I can’t remember when I first met Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, since it was so long ago, before he was a city councilor. What I do remember is that he was always out there, standing with the community, serv-ing as a creative resource and seasoned facilitator of the community’s own efforts at change. I know that when I worked at a mutual empowerment, long-term career planning program for women on welfare, we consulted with Turner about ways to break through the poverty-level training and job options that the system imposed upon the women.
Later, when we established the Next-Step Readiness program, we benefited from his efforts to open up job and training opportunities in the higher-wage trades; in the area of cooperative economic development; and from his work with Emerge, which does counseling and education of abusers to stop domestic violence. For years, he has been the only public official who has relentlessly fought to improve the Boston Public Schools and helped to establish the Work4Quality/Fight4Equity network.
In all of this work, Turner has never been a “man on the make,” a self-serving “cutter of deals.” In-stead, he has opposed all such corrupt politics-as-usual and taken the higher ground of principled politics, while remaining at a modest financial position himself.
It is for this politics of principle and courageous confrontation of systemic injustice that Turner is paying today. He has been facing a torrent of character assassination and presumption of guilt in the wake of a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, in an attempt to destroy Turner, his steadfast integ-rity and his effectiveness in the community. As they destroy Turner, they destroy all of us who struggle for desperately needed change, because our struggles are inextricably interwoven, whether or not we know Turner personally. Despite this assault on his character, they have been able to point to nothing in Turner’s his-tory prior to recent allegations that would provide even the slightest hint of deliberate financial malfea-sance or desire for selfish gain.
Many truly good people are saying, “Let’s step aside and see how the legal process plays out,” but by then his reputation and the solidarity of the progressive community will have been destroyed. At that point we will have no one to blame but ourselves for not standing up for and with Turner, for and with ourselves when it counted. I am reminded of the Nazi-era poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, a concentration camp survi-vor: Speaking of a series of groups of people of which he was not a part, he wrote, “First they came for… and I didn’t speak up… Then they came for… The last line is, “Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
What does a human being have to do in this world to earn and keep the respect and support of his fellow human beings? If Turner can be picked off and destroyed at this critical juncture in history, when we need each other more than ever to move the change process forward, who will be next?
Mary Jo Hetzel