Photos by Chris Faraone
It was toward the end of today’s Boston Public Schools walkout. A couple hundred of the student organizers who set the afternoon action in motion were still hollering at Faneuil Hall, some taking their complaints to tourists inside Quincy Market who were observing confusedly. Mostly speaking through bullhorns to each other at that point, with news cameras long gone and the same story published by virtually every outlet in town—students from across the Hub left class to protest budget cuts, and that’s all there really is to it folks—the teens continued to express the kind of feelings they had shared and shouted all around the city.
One young man sporting a Boston Latin Academy sweatshirt told those gathered around him, “You think that we don’t see what Boston has money for even though it doesn’t have money for us?” Moments later, after a rather hilarious interlude about Governor Charlie Baker and Donald Trump being Republican assholes, a student from English High School stepped up to address the crowd and piggybacked the comments about haves and have-nots. “We pay attention,” she said. “Why do you think some of us came all the way here? Look at this place. Go to City Hall across the street. See what they have in there.”
They’re onto something. Just hours before BPS activists led their classmates through the halls of their respective schools and toward Boston Common and then the Massachusetts State House and Faneuil Hall, news broke that the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh plans to bring Forbes Media’s Under 30 Summit to the Hub in October. According to the Boston Globe, “the company hopes to attract 5,000 people to the four days of events, which will include speakers, concerts, a food festival, a business-plan competition, and a ‘service day’ intended to help improve the host city.”
Though hardly the first slap in the face of struggling Bostonians, the Forbes announcement (and its wicked timing) made for the latest twist in the demented joke that has become of Boston in 2016. Public school students, most of whom lack full-time access to a computer and innumerable other critical resources, are protesting austerity cuts; at the same time, as the Globe reported just the day before in a harrowing and thorough account of income inequality in Massachusetts, the rich in town keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer. All while the Walsh administration welcomes yet another horde of privileged winners and innovators to the city for a three-day game of show and tell. Needless to say, it’s unlikely that Forbes guests will be touring the facilities where most of this afternoon’s protesters go to learn every day.
Back outside the Great Hall, I asked individual students about their specific complaints. Several noted the transience of teachers and administrators, saying how uncommon it is to see any of the same adult faces from semester to semester, year to year. “It’s like every time you start to like or trust someone, you turn around and they’re gone,” said one young woman who attends Madison Park High School. One of her peers, a sophomore male with stylish orange hair wielding a bullhorn piled on. “It’s not just the teachers. My school doesn’t even have a clean place to go to the bathroom a lot of the time. If they do, it’s probably locked.”
There’s almost too much to say about the state of BPS (this morning there was also a hearing at the State House about lifting the cap on charter schools, which steal funds away from their public counterparts, while the local budget brawl continues this evening at English High School in Jamaica Plain). On one hand, teachers and students have done relatively well in difficult times, even occasionally yielding nationally stellar test results against all odds. But anyone who pays attention to daily operations—as well as the overall department budget—know the city gave up on its public schools decades ago. There’s no other way to explain the dismal state of buildings, or the glaring lack of technology and even basic books and supplies.
The Walsh administration deflected inquiries today about the protests by blaming cuts to state aid, and by claiming the budget hasn’t been finalized. But reporters are asking the wrong questions. More important is why Boston continues to neglect its lower income areas while sucking up to business interests. Walsh’s Chief of Staff Daniel Koh told the Globe that the Under 30 Summit combined with “GE’s relocation of its headquarters to the Seaport” made for a “‘one-two punch’ that should help revitalize the city’s brand.”
A one-two punch indeed. Unfortunately, vulnerable residents are getting knocked out.
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.