Images by Chris Faraone, Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition, and Jonathan Riley. Additional reporting by Jonathan Riley
Kenni Allen speaks up for what she believes in. I met the Mattapan teenager a few hours ago outside the Mass Department of Transportation (MassDOT) building downtown, where she was among roughly 30 activists who occupied the state complex over the Theater District food court this morning. “Who are you?” she asked upon seeing my notepad. “A reporter,” I replied. “Good,” she said, “because I wrote this letter for you to show everybody.”
Like the high school, college-age, and older picketers who lined the MassDOT offices including that of Mass Transportation Secretary Richard Davey today, Allen had one overriding request – for a more affordable youth ridership program to be put in place as specified by nearly two-dozen community groups in the On the Move (OTM) coalition – and an accompanying message that nobody was leaving until they got what they wanted. Updating her friends back out on the sidewalk, Allen said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott had just arrived to speak with the demonstrators, but they weren’t listening. “We want Davey,” she said.
The crusade for a designated youth pass began seven years ago and, along with other pressing transit issues, has since brought thousands of young riders to the State House for lobbying and massive rallies. For the most part, they’re relatively inoffensive, announced ahead of time, and result in no arrests. But today seemed different. In addition to their sit-in tactics, there’s an especially aggravated tone, which was reflected in the fed-up attitude of certain demonstrators and in literature that members of the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition (YAC) passed out to media and onlookers …
On demands: “The Youth Pass should be available for all young people, ages 12 to 21, with no restrictions on day or time, and cost no more than $10 per month.”
On bullshit: “[In 2012], the MBTA issued its most dramatic proposal for fare hikes and service cuts in recent memory. This was a direct attack on the MBTA’s most vulnerable riders, with increases of 100 percent or greater proposed for students, seniors and disabled riders.”
On promises: “We will not allow seven years of work on behalf of youth in our region to be turned into a game of attrition. In line with your 2011 commitment, we reiterate our demand for a pilot of the Youth Pass with 2,500 participants, beginning this year.
Inside, protesters sat through the late morning and afternoon waiting, somewhat patiently, to meet with Davey. Most only brought light snacks and minimal water, expecting that organizers would be able to bring them lunch, but security refused to let in any outsiders. As these things go, the situation quickly begat a police state. About five troopers, as well as cops, uniformed and otherwise, scattered about the transportation building. Some officers covertly maneuvered through a door on the back wall of the 7-11 on Stuart Street. Serious business.
At one point, I tried visiting the protesters on the fourth floor, but was turned away. Security officers, flanked by BPD detectives, cited “capacity” issues, offering no further details. I asked one building manager if he remembered what time he officially closed everything to outsiders, but he couldn’t recall, and wasn’t the only champ devising rules up on the fly. Those protesting inside say they were told that it was against the law to snap pics in the building. When an accompanying watchdog from the National Lawyers Guild asked for the specific law being cited, they were not given an answer. Nevertheless, the occupiers clicked away, charging their smart phones in the hall outlets and sharing live updates.
When I left at 4:30pm, there were less than a dozen people on the street holding signs and chanting. An hour later, Dig writer Jonathan Riley arrived on the scene, and reported more than 50 heads. Plus the roughly 30 who were still inside. Though police had originally threatened to begin arresting activists at 5pm, by 6:30pm they were still giving warnings. We’re not sure exactly what this action will lead to in the long term, but considering the message in Kenni Allen’s letter, as far as the short term is concerned, we’re waiting for the wagons to roll up any minute now.
UPDATE (7pm): ACE now reporting through Twitter that 23 people are being arrested. Riley still on the scene; stay tuned for updates. Pic via Twitter HERE.
UPDATE (7:30pm): Riley: ‘They took the people getting arrested out through the alleyway on Boylston Street. At least most of them; they may have taken others out from another entrance.” Riley also says there are still about 60 people on-hand and chanting, but that it looks like things may finally be winding down, possibly segueing to prison support.
UPDATE (6.10): The number of arrests stands at 21 (not 23, as was previously noted). From Suffolk County District Attorney Press Secretary Jake Wark: “Word from the Boston Municipal Court is that the protesters arrested last night for failing to disperse from the fourth floor of a downtown office building hours after the Department of Transportation closed its doors for the day have all been bailed for arraignment Thursday.”