Months before the various nodes of the Occupy Together movement had taken over Wall Street, Dewey Square near Boston’s South Station and other sites across the country and world, the organizers of last Friday’s Take Back Boston demonstration began mobilizing for highly targeted civil disobedience on a massive scale. Through Friday’s demonstration singling out Bank of America for its lending, foreclosing and eviction practices in majority-minority neighborhoods in Boston and around the country, organizers in the Right to the City coalition hoped to sound a cry for economic and social reform against corporate greed.
As the start of the demonstration drew near, over 30 coalition organizations (including Boston Workers Alliance, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Dorchester People for Peace, Massachusetts Global Action and the Chinese Progressive Association, among others) flooded into the Common with signs and chants suggesting considerable prep and an organized network effort. A fair showing of unaffiliated individuals incensed at the state of the economy, the job market, the military budget or any number of other gripes made their own signs or borrowed extras from organizers.
Said one such activist: “I’m out here because my future has been sold to people I don’t know by other people I don’t know. I’m here to protest our spiraling national debt while Bank of America and other corporations have been given massive bailouts and tax exemptions. I don’t have the money that corporations have to influence politics, but I have one voice. This is how I can try to make it heard.”
In light of the diverse sponsoring coalition, slogans and messages covered the whole political spectrum, but a core perception that “profits are being put before people” ran through it all: socialists, liberals and libertarians, the unemployed and union leaders, Unitarians and environmental justice advocates all demanding a fundamental reboot. ”The banks and corporations, along with complacency in Washington, caused the economic crisis. The rest of us should not have to pay for it. Rather than call for more austerity and budget cuts, the public conversation should be directed toward identifying the causes themselves,” said Mike Pattberg of the Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
After speakers called on Bank of America to renegotiate foreclosed mortgages in light of declining property values and to cease eviction, the thousand-strong rally left the Common for Bank of America headquarters in the Financial District, winding past the Hyatt, Verizon and a number of other corporations under fire in recent weeks. An army of Right to the City marshals kept marchers off the sidewalk, and motorcycle cops blocked busier intersections to let the chanting tide through.
The demonstration completely engulfed BofA headquarters (which had shut down in anticipation), papering over its front windows with banners and flyers recounting the stories of those whose homes had been repossessed. Twenty or so demonstrators took their places sitting resolute in front of the entrances. When it became clear they would not move, police began arresting them one at a time for trespass, guiding them through a gauntlet of hundreds of jeering supporters to a waiting wagon.
Organizer Alicia Garza considered the day a success:
“We brought people out to show Bank of America that they’re dirty. They got bailed out by the federal government, but they’re not bailing out the people whose loans they’re financing or the people whose homes got foreclosed. We showed up today to show them we’re not going to take it.”
The demonstration closed with chants of “We’ll be back,” a sentiment Garza echoed in outlining next steps for the coalition’s work in Boston. “Right to the City is going to continue to build cities for the twenty-first century and to make sure people have the basic rights to food, to housing and water,” she said as the crowd moved toward Dewey Square. “This is only the beginning.”