah well, I opened a file in like October, I’ve got the tumblr too, Occupaiku. I googled “occupaiku” and there was nothing there and I was like, “oh, shit.” I can’t stress enough that I think it’s fucking ridiculous that so many occupy books are out. A lot of the books that are out, and I’m not about to talk smack about them, but I think it’s interesting because some of them have real observations but a lot of them are kind of analytical. My book is not analytical. It’s more like a time capsule of the first three months. No matter what happens after, from here on in, or what happened before the encampment era, those couple of months, what happened there will always be the same. I think that the way people look back on it will change.
Everything always changes in hindsight, in retrospect.
A lot of small parts of the story, say like the food operations, which were essentially the backbone of a lot of these places, will maybe get forgotten. I think that there is a lot of reporting out there but my stuff is kind of … I can’t stress enough this really is just a shot of those three months. A lot of what those other books are good for is, there’s a Huff Post book …
I didn’t know they were out actually.
There’s an AlterNET book coming out. Well, they’re not all by one person. There are a few that are out but they’re just like 30 different essays from different writers. Mine is more like a travel book, something that you can read from beginning to end. I really wanted to have something that brings you through.
Now I have two things that bring us through. First I started to write a time line, but I wanted the book to stay fun and quick … I didn’t want people to sit there in between chapters reading a boring ass fucking Wikipedia timeline so I turned them into haikus.
Once I realized haiku and occupaiku, once I realized that shit I was like “duh.”
The other thing is, the other new writing—you asked what’s new in the book—is another 3000 words that’s actually dispersed through the whole book. You see how each chapter starts right? So these are 150 to 200-word introductions for every chapter that kind of brings you back so you’re not just getting thrown cold into each chapter. I’m kind of bringing it back and showing, you know, this is what was going on. You really kind of have to be put into this mind set. So for example, you know the chapter about Dewey Square getting raided? I try to say to people, I had been up for two days at this point. That chapter I didn’t even really edit that much. A lot of the other chapters—say the chapter where I was on the road down to Philly and DC and Baltimore and New York in early October—I wrote a blog post the whole time I was doing that and then I wrote a big feature. Now the feature in the book is kind of like that feature but with a lot of detail added and a lot of flavor added from those blog posts.
I know it’s really funny to read blog posts cause you think they’re so good at the time but it’s like, they’re really not ready. I have a new policy: I’m never going back and reading old fucking blog posts; I’d just prefer to think that I had some genius on the moment shit. … It’s wordy, entire sentences have to be pulled out. I had a lot of people help with the editing of this book, but I definitely learned a lot about the editing process, too.
That’s what came from doing this independently.
I always try to explain to people that books aren’t like music. With music, the snobbery is the other way around: if you’re on a major label or commercial, you know, that’s whack—people already prejudge you. In the book world it’s the complete opposite. Anything self-published is just hack. And I’m sitting there like “big fucking deal.” I’ve had an agent for years but my agents never sold any of my book ideas. So with this, what was I going to do? In the time it took to do this book I would have written a proposal and I’d still be sitting on my thumbs. And I’ll tell you why.
Even though I went out there and covered this shit, I believe, in a unique way, it’s still like, why would somebody buy my book when they could put out the Huff Post compilation? And on top of that, I got to do everything with this book, you know? Like I said, there’s chapter after chapter, thousands of thousands of words that were never printed—I still had to give people a reason to buy this. I wanted it to look awesome and that’s going to translate into a really cool e-book.
But being as the whole thing is really kind of DIY and I’m really proud of the physical product, I’m going to push the books for now.
This is my first, you know, sit down interview. I want the digital to be really badass—like really dynamic. I want the digital to like … let’s say you poke a picture—I want the picture to come alive, like a video maybe—stuff like that. The book at first, and this is the first interview I’ve ever said this in, the book originally, when I realized I wanted to frame the story I did, the 99 nights between September 17th, when Zucotti Park was occupied, and Christmas day. So originally, my plan was perfect: I’ll end this in Zucotti, on Christmas day. I didn’t feel the specific need to end it there. I was having a great time on New Year’s, here, with the Occupiers, and the whole book kind of came to a natural ending. So I ended it there, there’s a big stamp for the end of the book. After that, a couple bonus chapters, that’s it.
The genesis of it, how did that happen?
Basically, what happened was, after about the third, fourth page of the feature, I realized I’m writing 1,500 words a week, almost 2,500 words a week, here. I’m writing a crazy amount. I’m writing as much as a daily newspaper writer would write, if not more, and about the same things. Every time I’ve ever tried to write a book, I’m so bored of the fucking chapter by the time the proposal’s done, let alone writing the book.
My Phoenix budget, they got me up and down the East coast. I would use everything I could. The West coast trip, I raised the money, kind of like a Kickstarter type of thing, raised a couple hundred bucks … then I had people helping out resources, but I went completely broke doing this, it was about the biggest gamble of my life. I’d rather do that than sit around being pissed every time someone else came out with a book about Occupy. So I raised some money, I just did it as cheap as possible.
When did you come up with the 99 days thing?
That was maybe in October or something. Basically get through the end of the year, keep writing these features, and it all kind of just happened that way, because, by the end of December, all the major camps had been broken up, obviously. But the big camps, with hundreds of people, got broken up, and I think it would have been one thing, for a movie it would be okay if the camps had been broken up and the time that I had set up for myself, but I think it was important to see the rebound, to see what happened after, not just in Boston, but everywhere. There are at least two chapters to read, if you count the New Hampshire primary one about, and I can really say with certainty that it’s really pointing to where things are going now, where the meetings, and how they’re back in the street now. I’d say that the direction that the book ends up in, nobody’s going to look at this book, and say, “No, they were wrong.”
My whole thing with this, having traveled between cities, I feel like I was like a weather vane.
I thought I was able to see where things would be in a few weeks. Boston was behind New York by a week and a half, so you would see in Boston in about a week and a half would look like Zucotti looked when they were there for a week and a half. A lot of these camps progressed in the same way, and I write in the book, DC, the first time I went there, it’s like a circle of college kids with pimples sitting around with their brand new bandannas, and they’re fighting two months later, they’re holding pitchforks. I can’t stress enough that it’s not just that, people didn’t just develop like that.
People also developed like, let’s face it, Occupy was a brand. This is what really attracted people from the beginning. I don’t mean that in a negative way.
When I think about the term “franchise,” of course there’s a negative connotation, but look at a TGIFridays all over the place, they all have the same exact things. When I’m seeing the same hand signals, people saying the exact same things, and then the exact same thing in Chicago, Baltimore, it’s like holy shit. This is incredible. I have a line in the book about how it takes corporations millions of dollars, and years, to get this kind of branding out …
Occupy pulled it off in a couple of weeks.
You must have been asked this a billion times, but what happens now? You’re an Occupy expert.
Boston, I will say, I have a feeling that out of the infighting, that, while it might not stop, it will continue. Totally understandable, but I think that people really get around a lot of that, now, and move forward with actions. I think the MBTA strikes, moving really fast, while they’re not spearheading that, that’s people, T Riders. Occupy Boston is full-on with this. They’re pulling out a lot of people power. I think they’re going to be back in the headlines a lot. From there, you’re going to see a lot of big actions. By the time this runs, it will have been February 17th, or something for the anniversary. I know March 17th, a lot of people are looking for. Of course, April, they’re talking about re-occupying.
And there’s a general strike May first?
General strike, you could fill up your calendar with Occupy movements.
As far as specific events, I can’t comment. They’re pretty transparent organizations, so nothing’s written in stone until it’s a couple weeks out. Some of the major plans will be soon voting on general assemblies and stuff like that. Nationally, it’s already mid-February, so generally … I’m gonna be at SXSW/South by Southwest. I’ll definitely be covering it because I know they’re planning ahead. When people start planning ahead, there will probably be something significant. It ended up being the case with—
Yeah, I was gonna say New Hampshire, though. They get people from a lot of different states and stuff like that. Having SXSW so many times, I don’t know how it’s gonna go down, how it will be received, but it should be interesting.
We at the Dig keep coming back to this–We can cover this issue, and other people can’t. There’s really nothing, anything like this. I guess in the ’60s, there must have been some similarities.
A lot of people get really interested in a lot of this. I quote somebody in my book, he’s one of the original Wall Street dudes, who said at this conference that at the beginning, there’s this adrenaline: going, going, going, not sleeping. If the second three months look like the first three months, you’re in trouble. Two years from now can’t look like the first two months. You’ll burn out.
You’ve just gotta get new people to cover it, I guess. So I heard Occupy being called the Anonymous, Anonymous on the Internet, and it’s kind of true. You see how twitter affects change, social media affects change.
If I respond to everybody, every word, coverage, it gets really exhausting. It’s like the internet in person. All of these different personalities.
You have junkies in a tent next to underground rappers next to people praying to Buddha. Very different groups of people.
People can’t even get along with the five people around the family dinner table. You ever see a five-person band agree on a bass line? A two-person DJ team can’t agree on anything! These are hundreds of people getting, even getting 70 percent to pass something, that’s a feat in and of itself. And those first few days, I couldn’t believe that they had decided Occupy, where it was going to be, they motored through that.
The press was under the heels of the police, they kept the press out. Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
Only in danger of being arrested. I’ll say it kind of goes both ways. I’ll take some of the blame because whereas I want to be treated like a reporter in that if people are getting arrested, I don’t want to be one of them, because I have to cover shit. My hands aren’t tied behind my back, for the most part. At the same time,
the kind of reporting I do is not your typical news reporting. I wouldn’t want to wear a press badge around my neck, or wear a suit and tie.
I go about it the way I would go about anything else. I don’t do anything stupid. I have my standards, and I stick to them. If I felt a cop following my every move, the last thing I would want to do is give them an opportunity to “oh, he’s lying about that source!” There’s a chapter in here about the West coast, and those cops, you can be really afraid of. Boston police—sure, over the years, I’ve had my problems with them; they’re a really benevolent bunch. I can say that as a white male, that they’re a benevolent enough. The good comes with the bad.
They handled the raid all right, but I don’t think they should have been fuckin’ raiding in the first place. I have a whole chapter about police and Occupy called Silent Partners, which, right in the introduction, it says, “I’ve always hated cops,” but then I explain that through this, I actually met a lot of cops, off the record, and it’s kind of sucked for a lot of them.
It’s easy to put pigs in blankets statements, but it’s good to acknowledge the few good men among the goons.
It’s important to realize that it’s just rough for them. Police in this whole front. It’s not just the Occupy thing. I’ve seen cops have to foreclose on people who they fucking grew up with in places like Malden. Can you imagine that? That’s insane. “Man, we grew up together, why you gotta do this?” That’s heartbreaking.
Yeah, it really is.
Will there be a picture of me, or something?
279 HARVARD ST.
GOOD LIFE BAR
28 KINGSTON ST.