Yesterday, Occupy Boston, ACE, T Rider’s Union, MassUniting, Amalgamated Transit Union, and other organizations joined with citizens for a National Day of Action for Transportation. The final MBTA board hearing ended at approximately 2:50p.m. that day and voted four-to-one in favor of passing Scenario Three, meaning a 25 percent fare hike on the T, service cuts to buses and the E-line, and a 100 percent increase on THE RIDE, among other measures. Later that evening, Occupy MBTA, a working group within Occupy Boston, declared a ten-day occupation of the front steps of the State House, which they dubbed Camp Charlie. Part two covers the day of Action activities: the People’s Assembly, the rally, and the candlelight vigil for Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated April 4, 1968. Part one covers the MBTA Board hearing.
The grand staircase in the State House belongs to the people this afternoon. Citizens from Occupy Boston, MassUniting, and ACE come up to speak and share stories. Less than an hour ago the MBTA board voted four-to-one in favor of Scenario Three. The Board ignored them. The hope here is that the legislature, the representatives, won’t.
Ariel Oshinsky, Northeastern student, hypes the crowd up, listing off the cities rallying in solidarity–from Worcester, MA to Portland, OR.
“I don’t own a car,” says a Framingham State student to the crowd. “I take the commuter rail home on the weekend and to work in the evenings.” She’s referring to the cuts made to the rail as part of the MBTA’s passed budget.
Steve MacDougal, an international representative for the Amalgamated Transit Union, speaks to the crowd.
“Public transportation has been attacked with underfunding for years,” he says. He also stresses the importance of Regional transit authorities in the discussion. “Regional Transit Authorities should not be treated like the redheaded stepchild. They need to be part of the conversations.”
Donna Kelley-Williams of the Mass. Nurses Association also gives her support, saying “These cuts will make it harder for patients to get healthcare.”
The highlight of the rally, and most theatrical, is the formation of the human train. Josh Golim of Occupy Boston leads the charge, as people line up and put their hands on each other’s shoulders, forming a train up the stairs to Speaker Robert De Leo’s office. Security guards keep Josh and the line out.
“Mic check!” shouts Josh, and the people repeat–the “human microphone.”
“People from Boston are in front of your door. We politely ask you to come out of your office and talk about the situation.”
Josh is already shouting, and the crowd repeats each sentence so loud two women had to cover their ears–if De Leo’s in there, he’s probably deaf by now.
A bearded young man named Noah leads more call-and-response chanting.
“We are asking you to come and talk to us,” he says, “And not put the burden on the most vulnerable – on the youth, on the elderly, on the unemployed. We have ideas and apparently you don’t.”
The crowd marches off to see Governor Deval Patrick, stopped short of the entrance to the Executive offices by a few guards.
If Patrick doesn’t see them, he can definitely hear them.
“Come out and see the 99 percent,” says Josh, leading the crowd. “Come hear what we think about the budget that the MBTA passed today.”
After more chanting and demands to see the governor, it’s time to head outside to the front of the State House for a rally. On the way out, the crowd receives news Speaker De Leo will meet with a few people. Some wait outside his office to see him while most go downstairs and continue outside.
Speakers take to center of the steps with bullhorns or turn the crowd into human microphones. A message of solidarity sent from the Sanitation Workers of Memphis is read to the crowd–fitting because King was in Memphis to support that same union’s strike at the time of his death.
Angela, a senior on a cane, is invited to speak about how she uses the T everyday. She announces how individuals who need a cane, like she does, will have restricted access to THE RIDE or have to pay a premium. This whole event reminds her of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, and “how long and how hard those folks walked back and forth from work.
“I don’t know if it will come to that,” she says. “But I pray I’ll have the strength and courage to do that.”
The support of the Amalgamated Transit Union was huge for Occupy–they had wanted union support from the beginning.
“It was amazing,” says Occupier Ann Coleman about when the ATU pledged support. “At first, the Carmen’s Union [the local ATU chapter] didn’t want to speak out. They didn’t want it to just be about them. But I think community support gave them the courage to come out.”
John Lee, president of the Massachusetts ATU chapter is invited to speak.
“The economy is terrible and as a result we have more people on the T now,” says Lee. “There are 1.3 million riders dependent on the T everyday.”
The Second Line Social Aid Pleasure Society Brass Band takes the steps, playing songs like the O’Jay’s “For the Love of Money” and “Cruella De Vil.” People move closer to the band and start dancing--it’s turning into a party.
Occupier Ethan Harrison ups it by donning a giant Charlie (on the T) puppet on his back, in the same fashion as oversized Latin American puppets.
“It draws people in,” says Harrison. “It adds some ethos to the rally and gets kids excited.”
Noah of Occupy MBTA returns to the center of the steps with a big announcement: “We are not leaving these steps for 10 days, or until they reach our demands. This is Camp Charlie. This is a declaration of Occupation.”
Josh returns to the crowd with news.
“Remember that human train?” he asked the crowd. “About 200 people marched right up to Speaker DeLeo’s office. And an aide said ‘Speaker DeLEo will speak to three of you.’ He wasn’t there.
“We spoke to his aide, chief of staff, and were told DeLeo is very concerned. I asked, ‘What are you gonna do to stop the hikes and stop the layoffs?’ It got really quiet after that.”
Tired of politicians and bureaucrats ignoring him, Josh offers a solution: “radical direct action.”
“Join us tonight, and tomorrow night. And if you can’t, then go disrupt a hearing! Go sit in your rep’s office for hours.”
The following speaker, Emily, agrees with the call for radical direct action, citing Spain’s current general strike against transportation as inspiration: “They said ‘we built it, we work for it, we ride it, we’ll take it back!’”
Jay Jubilee than introduced Critical Mass Drummers and for twenty to thirty minutes Camp Charlie is a dance party.
When the dancing ends, a man named Jeremy takes the steps to speak about interest rate swaps, the main reason the T loses money while banks like JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, and UBS make even more. An interest rate swap is an agreement between two parties to exchange payments on different types of debt, usually to plan against fluctuations in interest rates. It’s not uncommon for one party to pay a fixed rate and the other a variable rate–it’s the type of the agreement the MBTA is in, paying banks a fixed rate and receiving variable and inadequate funds back.
“Interest rate swaps are a gamble,” says Jeremy. “This year, the MBTA has lost $26 million to banks. They’ll continue to lose $26 million a year. And through 2031 the MBTA will lose $287 million.
“If the T had $26 million to pay for service we could maintain current RIDE service at current fares,” says Jeremy. He goes on to list the other services that could be maintained at current fares if the MBTA wasn’t bleeding money to banks–everything from ferry service to the E-line would be safe.
“The Governor and legislature can’t do anything about interest rate swaps. That lies with the T.”
Jeremy concluded by giving out the numbers of some powerful people: MassDOT CFO Dana Levenson (617-973-7818); Cathy Will, assistant to JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon (212-270-0121); and Deutsche Bank’s retiring CEO Seth Waugh (212-150-5646).
The sun has set and the crowd has thinned. A woman named Kay rounds everything off with a history of MBTA and answered questions about Scenario Three with Jeremy. Afterwards, the remaining people split into circles to prepare for the next ten days of Camp Charlie. A few well-dressed people who just got out of work add more diversity to the group of mostly young, casually dressed Occupiers.
Conversation flows well in each of the circles, and disagreements are respectful. A suggestion to mic check meetings in the State House, even those that have nothing to do with the T, is met with caution: “Just look out for constituent meetings.”
One young man worries pushing for a gas tax pits him against his neighbor. A bearded man calls for a physical blocking of the routes that will experience cuts like the E-line, but a young woman worries such action might alienate riders more than it raises awareness.
The statement from the Sanitation Workers of Memphis is read again and Brian Kwoba leads the vigil, beginning with a quote from King about public transportation, that includes the line “urban transit systems in most American cities, for example, have become a genuine civil rights issue—and a valid one—because the layout of rapid-transit systems determines the accessibility of jobs to the Black community.”
Kwoba tells the group that King actually called for a general strike throughout Memphis in solidarity with the Sanitation Workers. “It’s a radical side of King we never learn about,” he says.
The crowd is encouraged to share what they can do to make a change – in a three second phrase.
“Fight back!” “Trust my neighbors.” “Read books.” “Have conversations I hate with people who irritate me.”
There’s a moment of silence for King’s memory. Kwoba picks up again.
“I don’t want to end on a somber note. It’s said it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. So I want to end the night by lighting a candle and remembering King.”
“We should end on a song,” says someone in the crowd.
The crowd gets excited and debates what to sing. They start with “We Shall Not Be Moved,” then “If I Had a Hammer,” followed by “We Shall Overcome,” which turned into “We Will Save the T.” They close with “Charlie on the MTA,” putting an end to the Day of Action. But while the Day’s over, Camp Charlie has just started.
Oshinsky reminds everyone why they’re here with a mic check: “This is an Occupation. This is Camp Charlie!”