Jan. 18th, 2012
LOCAL / REGIONAL
bostonoccupier.com | The Boston Occupier - Free Press As Thompson outlined, the share of the T’s budgetcontributed by fare payments is only slightly greater thanthe share that goes to paying interest to private lenders.“When you pay your T fare,” Thompson said, “you arepaying for the T’s debt to the banks.”The MBTA’s debt to the banks can be traced to the year2000. Prior to this date, the state of Massachusetts fundedthe T directly. However, in 2000, the Enabling Act, alsoknown as Forward Funding, ceased direct and full publicfunding for the T. Henceforth, the state contributed only a fixed percentage of state sales tax (20%) to the MBTA. A decrease in sales tax revenues now results directly ina decrease in funding to the MBTA. At the same time,the state of Massachusetts also transferred $3.8 billionof its debt-load -- most of which stemmed from Big Digrelated expenses -- onto the MBTA as part of ForwardFunding. Deprived of guaranteed public funding andpinched within the new financial structure, the managersof the MBTA took loans from private investment banksand engaged in risky “gambling” practices involvinginterest rate swaps. Then the recession hit, resulting indiminished sales tax subsidies for the T.The result of these complex transactions and dimin-ished state funding has been that the MBTA currently finds itself indebted to UBS Bank for $9 million, MorganStanley for $182,000, JP Morgan Chase for $4.4 million,and Deutsche Bank for $8.6 million. Each of these banks was the recipient of federal bailout money in 2007-8. After outlining the context of the MBTA’sannouncement, the “Occupy the T” meeting brokeinto smaller groups to discuss ways to fight the cutsand fare increases. Attendees stressed the importance of rejecting the state’s claim that there is no alternative tothe two proposed regimes of cuts and fare hikes. Insteadof deciding between the MBTA’s two proposed plans,“Occupy the T” hopes to expose the role of for-profitfinancial institutions in creating and perpetuating theMBTA’s budget crisis. Several present argued that thebanks should cancel the T’s debt and state fund the Tdirectly by raising taxes on corporations and the richest1% of state residents.Proposed actions included mass leafleting at T-stops,outreach on the bus lines slated for reduction or elimi-nation, outreach to MBTA workers, coordination withexisting community groups, and a possible fare strike.There was concern that the MBTA might try to play different communities against one another by offering toretain service in one area at the expense of cuts elsewhere.In response, participants in the meeting argued for theneed to “unite the many against the few.” A committee was formed to produce a newsletter to help spread the word and build the cause.The day after this first meeting of “Occupy the T”,there was a follow-up discussion at Occupy Somerville’sGeneral Assembly. Another meeting is planned withthe T-Riders Union later in the week. Supporters can join the the group on Facebook at “Occupy the T” or“Against the T Cuts.” Meeting organizers have called forthose who oppose the MBTA plans to show up en masseat the T’s upcoming open community meetings.This would not be the first time that MBTA fareincreases have been met with broadly based and creativeprotest. In 1949, fare hikes provoked a popular song whose lyrics tell of a man named Charlie who is forevertrapped on Boston’s subway system because he didn’thave the money to pay the exit fare. In 2004, this figureof popular protest was co-opted into the MBTA itself, when then Republican Governor Mitt Romney dubbedthe new electronic T-passes “Charlie Cards.” At the“Occupy the T” meeting, Joe Ramsey spoke of the needto reclaim Charlie for the 99% and suggested organizingaround the slogan “Free Charlie.” This slogan calls forfreeing T-riders from fare hikes but goes further, callingfor free public transportation and freeing the T from itscrushing debt – something that the state and the 1%insist is impossible. In response to the state’s claim thatthere is no alternative, Ramsey argued for demanding theimpossible.
The Socialist Caucus
by Doug Enaa Greene
At Occupy Boston, the Socialist Caucus has come together tobuild an anti-capitalist network within the movement. For membersof the Socialist Caucus, the key challenge when confronting oursociety is not corporate person-hood, the Federal Reserve, campaignfinancing, or political corruption. Their challenge is confrontingcapitalism, itself.Caucus member Jay Jubilee explains that capitalism is “a systemdesigned for the endless accumulation of profit, a system thatrenders all other human and planetary needs external to that onepredatory, virus-drive.” As he put it, “This sick system must go.”The alternative, Jay said, is “genuine people’s power” in whichthe 99% manages their own work democratically in the interestsof all. A common criticism heard on the political left is, “why can’t thedifferent socialist groups work together?” Last October, Boston-areasocialists formed the Caucus in order to reverse this long standingfragmentation and create a forum in which socialists holdingdifferent perspectives can hold discussions and coordinate activities with one another. The group’s mission statement was adopted inNovember, explains that “members of the Occupy Boston SocialistCaucus believe that capitalism is the problem, that revolutionary change is necessary, and that socialism is the solution.”Members of the Socialist Caucus hold widely differing viewpointsand even strong disagreements on the construction of socialism,revolution, and methods of mass work and organizing. Somemembers hold positive views on socialist experiments in the SovietUnion while others are more negative. Yet the Caucus is primarily action-oriented. Evan Sarmiento declares, “we’re here to get some work done in Occupy Boston and build some unity.” And that is just what they did on December 12 by organizinga solidarity march to protest Occupy Boston’s expulsion fromDewey Square (and in solidarity with a general strike on the Westcoast which shut down ports in Oakland, California and Portland,Oregon).The group also declares itself to be free of ties to any majorpolitical party. On December 18, the Socialist Caucus also intro-duced a resolution to the General Assembly for Occupy Boston todeclare independence from the Democrat and Republican Parties.This resolution was ultimately blocked at the G.A because there was a fear of preemptively alienating supporters of these two parties who are not involved in the movement.Members have also been involved in many working groups.Socialists in the Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture Series haveinvited radical academics, such as Noam Chomsky, Fred Magdoff and Bruno Bosteels, to give talks at Occupy Boston. Socialists havealso been active in Peace Action and the Ideas Working Group.The Socialist Caucus is continuing to hold meetings and todiscuss the current state of the Occupy movement. On January 8,the Caucus discussed the May 1st General Strike which had beenapproved by the Occupy Boston General Assembly the previousday. In line with the General Assembly endorsement, the Caucuseagerly debated how to build broad working class participation inthis coming Spring actions.
The Socialist Caucus at Occupy Boston can be found on facebook.
Building Connections Across the Bay State
by Ian Cornelius and Julie Orlemanski
On Saturday, January 7, members of at least fifteenMassachusetts branches of the Occupy movement convenedat Encuentro 5, a community space in Boston’s Chinatown.The group met to discuss future statewide actions, sharecommon concerns and to plan for a General Assembly of Occupy groups from across Massachusetts.Over fifty people were present at Saturday’s meeting.Occupy groups in attendance included Ocupemos el Barrio,Occupy Acton, Allston-Brighton, Brockton, Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Natick, Needham, Newton, North Attleboro,Quincy, Salem, Somerville, Weymouth, and Woburn. Aboutfifteen activists from Occupy Boston also attended, thoughall in the capacity of individual participants, not as desig-nated representatives of Occupy Boston. Attendees regrettedthe absence of Occupy the Hood Boston: the Mass Occupy meeting conflicted with a town hall meeting held the Dudley Library, to rally against the state’s new “3 Strikes” sentencinglaw. (Many of these occupations were profiled in issue threeof this newspaper: see the article “From the Burbs to el Barrio:Occupy beyond Dewey.”)The meeting began with a general discussion about “the 1%,the 99%, and the movement”. Bryan Koulouris, of Occupy Quincy and Socialist Alternative, started the conversation by encouraging Mass Occupy “to look to the West Coast forinspiration,” noting the port shutdown on December 12 andthe upcoming Day of Action for Education on March 1.Many more perspectives followed. Betsy Boggia, of Occupy Natick, suggested the power of having town councils passresolutions. “If each town passes a non-binding resolutionagainst corporate personhood,” she said, “that’s going tomove up to the state level and then the national level.”Genevieve Morse, of the International Women’s Day Committee, Socialist Alternative, and the MassachusettsTeachers Association, spoke about how “the 1% is looking tosmash public education and public services.” She urged thosein attendance to “defend and extend” these services instead.The most galvanizing issue was the MBTA’s recently announced plans to hike fares and cut services. Proposedchanges would raise fares by as much as 43%, end weekendcommuter rail service, slash bus routes, and reduce discountsoffered to seniors and students. (For more on this issue, see“Free Charlie” on page 1.) Attendees agreed to hold a second planning meeting inlate January. They also set details for a state-wide General Assembly: it will be held on February 18th, at the BostonTeachers Union’s hall, a space that can hold morethan a thousand people.
“There is a lot of work to be done before theFebruary General Assembly,” says Tim Larkin, aparticipant in Occupy Boston, member of Socialist Alternative, and one of the people planning the state- wide GA. In upcoming weeks, participants will collectideas and feedback from their respective occupations,reach out to other occupations, and begin discussingthe format of Mass Occupy’s General Assembly.Regarding the GA’s format, Larkin said he hopesMass Occupy will learn from the experience of otheroccupations and develop a process of its own. “TheGA process should enable discussion to stay focusedon action proposals and relevant issues,” he said,“and reduce the chances of stalled conversation and groupparalysis.” Jorge Alvarez, a participant in Occupy Boston’s Facilitation Working Group, said he liked what he saw at the January 7thmeeting, although he was only able to attend the first half.“The facilitation was unobtrusive and that’s always helpful,”he said. Alvarez added that he also liked how facilitators usedtime cards to show individual speakers when to wrap up.“I’m going to suggest that to [Occupy Boston’s] Facilitation Working Group”, he said.On the other hand, Alvarez hopes that Mass Occupy will do more to announce and explain their initiative inupcoming weeks. He said that many participants in Occupy Boston only learned of Mass Occupy “at the eleventh hour.” As a result, there was a lot of “misinformation,” and concernabout co-optation and lack of transparency. “They could doa much better job at educating the public and the Occupy Boston community,” said Alvarez.Indeed, outreach to Occupy Boston is one of MassOccupy’s priorities in upcoming weeks, according to TimLarkin. “Occupy Boston is not only the first Occupy inNew England; it is also the one that all the other sites inNew England continue to look to,” said Larkin. At the sametime, Larkin said that it can sometimes be difficult to makeannouncements and proposals at Occupy Boston’s General Assemblies. Although the General Assemblies are regularly scheduled and their locations are well publicized, theirformat can be unpredictable. If someone makes a trip intodowntown Boston to make a specific announcement, butthen is not able to deliver it, the experience can be frustrating,Larkin explained.
Lines of Communication
As important as Occupy Boston is, it is just one of an unknown number of Occupy groups in the state of Massachusetts. Convening a statewide General Assembly willmean reaching out to the occupations not yet present at MassOccupy’s January 7th meeting. As participants in Occupy Boston’s InterOccupy Communications (OBIO) workinggroup can attest, establishing these lines of communicationbrings its own challenges.On January 13th, before a regular OBIO meeting, FarhadEbrahimi explained the group’s work in this way: “We aimto set up the informational infrastructure that will enableindividuals and working groups from different Occupy sitesto talk to one another. It’s less about content than aboutbuilding connections.” Ebrahimi stressed that OBIO doesnot broadcast announcements on behalf of other groups,but they can help these other groups get in touch with oneanother.During the OBIO meeting, Wayne Archer-Clark, of Occupy Newton, urged that “InterOccupy and MassOccupy should be working together.” Indeed, it seems thatboth groups would stand to benefit from this exchange. The January 7th Mass Occupy meeting convened activists fromoccupations where OBIO has not yet established personalcontacts. Moreover, by providing a regional forum dedi-cated to discussion of politics, actions, and the future of theOccupy movement, Mass Occupy may free OBIO fromexpectations that the working group will create that forumitself. Instead, OBIO will be able to focus on its core mission:laying lines of communication within this new and dynamicsocial movement.The Occupy movement’s ever-changing nature is itself oneof the reasons to organize a state-wide General Assembly,according to Larkin. “We can’t expect the Occupy movementto remain at its present level,” Larkin explains. “It will eithergrow or shrink. For working people, unity is our strength. Weneed to overcome the things that are keeping us divided andcome together.”
Occupy Boston Student Summit
By Zack Nestel-Patt,
member of Occupy Boston Students
The students of Occupy Boston have resolved to holda Summit on
Saturday, February 11th
from 12-7pm(location TBD) for the student community in Bostonto come together and discuss social, political, economic,and strategic, organizational and tactical issues pertinentto the Occupy Boston Student population.By addressing the issues that students must deal withthe most (student debt and educational inequality) anddiscussing how we as students will deal with those issuesby solidifying our strategy, organization, and tactics, itis our hope that we can grow the participation of thestudent body and develop a powerful political group.The proposed schedule for the day begins with caucusmeetings for traditionally marginalized groups (women,people of color, and LGBT) as well as a discussionabout privilege and masculinity. This is followed by a discussion of issues relating to student debt andeducation inequality. The summit will also include ateach-in on the history of student activist movementsfollowed by a discussion about the strategy, organi-zation, and tactics of the student Occupy group. Afterthe summit has ended, there will be a concert and danceto help unwind. We encourage all students to participateand to bring as many friends as they can.