The Boston Globe Defends the Harvard Administration’s Class War

globes

Three writers at the Boston Globe signed their name to an article that ran in Tuesday’s edition of the paper, coinciding with the start of a strike by the dining hall workers at Harvard University, represented by UNITE HERE Local 26. The headline reads, “Harvard strike could be seen as a battle against the 1 percent. It’s not.”

It is. These writers don’t substantiate this argument in the body of the piece. Because they can’t. Harvard University is one of the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in the Boston area, the United States, and the world. The authors even do the math for us, writing “Harvard’s $35.7 billion endowment is bigger than the economies of nearly 100 countries.”

That’s right: Harvard’s endowment is big enough to give it the economic power of a major player in the global economy, and that’s without accounting for the social and political elites who would hold citizenship in such a gold-plated country, with alumni status presumably the passport needed for entry. One-percenter status – no, 0.01% status – has never been so obvious.

Rather than dispute this, the authors focus on the conditions of the dining hall workers who are striking for better compensation and working conditions. Citing arguments put forward by the university administration – the boss in this labor dispute – they note that “its average dining hall worker makes nearly $22 an hour,” translating to $30,000 per year.

As one of their demands, the workers are arguing that any worker able to work year-round deserves $35,000 a year (again, this is at an institution with a $36 billion endowment).

This demand is excessive in the eyes of our dear frugal journalists.

Never mind that Vaccaro and Woolhouse, the first two names on the byline, regularly write for the Business section of the Globe, making it hard to believe they don’t make more than $30k a year. While Yoo, the third name on the article, appears to be a co-op student, her LinkedIn shows an impressive array of prestigious internship, including her current one at the Globe, suggesting she’ll also wind up making above $30k a year straight out of college.

But bringing up such vulgar details about the article’s writers is rude. “It’s beside the point to mention what Globe staff make!” we can imagine the editors crying indignantly, “This is about dining hall workers!” they insist.

So what if we know how hard it is to live in Boston, one of the most expensive cities in the country, on $30,000 a year, much less raise a family on that. “These are unskilled workers, they’re supposed to suffer!” respond the authors. “It’s the way of the world! Fuck ’em!”

At least, that’s what the Globe means to say. But a newspaper doesn’t achieve its status as the Paper of Record in the city by writing so crudely – that’s for the Herald, not the well-mannered diplomats of the Globe. Just as Harvard accrued its $36 billion endowment by exploiting the labor of first, slaves, then low-wage workers like those on strike today, so the Globe maintains its status by legitimizing such exploitation, and insisting those at the bottom thank the bosses for whatever crumbs they receive.

People can’t live on crumbs, especially not in this city. Dining hall workers need more than that, and eventually, we – working class people in this city – are coming for the whole fucking endowment. Support the striking workers, and argue with, isolate, and ridicule anyone who advocates anything less.

i’m beginning to think of the MBTA as a criminal operation

Okay, maybe I’m being over-dramatic. But in my defense, I just stood at Ruggles station for 40 minutes with nearly 100 other people waiting for the 28 or 23, buses that go through Dudley Square to Mattapan and Ashmont, respectively. It was windy, maybe 35 degrees out with some cold rain. A lot of people had little kids with them.

Lately the 28, which is always a double-length bus, has been a single bus. That means would-be riders get stranded at stops once the bus is so full that no more people could possibly fit inside. If I’m being honest, that regularly happens with the double buses too, but with these single buses? Abandon all hope.

I won’t deny that my annoyance at having spent so much time in the freezing cold tonight is part of my motivation in writing this, but most of the urge comes from a far larger objection to the recent decision by those who run the MBTA to raise the fare by nearly 10%. Our train cars are some of the oldest and most unsafe in the country, and for those of us on the bus lines, particularly in the poorest parts of the city, the situation is even worse. The census tracts that the 28 and 23 drive through are some of the poorest in Boston, as well as overwhelmingly black and Latino (out of the crowd waiting for the bus, I spotted only two other people who looked white besides myself). Tonight, having spent a while listening to moms worry to strangers about their kids getting sick from being outdoors for so long in the wind and rain – in one of the richest cities in the United States – I can’t help but think of the people “running” (read: neglecting) this public transit system as, at best, criminally incompetent.

If they were driving the bus I’m writing this from, the one I waited so long for, we would have already crashed.

The Black Lives Matter Movement and The Boston Olympics

With the nation bursting at the seams against the scourge that is police violence against the Black community, Boston residents have been vocal in pushing for greater community control of the police, as well as the host of socioeconomic changes that could lead to the abolition of policing entirely. If we want to continue making progress towards these ends, we must issue an absolute refusal to host the 2024 Olympics. Failure to defeat the 2024 bid will mean relinquishing the little control we have over local police forces while simultaneously allowing these forces greater access to weaponry and surveillance mechanisms. The result of such a defeat won’t surprise many: our city will see an uptick in state harassment and violence against Boston’s PoC, poor, and LGBTQ communities that constitute the vast majority of this city’s residents.

This line of argumentation was powerfully delivered at a June 2nd forum on the negative consequences mega sporting events have on the cities that host them. Organized by No Boston 2024, one of the two Olympics opposition groups (though a leading member of the other opposition group attended), the event featured Kade Crockford, Director of the Technology for Liberty Project at the ACLU of Massachusetts, alongside Dave Zirin, the powerhouse sports editor at The Nation, who claimed to have reported on (critically, of course) every Olympics since 9/11.

While I could write a book on what Zirin said, it was Crockford’s presentation of the linkage between the Black Lives Matter movement and a 2024 Olympics that stood out to me as someone aware of the immense flurry of anti-police brutality organizing happening in this city. While I had intuited the link that leads from a Boston Olympics to greater policing and surveillance, I hadn’t understood the extent to which this link will become a border widening the already huge gap in living conditions for Boston’s (disproportionately white) rich and Boston’s (disproportionately PoC) poor.

To make this connection stick, Crockford began by discussing the legacy of the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC), which was held in Boston. Reminding the audience of how many surveillance cameras monitor our city’s public spaces, Crockford explained that their origins stem from the DNC. While justified to the public at the time as necessary tools for the uniquely high-risk Convention, these cameras remain today. As Crockford rightly emphasized, rarely do security forces willingly relinquish policing and surveillance gadgetry once they have their hands on them. Although such surveillance technology has long existed, political norms in liberal Boston prevented its widespread deployment until a National Special Security Event, or NSSE, came to town. NSSE, as explained by Crockford, is a designation created by Bill Clinton, who came up with the category to signal a ‘high-security’ (read: high surveillance and policing) event. Upon receiving this designation, responsibility for  ‘security’ shifts from local police forces, as broken and lethal as they may be in their own right, to the Secret Service. Crockford laughed while explaining this, reminding the audience of this agency’s total incompetence.

Once policing power transfers to the Secret Service, Boston residents will no longer have claim to any transparency or accountability from these forces. While I agree with writers who have called for the abolition of all police, the Secret Service doesn’t even have to pretend to listen to our complaints or concerns. Giving it jurisdiction over our city will be a step backward in our struggle. An opaque centralized operation, federal security forces act in anonymity, fully separate from the communities they terrorize. During an NSSE, the DNC being one such example, our attention is directed by media and politicians alike to the purported action, be it Olympic gymnastics or the political carnival that is the DNC, and when our view is fixed on that spectacle, security forces move toward greater coordination between agencies, rolling out controversial technologies and weapons in the process.

In 2004, these changes left our city a legacy of video cameras, to which the FBI retains access, as well as a nasty taste in our mouths that came from the “festering boil” that was the ‘Free Speech Zone’ for the Convention’s protestors, a wire cage under a highway, to which all residents and visitors critical of the Democrats (recall, this was immediately after the Iraq War, a disaster supported by Democrat and Republicans alike) were directed. Further, the normalization of ‘random’ bag checks at Boston area train stations began with the DNC. Today, these checks remain, no longer purportedly serving as preventative counter-terrorism measures, but rather, as a source of surveillance for Boston’s large immigrant community, with the predominately latino/a community of East Boston one such neighborhood regularly subject to the whim of these unwarranted searches.

The BPD won’t have ultimate authority on ‘security’ strategies, and can be guaranteed to use their subordination to claim innocence as complaints against police harassment multiply in the lead up to the 2024 Games. However, they will retain the toys brought to them from federal agencies. As Zirin mentioned at the forum, international arms dealers live for these mega events, and there’s no chance that the BPD will miss out on a chance to imitate their big brothers, the NYPD, and stock up on any goodies they can get their hands on.

It is important to think about this future in connection to the murder of Usaama Rahim on the morning of June 1st by FBI and BPD agents, under the guise of a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and alongside the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative. Boston is one of a handful of cities host to a pilot CVE program, and as many of the city’s Muslim residents can attest, CVE has provided one more excuse for blanket state surveillance of Muslim communities. Rahim was under 24 hour surveillance when he was approached by the multi-agency police team, despite not having been charged with a crime, and as a Black Muslim, Rahim was also a target for BPD’s racial profiling. While we continue waiting for authorities to release the tape of Rahim’s murder, it’s clear that the introduction of JTTF, CVE, and FBI decreases the transparency of policing and surveillance in our cities, allowing a dead man to be labelled a terrorist simply due to the presence of this federal alphabet soup at his murder scene.

As for the 2024 Boston Olympics, it will surely be designated an NSSE. Boston’s poor and PoC residents will be surveilled and harassed with greater frequency and intensity than they are currently (which in today’s United States, is saying a lot). Meanwhile Mayor Walsh’s controversial anti-sex trafficking initiative will likely kick into high gear, creating a terror amongst the city’s sex workers and LGBTQ population alike, the latter being regularly targeted by policing under the guise of anti-prostitution laws, with the trans population, and particularly trans-WoC, disproportionately subject to such arrests. Whether the people of Boston will benefit from any of the purported improvements that come from hosting a mega-event is unknown (though I suggest readers pick up Zirin’s recent book for a contemporary account that might answer that question), what we do know is that the majority of Bostonians will become targets in their own neighborhoods, trespassers in their own public spaces.

Just a few blocks from my Roxbury home, there are basketball courts. When the weather’s nice enough, as it is today, dozens of youth from my neighborhood gather to play pickup games. And no matter how few or many people are at the courts, there’s always at least one BPD vehicle idling nearby, the officers looking on as Roxbury’s youth play ball. No matter how many times Boston 2024 Committee member and Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish talks about the “transformative power of sport” during one of Boston 2024’s sham community meetings, I know that he isn’t referring to my neighbors’ sports. If he were, he’d know that come the Olympics, there’ll be no time or space left for basketball, with police forces lining up to stop-and-frisk this city’s athletes while blocking off our public spaces to better ensure NSSE ‘security.’

The path our city will head down if we host the Olympics is one of cascading negative effects for all but the wealthiest residents. We’ve already begun down that path, as anyone looking at rent prices knows, and it’s already unacceptable. By mobilizing now, we can reverse this dynamic: rather than being pushed out ourselves, we can show the IOC just how inhospitable Boston is for them and the security circus that surrounds them. This city’s people have enough battles to fight as it is, and there’s no way we’re going to take on even greater obstacles just so Fish and his international counterparts can enjoy a party nine years from now.

Angelo West and Why All Black Lives Matter

A recent piece by Boston Globe Columnist Kevin Cullen, titled “Three Strikes and He Was Out On Streets Again,” is horrifyingly misguided, but if you can stomach it, it’s worth reading in order to think through the political understandings underlying the argument.

The author writes of the man killed by police two days ago in Roxbury, MA that “guys like Angelo West don’t get out of prison…and take apartments in the Seaport, [a wealthy area of rapid development in Boston]…they come back to neighborhoods like Roxbury” and that residents should direct their anger at “a criminal justice system that allows people like Angelo West…to flit in and out of jail like some kind of way station, a minor inconvenience.”

This, when the premise of Cullen’s piece is that West was so determined not to return to jail that he was willing to give up his life to avoid that fate. Now, there’s no evidence of this assertion, unless you believe Cullen has access to a murdered man’s final thoughts, but this contradictory argument comes from the fact that the author cannot bring himself to acknowledge West’s humanity. However, the truth is that West was just as human as the author and acted with the same considerations Cullen, you, or me, use to make decisions. To believe otherwise is to embrace the hold racist imagery has over you. It’s to imagine a black man is not human, but animal, with mental processes that function fundamentally differently than the rest of humanity.

As to the former quote, with Cullen decrying (guys, he’s on your side!) West’s return to Roxbury, Cullen elides the critique implicit in his statement. First, it’s important to break down just what Cullen means by “guys like Angelo West.” While the author would likely be the first to assert that his phrase means “criminals” or “monsters,” and not “poor black men,” this claim fails any test of logic. Wealthy white criminals often return to their life of wealth and independence immediately upon release from prison, that is, if they’re even forced to serve time in the first place (spoiler alert: they almost never are) .

“Sure,” one can imagine Cullen saying, conceding the point, decades-long crime reporter that he is, “but I meant monsters, the real dangers to society.” To this I’d point him no further abroad than the case of our hometown boy, Mark Wahlberg. At 15, Wahlberg attacked black school children, throwing rocks at them while shouting racial slurs, and at 16, he blinded a Vietnamese man, and once apprehended by police, shouted racial slurs at the man in their presence. Wahlberg is now famously seeking a pardon from the state for his crimes, and most interesting for the purposes of this piece, is his citing the problems his criminal record is causing for his business ventures. If even a white celebrity feels the heat of discrimination that comes with a record, we can only imagine what this means for those without household names.

So, here we have a clear cut case of a heartless monster, yelling racial epithets as his victim bled on the ground, and yet, I doubt Cullen supports re-incarcerating Wahlberg, just in case he returns to his old ways.

Similarly, Cullen wrote a cringe-inducing puff piece for the Boston Globe on New York Police Commissioner William Bratton in the wake of the killing of two NYPD officers. In this article, we see Bratton getting a shoe shine in Manhattan and having inebriated men “broomed” by a few cops because of their “obnoxious behavior,” all without having to get out of his chair.

“Classic Bratton,” Cullen writes. Know what else is classic Bratton? Overseeing a police department that drives motorcycles through a law-abiding crowd, injuring dozens in the process. Yet, from my investigation into Cullen’s bylines, he’s never written of the necessity of reforming the criminal justice system to ensure Police Commissioners like Bratton serve jail time for such massacres. This is unsurprising for most of us, however, because when we read “guys like Angelo West,” we know that Cullen actually means poor black men, which ultimately amounts to black people, when you realize that one in three black men are in the criminal justice system at any given moment. While black women aren’t jailed at the same rate as black men, they are incarcerated at three times the rate of white women, and within a patriarchal society that continues to view women as mere appendages of men, they are often penalized for any romantic, familial, or even accidental association with black men labelled criminal, suffering incarceration, surveillance, or theft of their property by the state, a process known as asset-forfeiture.

Now that we’ve disambiguated “guys like Angelo West” to mean “poor black men,”  Cullen’s statement translates to “poor black men don’t get out of prison and…take apartments in the Seaport,” and it becomes a truism, a descriptive statement of the structural conditions of our society rather than any commentary on West’s proclivities and choices. “Neighborhoods like Roxbury” are the necessary obverse to the image Boston’s elites sell the world. A racialized and concentrated space of poverty, “neighborhoods like Roxbury” are the only place most poor black individuals with criminal records can move. Banking, mortgage, and insurance companies ensure this in a discriminatory process called ‘redlining’ which continues to this day. Contextualize his mythical “guys like West” in a structurally racist and geographically segregated city like Boston and Cullen’s statement turns into an admission of these societally-sanctioned constraints. Add in well-documented employer discrimination against black job applicants, and applicants with criminal records, which shows that white men with criminal records are more likely to be hired than black men without records, and you have a system pushing the black population into impossible circumstances.

West was free to choose how to respond to these conditions and on Friday it seems he chose to shoot an officer, but we can acknowledge this while discussing how his choices were shaped by this reality. The reason he was tailed and stopped by police, while I, a white person who lives less than a mile from where he was killed, have never been similarly stopped, is because of the BPD’s racially discriminatory practices. In telling Roxbury residents to focus on criminal justice reform, Kevin Cullen reveals his complete lack of information about these residents. Many of them already focus on criminal justice reform. Their goals range from reform to prison abolition, which many see as the only way to shake off the occupying force that patrols their neighborhoods. To Cullen, and readers who still find his narrative compelling, I recommend you read the links in this article before dismissing those who argue that Angelo West’s murder does, in fact, have everything to do with black lives mattering.

Women’s Rights, from Boston to Gaza

Gaza and Clinic Defense
Gaza and Women’s Self-Determination

This was my favorite of the photos I took at a clinic defense action last week in Boston, MA.  It was directed at the anti-abortion protestors whom we were at the clinic to counter, though more broadly addressed the entire Boston community, drawing the connections between these conflicts. For analyses of this connection, I recommend this Electronic Intifada article, as well as this piece by INCITE!

The action was a response to the effects of the US Supreme Court striking down the buffer zone law, which had required that protesters (specifically, it was enacted with respect to anti-abortion protesters outside of abortion clinics) remain thirty-five feet away from the clinic being targeted.

Since its nullification, anti-abortion protestors have returned to hovering around the front of the Planned Parenthood building.  As long as they are not physically blocking entry, they are considered to be exercising their right to free speech.  However, the very real effects of their presence is an end to freedom of movement, as a patient must suffer their entreaties and company as she enters the building, and then wonder about how non-violent these anti-abortionists truly are as she passes through Planned Parenthood’s heavy security precautions.

At the action, I watched one of these anti-abortionists pace back and forth in front of the building, anti-woman literature in his hand, scanning passers by so as not to miss an opportunity to harass any who might have been entering the clinic.

The history of violence associated with these anti-abortion protestors is very recent.  The following is from the National Abortion Federation’s website:

“This foundation of harassment [outside of clinics] led to violence with the first reported clinic arson in 1976 and a series of bombings in 1978. Arsons and bombings have continued until this day. Anti-abortion extremists have also used chemicals to block women’s access to abortion employing butyric acid to vandalize clinics and sending anthrax threat letters to frighten clinic staff.

In the early 1990s, anti-abortion extremists concluded that murdering providers was the only way to stop abortion. The first provider was murdered in 1993. Since then, there have been seven subsequent murders and numerous attempted murders of clinic staff and physicians, several of which occurred in their own homes. In 2009, NAF member Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in his church in Wichita, Kansas.”

This history was viscerally present as I watched the anti-abortion protester pacing back and forth on the sidewalk.  While this event was a controversial action in the feminist community here in Boston, it ultimately allowed women and Planned Parenthood patients, including those who attended the event but most importantly those who didn’t and instead happened upon it, to see that there are others willing to push back against the monopoly on space that has long been held by the anti-abortionists. Two of those involved in planning the action argued for it here.  They are members of Boston Feminists for Liberation, the independent feminist organization that organized the event.

The action went as I imagined it would: it was low-key, with twenty-five or so (mostly) women holding signs and speaking out on the edge of the sidewalk nearest the street.  Dozens of the neighborhood’s residents joined in on the action upon seeing it, and we succeeded in causing a few of the anti-abortionists to pack up their signs and head home early. We also became the focus of their video camera, allowing a brief reprieve for Planned Parenthood’s patients, who would otherwise have been the focus of their filming.

And, as my second favorite sign, also directed at the anti-abortionists, read:

“Life begins when you stand up to right-wing fascists.”

Who can argue with that?