Poverty politics

Protesters commandeer the streets around Post Office Square

For those who drive into downtown Boston for the workday – which is a commuting challenge even under normal conditions – the ride home Monday evening made most of them late for dinner. Which was kind of the point.

Protesters, ranging from students to union workers to retirees, took over the streets around Post Office Square on the edges of the Financial District to advocate for a hike in the minimum wage to $15 as well as other social justice issues associated with poverty. They sat down at the intersection of Congress and Federal streets, in the shadow of Bank of America, Fidelity, State Street, and TD Bank headquarters, beginning around 4:30 p.m.

“Don’t worry, people who don’t work for a living,” one lawyer who sat in his car during the protests wrote on social media. “I don’t want to get home after working for a living. Thank you for adding at least an hour onto my ride.”

Their point was to send the message that while the inconvenience of a cold supper may annoy some, millions go without dinner or eat unhealthy foods because they can’t afford anything else. The message, though, much like when protesters cemented themselves into barrels on the Southeast Expressway in support of Black Lives Matter and gummed up the morning commute, or in 2011 when the Occupy Wall Street movement that occupied the Rose Kennedy Greenway for weeks, probably didn’t move the needle much but then, who really was the target audience?

The protest was part of the nationwide Poor People’s Campaign, a renewal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s March in 1968 that was carried out after his assassination. The current protest is a six-week “educational” effort to shine a light on the struggles of those living in poverty and its effect on their health, education, ability to work, and housing. This is the fifth week of the campaign, which will end with a rally in Washington, DC, next week, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the 1968 march on the nation’s capital. Boston wasn’t the only place to ramp up the volume.

Did those who sat in the middle of the Expressway really think making people late for work would open their minds to their argument? Did the the Occupiers really think the 1 percent would open their wallets and free their wealth to be spread around equitably? Did those chanting for three hours in Post Office Square Monday really believe that if the ballot question to raise the minimum wage makes it to voters in November, people sitting in their BMWs and SUVs will check “yes” because they were enlightened beyond their frustration?

The real point was to get attention and that they did, with news helicopters hovering overhead, workers and tourists snapping pictures and taking videos, and leaders of the protest able to get their message out to reporters who otherwise have paid little attention to their efforts.

“We’re sending a message to those that sit in privileged seats in corporate America that someone is hurting our brothers and sisters and it’s gone on far too long,” the Rev. Vernon Walker, co-chair of the Massachusetts campaign, told the Boston Globe. “There are 140 million people suffering from the crippling effects of poverty and there seems not to be a systemic way to address that.”

Never mind that Walker’s 140 million figure for those in poverty, a central part of the national platform, is about 100 million more than the government’s estimate of 45 million. The campaign figures are based on what they say is the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account the cost of housing, health care, education, goods, and services relative to income. But even that appears to overstate the number. But, again, Walker isn’t speaking to skeptics.

There’s no doubt there’s satisfaction in getting one’s political point across in a highly visible manner and there’s also little doubt that anger over inconvenience quickly subsides (people still drive on the Expressway and walk the Greenway every day). But an exchange overheard by the Globe best sums up what should be remembered.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

“You know what’s (expletive) stupid?” one woman who was protesting yelled at a man angry over the inconvenience. “All those people who can’t feed their families.”

Hard to argue with that.