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News :: DNC : Organizing
Boston Comes Together; DNC Organizing Part I
19 May 2004
“Boston Comes Together” is the first installment of a five part series by the Boston Independent Media Center that will introduce all of major groups organizing for events surrounding the Democratic National Convention this summer.

            Mayor Tom Menino has invited 6,000 of his fellow democrats to Boston to pick a new presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention in July. 15,000 members of the press will follow them to the hub, and other components of the DNC entourage will bring the total “invasion” force to 35,000 people. If the U.S. electoral system encouraged candidates to bond with their constituents and know the problems they face, Bostonians would rightly be delighted to host such an event. As it is, the electoral system we have requires candidates to find simple, dumbed down, centrist messages that can appeal to large majorities instead of a platform that might have real substance and meaning for anyone. This majoritarian system serves to keep the diversity of voices that are extant in the United States out of the executive and legislative bodies of the government. Instead of party loyalists and dissenters alike enjoying an opportunity to talk to their representatives and candidates, the people of Boston are instead devising clever strategies that will allow them to breach the dividing walls, buffer zones, and police lines that will surround the Fleet Center and the delegates inside. One group, Boston’s DNC Coalition has come up with a novel way to get their voices heard.

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            The Boston DNC Coalition (BDNCC) is one of the longest running DNC organizing efforts (second only to the Black Tea Society), and definitely the most diverse. The first meetings began in the fall of 2003. Within its ranks are members and representatives of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the District 7 Advisory Committee, Project VOICE, Critical Breakdown, Project Hip-Hop, Madison Park Development Corporation, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, United for a Fair Economy (UFE), Roxbury Safety Net, The Black Tea Society (BTS) and more. The DNC coalition is constantly reaching out to new groups and growing a community wide network. Last week they met with Worcester Mass Care, Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) and United for Justice with Peace (UJP) and secured their support and active participation.

            The DNC coalition includes groups from all sides of Boston’s activist communities and bridges the especially wide gap between white activists and activists of color. I talked to long time activist and DNC Coalition member Cynthia Peters who described the problems that exist and how BDNCC is dealing with it. In her analysis many activists have a long history of not listening or understanding to the needs of people of color, and they can be resistant to altering their activities and strategies to reflect them. For example, a lot of white activists see the war as a central issue, whereas people of color, while sympathetic with an anti-war stance, generally see more pressing problems at home. Activists of color could be described as “crisis oriented”. Police brutality, transportation racism, environmental racism, disappeared immigrants, prison rates, jobs, education, and the de-funding of city programs are more likely to attract their attention than problems of foreign policy. This basic difference in emphasis between the two groups can lead to fundamental lack of trust that prevents either from working with the other. The BDNCC has worked very hard on both of these difficulties to bridge this gap.

            Agreeing on priorities was difficult enough, but the disparities described above also led to different choices when it came time to decide on a winning plan of action. Early discussions about strategy included protests, rallies, bazaars and direct action, all at or near the Fleet Center. However, as the group got to know each other better, it became apparent that many activists of color are uncomfortable with a protest situation that would put them at risk of arrest. Especially without any guarantee that the delegates inside would be paying attention. The Fleet Center will be heavily guarded and fenced in, with a protest pen, or (as the police like to call it) a “free speech zone” two blocks away. It seems very unlikely that even yelling and screaming would affect the delegates frame of mind or the democratic platform. As the BDNCC continued to meet, several facts about the two activist strategies become clear.

            White activists have developed a fairly constant set of strategies for social change. Giant focused protests have become the norm, beginning with the Seattle WTO protests in November 1999. When there isn’t a protest, many groups focus on media and education strategies designed to inform more people about the issues. There are also a number of solidarity groups, for those in jail and for those in countries with oppressive regimes. White activists generally have very little trust in politicians. However, many use lobbying and petitions in their strategies, often on a national scale (an exception perhaps being the environmental movement) instead of a local one.

            Activists of color have very developed strategies that reflect different priorities. Instead of large protests that hold the risk of arrest and little guarantee of effectiveness, these groups have tended towards grassroots organizing and heavy lobbying of their local representatives in city and state government. They organize forums, youth groups, and neighborhood organizations and keep people aware through social networks, small newspapers, newsletters, and other media. One of their strongest suits is their close involvement in local politics.

            In Boston in particular people of color have bonded very closely to their city councilpersons. Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo both seem to be very well bonded to their constituents. Indeed, they are both part of the BDNCC. Mr. Turner comes to meetings in person and Mr. Arroyo usually has a representative present. City Councilperson districts seem to reflect real neighborhood boundaries rather than the strange paths the State Legislature districts follow. This gives communities of color that are concentrated in one area an electoral advantage compared to white activists who are generally spread thinly among several districts. From a Councilpersons viewpoint, bonding closely with ones constituents is then a winning election strategy. In contrast, State legislative Representatives are more likely to use “bridging” strategies to “bridge” the differences between divergent race and income groups in say, Brookline, the South End and northern Jamaica Plain. Activists of color in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain have had great success in City Council and somewhat more limited success in the State Legislature when lobbying for better transportation, housing, and education policies.

            With all of these different tactics in mind the BDNCC continued to deliberate until they came up with a common strategy that reflected all of the above. It includes the empowerment that a large gathering inspires and also speaks directly to those in positions of power (the delegates themselves). It provides activists from all corners with a chance to inform and educate more people and also gives the people themselves a chance to speak their mind on the issues and actually make contact with those who will actually be participating in the election.

            The events that will be held in three to five locations across the city are being called “People’s Parties”. On the Sunday before the Convention officially begins, Mayor Menino is throwing lavish parties (with our tax dollars) for each of the 58 delegations in locations all over town. Members of the BDNCC have pulled out the maps and found that several of these shindigs are near public spaces where large crowds could be accommodated. One example is the Sam Adams Brewery’s proximity to the green space in front of the Stonybrook T stop. All of the delegates will be invited to stop on by and hear the voice of the people. The Kucinich campaign has already announced that their fifty or so delegates will be in attendance. Planning for the events, speakers, and other diversions at each People’s Party is still in the works, but with the large number of amazing activists from local groups coming together, finding people to step up to the podium seems to be the least of the BDNCC’s worries.

            The main message of the Boston DNC Coalition during all of this will be “Another World is Possible, Fund the Dream”. Fund the Dream is a national initiative promoted by Chuck Turner that follows the ideas of Martin Luther King. The plan is to take one hundred billion dollars out of defense spending and spend it on social programs. This would effectively force the federal government to change their foreign policy strategy (to a more cooperative one) and allow for programs that would improve education and address racial disparities. Also within the initiative is a call to reinstate taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Of course, within the coalition there are hundreds of other messages to be heard. Another major focus is the new Bioterror lab being planned on the Campus of Northeastern University. Others believe the behemoth dilemma of corporations and their heavy involvement in American politics should be at the forefront. Still others point to the slew of transportation, environmental, and education policies that so often discriminate against communities that include people of color. All of these issues will doubtless be heard at the “people’s parties” on July 26th, but the genius of this particular protest strategy is that instead of being shouted out in a protest pen towards a large plastic fence, they will be spoken with dignity to ears that will pass directly into the convention. With a little luck and a little power of truth they will be repeated inside. Perhaps these words can help pull the democratic platform that seems to be running away from the American people, back towards a better, more responsive, and more responsible government.

            If the national media is interested in actually informing the public they would do well to focus on the connections that Boston’s DNC Coalition is making between activists that traditionally work on opposite sides of the tracks. Instead they seem to prefer spending their time making up cockamamie stories about anarchists with flamethrowers and acid filled squirt guns. Next time you spring a buck for the Times, fifty cents for the Globe, or god forbid- The Herald, think of The Independent Media Center. Without us (and us includes you), the true activist scene in Boston wouldn’t be recorded.

            ***The Next article in this series will focus on the efforts of the Black Tea Society. ***


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