“Occupy JP is mobilizing to protect the working classes…because enough is enough,” said one protester.
About a dozen marchers waved flags and shouted slogans on the nearly two-hour “Economic Hard Times Tour of JP” from Monument Square to Hyde Square and back again. Major corporations targeted as villains included Bank of America, CVS Pharmacy and Whole Foods Market. The marchers also stopped at such institutions as the post office, the Connolly Branch Library and the local fire station to protest budget cuts to them.
The slogans, chanted with the help of a bullhorn, included, “We are the 99 percent”; “Centre Street–our street!”; and “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” The agenda laid out by protesters included: establishing a living wage; “equality”; jobs and child care for all; environmentalism; more democratic control of the financial system and the police; and an end to America’s wars. Occupy JP formed last month as a local version of the Occupy Wall Street protest, with the idea of sustaining the movement long-term by rooting it in neighborhoods instead of downtown parks.
The march stayed on the sidewalk and was peaceful. It was monitored only by two police officers on bicycles, who left halfway through the march. The response of passersby was mostly curiosity or support. One man, mistaking a Gazette reporter for a marcher, tried to hand a flyer back and then crumpled it into a ball. But there was more support, including a cheering bicyclist, a woman applauding from a window, and a man who started chanting the immigrant labor slogan, “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, it can be done!”) and got the protesters to join in. At the Galway House restaurant, a marcher held up the bullhorn for a man standing in the doorway so he could proclaim support for free health care and education.
Despite being a small group, the protesters were diverse in age and ethnic background. Notable marchers included Jeffrey Herman, a liberal activist who ran for state representative last year; and Melida and Carlos Arredondo, whose son Alex was killed in action in the Iraq War and had the local post office named in his honor.
Melida Arredondo spoke in front of the post office when the march stopped there. As a protester held up a sign about the endangered postal system, Melida Arredondo spoke more broadly about feeling like part of the “99 percent.” That includes suffering discrimination for their Costa Rican heritage, and for losing a child to war when the richest Americans are able to avoid service and “dodge” the taxes to pay for them.
“We know how to end the deficit! End the wars and tax the rich!” Melida Arredondo exclaimed, leading the marchers in a chant.
Following the march was local filmmaker Janice Rogovin, who has been working for years on a documentary about Carlos Arredondo, who drew national attention for setting himself on fire after hearing about Alex’s death.
The marchers at times took votes on what to do next, and they were not always on the same page. That included the decision to protest at Whole Foods, whose arrival at 413 Centre St. in Hyde Square this year has been intensely controversial as both a boon to the neighborhood and as the height of gentrification.
“We had a debate about stopping at Whole Foods. We decided not to,” Herman told the Gazette during the march. “The argument was, there are a lot of people who are shopping at Whole Foods and we don’t want to alienate them.”
But minutes later, the march stopped at Whole Foods, with marcher Michael Russell aiming a bullhorn at the store. He said that JP is divided in haves and have-nots, a split that creates crime due to the lack of good, union-backed jobs.
“Whole Foods is one of the biggest union-busters, not only in Jamaica Plain, but throughout the United States,” Russell said of the grocer, which is known for an anti-union stance combined with its own unique slate of employee benefits. Russell added that everyone, “not just the 1 percent,” deserves healthy and organic food of the kind that Whole Foods sells.
At the Bank of America branch at 677 Centre St., marchers stopped to protest the parent corporation’s feat of paying no federal taxes and instead receiving a massive refund in 2010, largely due to losses from the financial crisis in which the bank played a controversial role. At the CVS at 704 Centre, protesters complained of the store’s recent switch from human cashiers to automated checkout machines. “Occupy JP stands in solidarity with the workers of CVS” against such moves, Russell said.
At other stops, such as the fire station, protesters applauded the rights of public sector unions and decried government attempts to slash benefits or services.
During the march, protesters handed out flyers urging people to join their next march on Dec. 11 at 1 p.m., also starting in Monument Square and running roughly the same route, as a “Day of Action.” The flyer names Bank of America and Whole Foods as among the protest stops once again. For more info, see occupyjp.org.