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?
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.“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.