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September 6, 2016


Are you a student? New to Boston? Want to fight for social justice, but not sure where to plug in? Well, this will hardly be a comprehensive list, but here are some local activist organizations and campaigns that are worthy of your consideration. I’m only including groups that I’ve written about (and that I agree with in broad strokes) for the sake of brevity. But, rest assured, there are activist organizations for people of every political disposition hereabouts.

A few tips are in order for people new to grassroots political activism. Seek organizations that are open and welcoming, have a democratic internal process, play well with other groups, and treat students as equals regardless of age or experience. Avoid organizations that look at students as free labor, seem focused on hitting people up for money, don’t work with other groups, and have a very undemocratic internal process run by a small ruling clique. Also avoid outright cults masquerading as political activist groups. They exist. You’ll know you’ve run into one when you meet people whose entire lives seem to be directly controlled by their organization and who will not stop trying to recruit you even after you say “no.” In general, listen to your gut instinct when checking out an activist organization, and you’ll be fine.

Here’s the list.

Black Lives Matter

One of the most important and vibrant American political movements today. Leading the biggest fight against entrenched structural racism in decades. In the wake of an ongoing series of police shootings of Black people around the country. Different local nodes of the activist network have varying membership requirements. But if you can’t be a core member, BLM periodically calls for allies to join them in the streets. That will be your cue to step up. Just remember to check your privilege. Chapters in Boston and Cambridge.

350 Mass for a Better Future

If you’re down to stop global warming, this group has got you covered. It’s organized on the state, national, and international levels and doesn’t shy away from civil disobedience or legislative action. Its current big campaign is the Clean Money for Climate Pledge, asking “candidates running for state, federal and municipal office in Massachusetts [to] commit not to accept campaign contributions from executives, in-house lobbyists and others employed by the top ten climate-disrupting corporations.” Including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell.

Save Our Public Schools

Do you believe education is a right—not a privilege—in a democracy? Do you think that charter schools are a total scam designed to siphon public money into a variety of private pockets, and destroy public schools in the process? Well there’s an active fight against Question 2, an upcoming state ballot measure backed by very well-funded supporters determined to expand the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth. It’s called Save Our Public Schools (a.k.a. the “No on 2” campaign) and it’s spearheaded, as ever, by teachers unions—in this case, the Mass Teachers Association.

Make GE Pay

Since the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced their plans to dump at least $270 million on General Electric—one of the largest and nastiest multinational corporations in the world—in exchange for moving its world headquarters to the Hub, there’s been been a good deal of discontent brewing in communities around the state. Largely in opposition to local and state government handing huge wads of public cash to a tremendously wealthy company with plenty of skeletons in local closets—in a period of savage budget cuts to critical social programs. The Make GE Pay coalition formed last spring to try to stop the deal, and is looking to get in gear this fall after some early public actions.

encuentro 5

Can’t decide which campaign excites you the most? Why choose? This movement building space right off the Park Street T stop has a mission to get social justice activists “better networked, better resourced, and better organized.” Home to several important nonprofits, and a regular meeting place for dozens of activist groups, if you can’t find a campaign that interests you here then you may wish to reconsider your aspiration to be politically active.

That’s enough to get you started. Have fun. Fight the power. And be careful out there.

Full Disclosure: 350 Mass is a member of my organization’s Community Advisory Board, and encuentro 5 was launched by colleagues at my former nonprofit, Mass Global Action.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

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January 5, 2016


The #BlackLivesMatter movement is hitting the streets again in a renewed wave of protests for racial justice around Boston and America. Not that it has ever really stopped since Trayvon Martin was gunned down in 2012—as fresh injustices against Black people continue week after week, day after day. The latest being the unconscionable acquittal of the white cop who murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice in cold blood for playing with a pellet gun in an “open carry” state.

#BLM is an impressive and necessary political phenomenon, led here as elsewhere by young Black activists. Which is as it should be. And there are significant numbers of allies from other communities—including white activists who have learned enough about the profoundly racist history of this country to be inspired to take action as well.

But there aren’t enough white allies. Not by a long shot. Especially in a tremendously segregated region like the Greater Boston area.

So the fact that hundreds of young white college students in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have marched under the #BLM banner is commendable. Yet not enough of a groundswell to spark a real change in attitude in largely white neighborhoods in the city proper or in the many largely white suburbs.

And that is by design. The segregation of Black people from white people was the result of a series of racist housing policies starting after the Civil War that culminated in Black people being packed into redlined neighborhoods in cities like Boston—and stopped from moving into most suburbs post-WWII until the Civil Rights Movement forced some improvements. The story was much the same for Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans. These policies continue in various forms to this day. Laws or no laws.

People in the predominantly white neighborhoods, cities, and towns are currently free to ignore #BlackLivesMatter. As long as that is the case, there can be no real justice for Black people in America. Because white people who are able to live apart from Black people will likely never confront the monstrous truths that #BLM—the new Civil Rights Movement—is exposing. Including the fact that their relative privilege is built on legal, political, economic, social and cultural systems designed to subjugate Black people. And in not confronting it, they perpetuate those racist systems. Silence, in this case, is truly complicity.

This situation will only change if the #BlackLivesMatter movement comes to them. Directly. In person. Every damned day from now until justice is won. And that cannot happen unless white allies step up in every white enclave. Beacon Hill. Back Bay. Hingham. Needham. Sudbury. Wakefield. Stoneham. Reading. Danvers. Marblehead. Any local can come up with a much longer list in their sleep.

Walk around these white areas and look for a #BlackLivesMatter or a #JusticeforTamir sign. You will see few—and those mainly outside some progressive houses of worship. And a disturbing number of the signs that you’ll see have been vandalized or otherwise messed with over the last year.

So here’s what has to happen to start to make things right. White people living in predominantly white communities have to start getting a lot more #BlackLivesMatter signs up. Then, when you all hear about major #BLM actions, spread the word to your friends and family. Go to the actions. Watch. Listen. Learn. Go back to your community. Find other local allies and call solidarity protests and vigils in public places. Organize community forums on the core #BLM issues. Always invite #BLM organizers to speak. Be respectful. Build political alliances. Figure out where to go from there.

This is how Americans can change a racist power structure that produces white cops who can cut down a Black child in a hail of bullets without so much as a warning. By tearing it up at the roots, one neighborhood at a time.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.