Image of April 14 #FightFor15 rally by Chris Faraone
By a rough count, ever since the time our radical forefathers tossed tea into the Harbor, alternative newspapers have featured annual smorgasbords of upcoming spring protests. New England gets a lot of props specifically for its post-colonial rebellions, but as students of the people’s plight are well aware, the region has led or at least been an integral component of countless social justice struggles over the past several centuries. From abolitionists before and through the Civil War, to every stripe of striking worker imaginable, to the anti-nuclear-proliferation forces of the ’80s, the commonwealth in particular has bred healthy dissent.
With such precedents in mind, it’s important to keep watch as younger actions blossom, and as veteran activists find new direction. Crowds in Massachusetts aren’t all that frightened by the cold; as you may recall, Black Lives Matter demonstrations stretched into the first snow pilings, while homeless rights advocates went hard on Boston Common long after the chill set in. At the same time, the ridiculous nor’easters we endured through February and March proved powerful enough to keep people inside, just not for too long. As we head into May, more than a half-dozen protest fronts are already up-and-running, and with enthusiasm. We can’t possibly note them all in one place, but here’s a guide to some activities we’re keeping tabs on.
THE OLYMPIC FRONT
This should be an interesting one. Much in the same the way that Boston 2024 sucked every breath of air out of the political oxygen chamber all winter, the current crush of other causes bubbling, some of which are noted herein, may very well lure eyes off of Goliath. Then again, there is also the chance that people will notice how the Olympics committee is tapping everyone from Larry Bird to hotshot ad execs to sell their lies, and may finally scare their alleged state and city representatives into aborting before it’s too late.
THE LABOR FRONT
The skilled trades appear to be doing fine. Judging by the lack of inflatable rats on the sidewalks, the incredible rate of construction, and our conversations with workers, you won’t likely see a large-scale picket from carpenters or plumbers anytime soon. On the other end of the labor continuum though, service employees are still fighting for a fairer share. In some cases, notably at the Harvard-owned Doubletree Suites in Allston, there have been organizing victories, there in the form of the housekeeping force being allowed to unionize after a long battle. With endless development sprouting in places like East Boston and Roxbury, the city’s janitors and other comparable lower-wage earners already have a busy 2015 on their hands. And don’t count out fast food workers who are struggling for higher wages, and who have been on the front lines regularly. They’ll be back.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL FRONT
On Beacon Hill, it looks as if neophyte Governor Charlie Baker may roll back any number of environmental regulations that took decades to install. Meanwhile, everywhere else the fight for climate justice is so intense that even the neoliberal Boston Globe is in on the action, increasingly calling for specific fixes. In the larger picture though, neither politicians nor the media—in Boston or anyplace else—seem up to the task of saving the environment. And so it appears this fight will now be led by students, many groups of which are already pressing their university administrations to divest from fossil fuel interests. That mantle of protest, which was erected at Harvard University last year, has already been taken up by dozens of schools nationwide, including several in the Boston area; two weeks ago, protesters from Tufts Climate Action occupied the office of their university president. Like we said, this region sets trends.
Image of recent forum on police misconduct in Roxbury by Chris Faraone
THE POLICE FRONT
The push for sweeping changes in the Boston Police Department is coming from several angles. First there are the adjustments made by Mayor Marty Walsh; even some of his critics have applauded the unprecedented addition of minorities to the ranks. Nevertheless, as some of those same voices have also said, there remains an inordinate amount of work to be done. To that end, pressure for reform is coming strong from activists and experts hoping for more outside departmental oversight. And while Black Lives Matter and other groups prone to rallying have been relatively quiet for the past few months, only a fool would count on it staying that way.
THE HOMELESS FRONT
Since it’s not too often that our city’s homeless population gets the soapbox, we thought it only right to lend them some footing on ours. From homeless Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee (BHSC) member Cleve Rea, who recently marched along with other BHSC supporters to the State House to request an intervention: “The state’s homelessness crisis has gone on for too long, and the closing of the Long Island facilities last year made it worse. Beacon Hill must recognize the crisis for what it is, an emergency! The state must create and fund an effective plan to end homelessness now!” Since politicians probably will not respond in any significant manner, it’s unlikely BHSC members will back down.
THE HOUSING FRONT
Think the mortgage crisis is over? If so, check out the case of Christina Soares, who earlier this month went head-to-head with Fannie Mae, which along with Freddie Mac comprises the taxpayer-subsidized axis of predatory lending. Only after phone calls from the offices of US Congressman Michael Capuano, Attorney General Maura Healey, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh—and a three-hour protest eviction blockade—did Fannie Mae agree to sell the Soares’ home to a nonprofit willing to help her stay in place. Despite the stabilized economy, this sort of rigmarole continues.
For those and countless other reasons, in early April more than 300 people attended a Boston City Council hearing to air grievances around these issues. The same federations have been known to hit the street often in the warm weather as well, and this year won’t be an exception. As members of City Life/Vida Urbana, the housing rights crusaders who backed Soares, wrote in a recent media release: “The blockade at 32 Oakwood could become the first of many. Other City Life members also face the possible need for an eviction blockade … One thing’s for sure … They face some determined opposition in the streets of Boston.”