Victory is in the air, and the smell is sweet. 14,000 New England janitors have succeeded in preparing for battle without having to go to war. September 17th, it was a Thursday, I found myself at Copley Square witnessing what could only be preparation for inevitable civil disobedience—a demonstration of how to peacefully disobey, and ultimately get the point across.
The SEIU Local 615 coordinated the demonstration; a property service union representing 18,000 workers of Mass, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Once at Copley I noticed something of a chaos engulfing union workers, students, janitors and passer-byers trying to get a peak at the action—all walking around the grass decorated with SEIU posters demanding action and fairness. Once started, the chaos quickly, and somewhat alchemically, turned into all eyes and ears in attention. “What can we do and how can we help” was on everyone’s face, the solidarity and unison, sitting in the grass listening to the speaker, was enough to inspire generations. The SEIU representative goes on to explain that our precious Janitors of Massachusetts are preparing for a contract renewal, and if there is no compromise—then we are to take action.
The practice demonstration is a model for peaceful protest that is broken down into four groups—the Arrestees, Supporters, Peacekeepers and finally, the police. After all the participants are assigned, by volunteering, they are split up into these four separate groups.
I run over to the Arrestees—these are the participants that are ready and willing to put their civil liberties on the line; the martyrs, the ones who will be the first to be handcuffed and thrown into the back of squad cars, if the opportunity is to arise. The ones you see sitting in the street locking arms—the soldiers and the soul. Then to the Supporters—the kids singing songs in the back, out of dangers but not out of mind. These are the people offering moral support, chanting, offering a change of energy to an otherwise hostile environment. The Peacekeepers, acting as something of a wall between those who are involved and those who are not, it is with them that we see a perimeter established; locking arms, just as the Arrestees, but to keep the everyday passer-by from becoming involved and innocent people from being arrested. And as much as I hate to say it, it was the group assuming the role of the Police that seemed to be having the most fun, pretending to arrest and practicing what they would say to protesters—“All right, keep moving” “Do you want to get arrested?”
After scrambling around, trying to immerse myself in all the different roles—it was time; I would like to add that this is one of the only times in the world when someone over a mic can yell “Is everyone ready to get arrested?” and everyone “whoos!”
“3, 2, 1… Action!”
The Arrestees are already sitting, linked in arms, brother and sister. Representing nothing more or less than that of the sovereign right of complementary wage.
The Supporters singing, chanting—“Justice for Janitors, Justice for Janitors!”
The Peacekeepers keep a barrier; excluding outsiders from involuntarily becoming involved. Then ENTER: the Police “Move, I gave you an order!” Few are arrested, Supporters still singing, chanting. The remaining Areestees are taken away, breaking their chain. It is only one at a time they are taken away, and not without struggle.
Fortunately for the police, and quite frankly, the city of Boston itself, a compromise was made on the following Monday of October 1st. This new contract promised a full-time work increase of 200% since the last contract signed in 2002. It also promised appropriate wages and workloads, healthcare, job security and also a personal day.
What can be taken from this? First of all that Massachusetts cares about its workers, and secondly—where there is injustice, there is a voice that will stand up for those who are unrepresented, silent, or discouraged.