Occupy the Hood comes to Boston

Ann Coleman reports on the formation of Occupy the Hood in Boston--which is bringing people of color together with the Occupy movement.

Occupy the Hood protesters march in BostonOccupy the Hood protesters march in Boston

DUDLEY SQUARE in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston was transformed on the evening of October 21 into an open-air public forum for predominately Black and Latino residents to voice their support for Occupy the Hood and messages of solidarity with Occupy Boston.

More than 400 people gathered in the public park as Lauryn Hill and Public Enemy blasted from the audio speakers welcoming residents of the neighborhood and supporters from campuses and neighborhoods across the city.

At 6 p.m., a group of more than 30 people arrived chanting, "Occupy the hood! We're spreading something good!" These supporters marched almost three miles from the Dewey Square encampment in Boston's financial district to what has been described as one of Boston's hardest-hit neighborhoods of the economic crisis.

For more than three hours, Jamarhl Crawford, editor and publisher of Blackstonian, emceed a list of community organizers, ministers, teachers, students and workers of color who articulated the issues many racially segregated neighborhoods face, including unemployment, the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) program, police brutality, foreclosures, lack of diversity in city government, lack of educational opportunity, racial profiling, redistricting, budget cuts, housing, human services, civic engagement and racism.

Crawford and other organizers of Occupy the Hood Boston publicly launched the vision to bring Occupy Boston residents and supporters to the Black, Latino and Cape Verdean communities of Boston on October 17, with the purpose of highlighting and building momentum around the issues faced by People of Color in Boston and other cities across the United States.

Four days later, college students from Tufts University, Boston College, UMass Boston, Roxbury Community College, Simmons and Brandeis came to listen to seasoned community organizers and activists share their experiences in the movement for social and economic justice.

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LOVELY HOFFMAN, a teacher at Smith Leadership Academy and organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana introduced several 11- and 12-year-old community leaders that spoke directly about their desire to feel safe going to school and to end homelessness and poverty.

Tony Van Der Meer, a professor of American Studies at UMass Boston, spoke of leadership, redistricting of voting precincts, and the impact redistricting has on under representation in city, state and federal governmental structures. "Leadership is when you take initiative on behalf of shared values. One of our shared values we have is our humanity."

Van Der Meer put forward the idea of a citywide people's assembly led by the citizens of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan to take up the structural inequality in our city and national political system. He encouraged the crowd to think beyond the political opportunities, "If we don't change the structure, then we don't get any change...We can have Black politicians and still have oppression."

Fernando Rodriguez with El Movimiento/The Movement for Ethnic Studies in Boston Public Schools, spoke about inequality in education where the "textbooks teach us about the history of the 1 percent." He asked the crowd, "Where is the education about the 99 percent?"

Politicians including Karla Romero and Michael Flaherty also attended the speak-out. Besides the call raised by The Blackstonian, most attendees learned about the Occupy the Hood event through outreach efforts by the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, Mass Uniting, Jobs with Justice, City Life/Vida Urbana, Alternatives for Community Environment and the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Several of the speakers spoke about the need to organize for tomorrow and build support for the issues in other neighborhoods. If this first speak-out is any sign, Occupy the Hood and Occupy Boston can build support outside of mainstream press coverage.

As Jason Latson of Roxbury explained, "I didn't know anything about Occupy Boston before tonight. I heard a lot of chanting in the neighborhood and decided to come out to see what was going on. I think this is a wake-up call for everybody to stand up for equality with peace and justice for all people from all walks of life. Our common enemy is injustice."

The site of this first in of what Crawford promised would be many Occupy the Hood Boston speak-outs was across the street from one of the more than five different police stations that the Boston Police Department had used to carry out the processing of the more than 100 Occupy Boston supporters who were arrested in the early morning of October 11, defending the expansion of the encampment at Dewey Square.

Occupy the Hood also sponsored Boston's response to the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality on October 22. The rally and march started at the Southwest Corridor Park between the Roxbury Crossing T-stop and the Ruggles T-stop at the Boston Police Department Headquarters.

First published at The Occupy Boston Globe.