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News :: Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare
Boston City Council's White Majority Abandons Youth of Color
30 Jun 2006
Several hundred Boston youth, youth workers and community members converged on Boston City Hall on Wednesday June 28th to demand a budget that would offer more job opportunities to young people. The thirteen city councilors (nine district councilors and four "at-large" or citywide councilors) are required to vote on the mayor's budget each year.
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The youth and their supporters wanted the city councilors to reject the budget until the mayor's administration agreed to add more money for summer jobs and teen programs. As it stands, the budget only allows for 9,000 jobs for 22,000 documented teens in the greater Boston area and only 190 jobs for youth with CORI. By comparison, the budget provided for approximately 150 new policemen which many youth and organizers fear will only exacerbate the problem.

Youth from many community organizations packed the room including from Project Hip Hop, Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP), Alternatives for Community Environments (ACE) and the Hyde Square Task Force.

The youth expressed concern about rising urban violence in their communities, and want the city to increase funding for youth job programs. So far this year, 36 young people have fallen victim to violence. Over the past several years, funding for these types of youth programs has been drastically reduced. Community organizers point out that this is one reason for the spike in youth violence across the city.

Citizens attending the council session were informed that they could sit and listen but could not "express approval or disapproval in any way" at anything the city councilors said. Youth held yellow and white pieces of paper with messages for city officials reading, "Prove that youth are a priority to you!" "An additional $1.2 million for youth jobs will increase summer safety" and "Don't wait 'til were dead".

In earily 2005 the Council formed a new committee on Youth Violence Prevention chaired by Councilor Ross (of district 8). The four committee hearings were attended by hundreds of youth from around Boston. After the hearings Councilor Ross recommended that the budget should indeed be increased to at least $5 million dollars (with an additional $1,2 million) for youth jobs.

During the council session, it became clear that the majority of the city councilors were determined to ignore the youth and community concerns and pass the budget without alteration. The vote broke down on racial lines, with the four councilors of color (Felix Arroyo, Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey, and Sam Yoon) voting to oppose the budget, and the white majority voting to pass it. Councilor Ross went against his own recommendations and voted to pass the Mayor’s budget.

The young people began chanting for their elected officials to listen to them and vote immediately on the budget. A short time later Councilor McDermott (of Allston-Brighton) addressed the chamber and not so subtlety berated the youth, saying it was not the cities responsibility to create any summer jobs for them. During his comments many of the citizens chose to silently turn their backs on the proceeding. At that point, council president Michael Flaherty order the council chambers be cleared and all youth, citizens and media removed from the room by police. They then voted to pass the budget, 9 to 4.

Outside the building youth and supporters gathered for an impromptu meeting to discuss their next steps in challenging the city on this issue. In contrast to the lack of citizen participation allowed inside city hall this meeting was a welcome and refreshing example of direct participation and democracy. Youth took turns voicing options, suggestions and plans of action. They decided to keep fighting despite the budget vote.


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Using the bully pulpit - Boston Globe
03 Jul 2006
Using the bully pulpit
By Eileen McNamara, Globe Columnist | July 2, 2006

Calling the police to stifle political expression was an odd way for the Boston City Council to mark the upcoming holiday celebrating American democracy.

Accusing a neophyte city councilor of ``grandstanding" for bringing young people into a political process they are usually criticized for shunning was a curious way to commemorate the 330th anniversary of American independence.

In any week, a packed council chamber ought to be cause for celebration, not alarm, no matter how many homemade protest signs the visitors are carrying. That should have been especially true in the days before the Fourth of July, replete with its reminders of the roots of our political freedom.

``The ironic thing is that people always complain that teenagers are apathetic," Councilor at Large Sam Yoon noted in the aftermath of the ejection of dozens of teenagers who had filled the chamber to appeal for more money to combat rising gun violence in the city. ``Here they are coming to City Hall to participate, to talk about matters of life and death, their lives and deaths, and we throw them out."

The teenagers, who came from across the city, had run afoul of Rule 43, the council's less-than-democratic prohibition against any public demonstration of ``approval or disapproval" in the chamber.

Their ``disruption" involved asking for the councilors to support new funding and then turning their backs when it was clear that the vote on Mayor Thomas M. Menino's $2.14 billion budget would carry.

``They came hoping to win but expecting to lose," said Yoon, who had urged the city to tap emergency funds for $5 million for youth workers and violence prevention programs. ``You never hear the word `violence' without the word `youth' in front of it. Here we had a gallery full of young people interested in being part of the solution, and they are told they can only be silent observers. I'm an immigrant. My parents came to America because we can express our ideas here freely."

If that sounds like grandstanding, as Councilors Stephen J. Murphy and Jerry P. McDermott suggested, isn't grandstanding pretty much the only power the Boston City Council has? The councilors, after all, were debating the mayor's budget because the city charter does not grant them authority to draft a spending plan of their own.

What the council does have is a bully pulpit, and Yoon, elected six months ago as the first Asian to serve on the body, decided to use it. That does not make him young and naïve; he's 36, not 16, and veteran councilors Felix Arroyo, Chuck Turner, and Charles C. Yancey voted with him.

If the council used its bully pulpit more often, open and spirited debate might compensate for the City Council's lack of legislative power.

On the same day that Yoon's youthful supporters were hustled from the City Council chamber, Governor Mitt Romney filed a request with state lawmakers for $3 million more in state funding for antiviolence programs in the city. On Friday, Yoon wrote to the governor urging him to fight hard for that money.

``I am aware that the city has limited resources," he said, adding that fiscal restraint has to be weighed against what he described as a public safety emergency. ``One of the good things that happened is the kids got to see how what we do in the City Council affects them. Isn't that what we want, young people who are more engaged in the civic life of the city?"

Last November, more minority voters cast ballots in Boston's municipal election than at any time in recent memory. Voting was up in Roxbury, Mattapan, Mission Hill, Fields Corner, and Chinatown. Those voters helped elect Yoon.

Many of the teenagers who packed the City Council chamber last week are not old enough to vote, but they are old enough to speak, old enough to demand to be heard. As one of their posters said, ``Don't Wait Until We're Dead."


© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
PUBLISHED HERE UNDER US FAIR-USE LAW
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107
Thanks
14 Jul 2006
I really appreciate you covering this event. I haven;t checked bu I bet the Herald and Globe only gave this passing attention. Yet, this is perhaps the most important news topic we can be discussing: local politics and how they affect the daily lives of people in our communities.