It’s been said in political circles and around many a kitchen table, that if you’re not at the table [of democracy], you’re on the menu!
During the civil rights era, repeated attempts to come to the table to participate and contribute to our democracy often met with violent refusal of a seat. Frustrated by these events, James Forman of the Black Panther Party (SNCC) said: “If we can’t sit at the table [of democracy], let's knock the [expletive deleted] legs off!" The year was 1964. We were fighting and dying for the civil rights of every American and many were angered and fed up with lack of action by our government to address obvious pleas for justice! America was indeed stained by these events.
The City Council hearings on minority contractors’ business problems and subsequent discussion following reminds us of the stain of injustice left in the wake of the civil rights era, ripe with all the anger and frustration of now having a seat at the table of democracy, but no real power to affect meaningful change.
Change that is sorely needed to deal with construction projects like the one headed by the Community Builders and executed by Walsh Brothers at 225 Centre Street, between Roxbury and JP. This project is the poster child for the kind of lack of accountability to the community the council hearing was meant to address and follow-up discussion support!
Our Jackson Square CAC has been a strong advocate for adherence to the Boston Jobs policy. We also support high M/WBE utilization.
At our last Jackson Square CAC board meeting we were informed that issues raised by our board regarding: double counting against WBE and MBE firms; awarding MBE and WBE firms unrepresentative of our community and outside of Boston, yielding less than 4% of dedicated dollars to building businesses of color here, while 96% of those dollars build businesses of color outside of Boston; a walk-on job placement rate of less that 2%; Boston Job Policy numbers that have not been met; and questionable firm partnerships that betray the trust, spirit and covenant with our community were all accountable responses to issues and demands by our community.
The community begs to differ with The Community Builders assessment/definition of accountability! Moreover, many if not all of these issues could have been avoided if only The Community Builders had not imposed a union only restriction for work at 225 Centre Street. This restriction fundamentally excludes: folks living in the neighborhood that are not part of the union who can do the work and desperately need a job; young folks trying to get in to the union who need the experience, but will never get their chance; the open-shop businesses of color, literally starving for work and seeing opportunities awarded to non-Bostonians that might otherwise keep their doors open; the project from making and comfortably exceeding Boston Job Policy metrics in a neighborhood of color.
Why do excuses, inaction and stated accountability, when there’s little accountability in sight, always lead to breaking the legs off, or destroying something?
It’s understandable how unfair denial to participate precipitates into dismantling and a desire to rebuild. After all, humanity has a terrible track record of sharing wealth and power. One wonders if a dose of Black Power to rebuild what we know is a compromised table of democracy isn’t in order to right what is wrong. Though, the struggle to decide our future continues!
In 1857 Frederick Douglass said: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. . . Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” And yet, sadly at times, that struggle plays out on our streets as crime and too often unnecessarily claims innocent young lives in the process. Our struggle for parity and fairness takes its toll and the cost is high!
Given those costs, our pain, suffering and need to heal, does it make sense to reward poor accountability by The Community Builders and other developers who behave similarly, with development sites in our neighborhood that honor the memory of Trina Persad and Jermaine Goffigan? But that’s just what will happen if we allow it! The Community Builders will develop Jermaine Goffigan Park!
Perhaps the demand is simple: We don’t denigrate the memory of our innocent children or reward poor accountability to our people, or our neighborhoods by engaging developers the likes of The Community Builders with more development work! We just don’t do that!
When reflecting on our 236th year as a nation, it’s worth noting that the turbulent days of our civil rights past and subsequent legislation prove the table of democracy works! But the greater lesson that past teaches is that those table legs, the strength of our democracy, are made stronger by educating ourselves of the real issues and hurdles to our progress, exercising our voice, engaging and becoming active, and empower each with our vote!