We can’t possibly cover every protest in Boston. We do the best we can with the scant resources available, and try attending to a range of social justice issues that turn up on the streets of our metamorphosizing city. In that spirit, here’s the past twelve months in local protest, at least as seen through our coverage. We’ve compiled these snapshots not only for gratuitous year-end purposes, but also to show that mass unrest like the Black Lives Matter demonstrations we’ve seen in the past several weeks doesn’t erupt randomly. Much like the way Occupy Boston followed growing outrage over corporate greed, the marches in November and this month came on the heels of building anger about privilege and disparity. The Hub is special for a lot of reasons, and a relative liberal bastion compared to almost anywhere between the coasts, but shit is still fucked up and bullshit, and so here’s how Bostonians voiced our frustration in 2014.
Protest season typically dies down if it doesn’t end altogether in the coldest months, but high winds were no match for the blowtorch-wielding dab crews and assorted cannabis activists who merged on Boston Common, specifically at Mount Michael Malta, for a series of “Smoke Out/Vape Up” pickets starting in January. A year later, you might say they succeeded, as the collaborative news site MuckRock just reported that not one citation has been given out.
From a February dispatch from the always eloquent Boston Bastard who, quite fittingly, spent time this year covering populations that may soon be looking for a new home: “While a development boom is shrinking Chinatown and pushing out low-income folks, the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) and the Chinatown Resident Association marched throughout their sacred slice of downtown, airing grievances aloud.” Though the new administration of Marty Walsh has since offered glimmers of hope with ambitious low-income housing plans, the fight for Chinatown remains a touchstone of the Hub’s gentrifying landscape.
The fight for a living wage moves in a perpetual rhythm. And so even with the Massachusetts State Legislature increasing the hourly minimum from $8 to $11 this year, labor groups like 15 Now England have kept fighting for financial security. On March 15, the crusade hit the State House with a major march and lobbying day, and it hasn’t slowed down since, with workers and organizers from the SEIU jamming the Burger King by the Park Street T station last week.
Like we said, the type of marches we’ve seen in the past month don’t hatch from scratch. Of the teeming forces chanting “Black Lives Matter,” many represent the groups that co-sponsored an April Jobs Not Jails rally on the Common: Black and Pink, Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network, Prison Policy Initiative, Mothers for Justice and Equality, and many more. Next time a politician says the current protestors have no ideas about how to fix the system, direct them to these or any of the others who have fought on the front lines of race conflict for years.
It’s safe to say outgoing Governor Deval Patrick will leave a foul taste in the mouths of some progressives who backed him, and particularly those who hoped he would reform the Department of Correction. On the climate side though, Patrick to some extent bucked his record of blindly befriending business interests, and at least entertained calls by Better Future Project and 350.org to act against polluters. He hasn’t met all the demands of activists, but the governor has been brave enough to speak often and loudly about the challenges our planet faces, and that’s more than can be said of most of the capitalists who masquerade as civil servants.
Revolutionary season tends to hit a fever pitch as the weather warms, and 2014 was no different in this regard. On the housing front, City Life/Vida Urbana took their artistic foreclosure prevention tactics to new heights by taking over an entire home that was soon to go up for auction and setting up an art installation and pirate radio station in the living room. Also of note: Youth activists spent the summer months clamoring for more affordable public transportation, and occupied the office of Mass Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey. Less than six months later, they saw tangible results in the form of a new pilot youth ridership program.
We dubbed July the “Month of Mayhem.” It’s remarkable how quickly reporters seem to have forgotten, but the middle of this year saw enormous rallies snake through the city. From a DigBoston dispatch: “After nearly an hour of simmering, the pro-Palestine crowd of more than 1,000 bled across Dartmouth Street and onto Copley Square, then made its way to the staircase outside Trinity Church and on to Beacon Hill. In the shadow of the Golden Dome, 23 demonstrators wearing tags with the names of dead refugees lay down across Beacon Street in silent protest, while hundreds of their allies engaged in intense verbal fisticuffs with pro-Israel hordes on Boston Common.”
While we’re glad to see the doctors and nurses who helped ebola patients get the recognition they deserve, we’d hoped the hard-working employees of Market Basket would be named the Time magazine Persons of the Year. Their months-long standoff with nefarious controlling interests finally ended in August, long after a lot of public favor for them had eroded. Not enough protest stories have happy endings; let’s take this one as a lesson in what perseverance can accomplish.
We’re especially partial to covering marijuana rallies on account of being the only anti-prohibition paper in Boston, but September and October seemed to be ripe with pot protest activity by any relative measure. Patient advocates hit the Department of Public Health offices in Downtown Crossing and raised their voices inside of the State House on numerous occasions. The campaign seemed to work to some extent, too, as media outlets covered the issue more sympathetically than usual, and in some cases even smacked the DPH for stalling the inevitable.
You didn’t have to be any kind of activist insider to know about the Black Lives Matter movement— spawned in the wake of the police violence in Missouri and New York and the failure to indict white police officers for shooting young black men—or to see how it manifested itself around Greater Boston. Following a significant late-October march and die-in in the Back Bay, BLM and allies turned out for two of the biggest demonstrations this city has seen in years, if not a decade. By the end of November, even suburbanites were laying down in church pews in support.
While Black Lives Matter and related protests continue, sentiment against a Boston 2024 Olympics also lit up in the face of winter. Using the power of online task staffing, the group No Boston Olympics even brought the picket all the way to California, where hired sign-holders stood outside a meeting between delegates from Boston 2024 and the United States Olympics Committee. Since the decision as to whether the USOC will approve the Hub proposal is out of the public’s hands, much like everything else about the bid, we’ve no clue what the future holds on this front.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.