On February 18 at 1 pm, the first Mass Occupy General Assembly was held at U Mass Boston. Mass Occupy is an attempt to bring together all of Massachusetts’ local Occupy groups to talk about the current state of the Occupy Movement, what is best for its future, and plans for upcoming actions.
Tim Larkin, a member of Occupy Somerville and one of the organizers of the day’s events, stated that the reason for calling the GA was that “all these other Occupy groups are popping up now that Occupy Boston is not in Dewey Square. They are doing their own things without talking to each other.” Larkin believes that “this meeting can lead to greater coordination of regional and state Occupy groups.”
At least forty people were present at Saturday’s meeting. Represented Occupy groups included Occupy Newton, Boston, Jamaica Plain, Ocupemos el Barrio, Salem, Cambridge, Somerville, Cape Cod, Providence, and UMass Boston. Members of Veterans for Peace and independent political candidates Peter White (for US Congress) and Bill Cimbrelo (for US Senate) also attended. Members of Occupy the T were in attendance, to explain the fare hikes and service cuts planned by the MBTA, as well as how these could be combated.
The crowd was smaller than anticipated, likely due to a last minute change of venue. The meeting had been expected to take place at the Boston Teachers Union Hall in Dorchester, but was switched at the last minute to UMass Boston.
Jayo Macasatuit from Oakland, California said that he had come to Massachusetts to visit family and see how things were done at Mass Occupy. “Occupy Oakland and Mass Occupy are on the same page and share many base-level similarities,” he said, adding that the General Assembly structure “is less stringent here than in Oakland.”
Actions and Strategy
The meeting began with a heated discussion of the MBTA’s plan to hike fares and cut service in order to fill a projected budget deficit of $161 million.
Noah McKenna, from Occupy the T, described the proposed price increases as an indirect tax on working people and connected them to privatization and class war. Higher fares would disproportionately penalize poor people who needed the T to commute to work.
As others pointed out, the T is not adequately funded by the state government. The MBTA has been burdened with the debt resulting from the Big Dig, which it owes to banks such as JP Morgan. Currently 25% of the T’s operating costs go to servicing the interest on its debt.
The MBTA has offered two plans to fix their budget deficit. The first scenario involves a 35% price increase for most riders, with at least a hike of at least 75% for seniors and the elimination of 10% of bus routes. The second scenario demands a 20% general fare hike, while there would be service cuts to 58% of bus routes.
McKenna urged those in attendance to reject both of these MBTA plans as well as any proposed gas tax, which would divide the 99% between car-drivers and train-riders. He also encouraged the use of different sorts of media, such as fliers, videos and newspapers, to attract participants to upcoming rallies.
Other speakers suggested taxing the 1% to cover the T deficit, or for the state government to remove the Big Dig debt burden from the MBTA.
Much discussion centered on two upcoming rallies against the T cuts. The first event is March 14, when the MBTA board holds its final public meeting before making a decision on service cuts and fare hikes. The second event is April 4, planned to be a major assembly and speak-out.
Matt McLaughlin from Occupy Somerville urged protesters to ride the rails and focus “on banks like JP Morgan, who own a significant amount of T debt.” McLaughlin and other speakers also said that greater coordination was needed between the various Occupy groups to make their actions effective. Terrence Helmsmen of Cambridge Community Television offered the use of public-access media resources “to connect and get the word out.”
Also discussed was the proposed May Day Strike Action. Al Johnson of Veterans for Peace pointed out the importance of May Day as “a holiday that started in the US. And we want to bring it back to America and act in international solidarity with other workers.” Some participants urged local Occupies to have their own May Day demonstrations; others wanted protesters to converge in a major Boston action.
Reflecting on the General Assembly, participant Joe Cugini said, “This represents a movement. Occupy is representing marginal groups and putting boots on the ground. It is redeeming progressive groups from irrelevance.” The Second Mass Occupy General Assembly is currently planned Saturday, March 24, with more information forthcoming.
For more information see Mass Occupy on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/groups/290286657675503/?ref=ts