Before this past Thursday, I couldn’t have told you the last time I attended a demonstration. Yeah, I can remember Jesse Jackson rallies, Obama telephone banks, getting out the vote phone calls. But I don’t remember sticking my neck out at any significant political demonstration since dirt.
During the years I worked at Simon & Associates as a trial and jury consultant, the office devoted itself to clients wronged by the existing oligarchy, though it wasn’t the kind of work that brought in a ton of money. Didn’t matter. We believed we were wearing the white hats.
Our clients were always working or poor people who, in one way or another, had been masticated by major corporations. An example: We represented a number of plant workers’ families whose husband and/or fathers were killed by the vinyl chloride industry that, for over twenty years [1950-1974], knew the processes they used to create Polyvinyl chloride were life threatening for its workers, but didn’t bother to improve safety measures AND kept that information hidden. The result of the cover up? Many people died and the industry got a cause of death named after them, vinyl chloride disease, aka angiosarcoma of the liver. And that’s just one example of the type work we did.
Since we were the ‘good guys’, when there was a demonstration about issues I believed in (opposing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Israeli apartheid etc), I told myself that my work was my politics so I didn’t need to attend.
By the time I left the law, the issue of attending demonstrations became stickier. The 98%ers were beginning to gear up and, while I believe the issue of income disparity is one half of the two-headed monster under which we live (the other being racism), I still managed to avoid the streets.
Somehow I convinced myself that since I was now writing about “large” political issues from a progressive perspective, I was doing my share. Hey, I intended to telephone bank for Elizabeth Warren so my bona fides were still intact. At least according to me.
Wednesday night I received a call from my close friend, Bill. Recently retired, he had become involved in an organization called City Life/Vida Urbana whose headquarters were located in my part of Boston. He told me about a neighborhood family who, along with the community organization, had been fighting eviction since around 2008 when their house went underwater, i.e., the value dropped to the level where they were unable to make full payments due to the housing market crash over which they had no ability to control. A building that, by the way, had been used as a crack house until this family moved in and fixed it up.
Fuck the good they had done for the neighborhood and larger community. Rather than negotiate, the bank chose to evict and Thursday was going to be the day the rubber was gonna hit the road.
So Bill asked if I’d like to join him in protesting the eviction and I reluctantly agreed. We met at the eviction house where I told him I could picket but couldn’t let myself get arrested for a variety of reasons including my shoulder rehab. Well, it turns out that City Life/Vida Urbana won’t allow new members to do civil disobedience until after a training session, something Bill and I didn’t know at the time.
As I headed home and thought about my rationalizations for backing away from nonviolently resisting the eviction, I realized they were actually driven by fear. Not only on this day, but in the past as well. Decades since I’d been behind bars for political reasons, the thought of getting locked up at my age was a step I had been unwilling to take. I also realized I felt really lousy about my attitude and decision. This was a grossly unfair eviction by heartless, faceless banks with their lackey lawyers. And I was just walking away.
I felt ashamed. And that feeling has yet to dissipate. I’d been too anxious about what might happen to me instead of the causes I believed in throughout all these years. Frankly, it doesn’t feel too good to be a coward.
Sadly the family was evicted despite the demonstration and despite those who linked arms and were arrested–including our state representative Liz Malia.
This was a battle lost but the war continues and I plan to hit the streets again. It’s time for this old Yippie to take up my metaphorical sword–fear, rehab, age, and all.
Make room City Life/Vida Urbana. I’m signing up for your training session. Even though I did cut my hair.
“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” Ralph Waldo Emerson