The group known as the Somerville 18, members of which already face months in jail and thousands of dollars in fines for a direct action campaign in which they blocked traffic on I-93 for hours this past January, are again in the spotlight. It’s all thanks to a bill that’s being heard today on Beacon Hill that aims to designate their actions as attempted murder. The proposal, introduced by Dracut Rep. Colleen Garry and supported by a handful of other lawmakers, moves to amend Mass law to make blocking access “to or upon the public highway or roadway” an act of attempted murder, punishable in the same way as the act of trying to poison, drown, or strangle someone.
The language of the measure is simple, and were it not an obvious reaction to a political demonstration, then it may even seem like common sense. But the bill was filed on the day after the Somerville 18, whose act was done in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, took to the highway in protest of police brutality and systemic racism. The legislation is clearly intended to target civil disobedience, and to give the state the power to imprison dissidents for taking the streets. Considering the chant I’ve heard at every rally I have been to since I moved here six years ago, it’s surprising that some people still don’t understand to whom these streets belong.
That asphalt belongs to the people, and in the face of injustice, it’s ours for the taking. And let’s not forget that the action by the Somerville 18 is not unprecedented: In 1981, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets, many of them laid-off and off-duty firemen, to protest layoffs and cuts. They blocked major roadways including the Southeast Expressway for more than 90 minutes.
I guess that according to Rep. Garry, all those civil servants should have been charged with attempted murder.