Community, Features

Residents unite to fight proposed East Boston substation site, address community issues

East Boston residents rallied against unfair evictions and a proposed substation site in a march Saturday afternoon. PHOTO COURTESY OF TROY SANKEY

Bostonians were bound together in a circle by the strength of their joined hands on a cool weekend afternoon as they chanted, “When we fight? We win. When the banks come, stand up, fight back. ¿Cuando peleamos? Ganamos … Cuando lleguen los bancos, ponte de pie, contraataca.”

Standing in the circle between her husband and a friend was Frezzia Herrera. She wore a bright yellow shirt that read “WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED — NO NOS MOVERÁN.” The Roxbury native was at the City Life/Vida Urbana rally titled “Boston RISE for Climate, Jobs, Immigrant Rights, and Justice.”

The event was held Saturday at the East Boston Memorial Park and included a rally, teach-in workshops on the issues facing East Boston and a march.

City Life/Vida Urbana is a grassroots community organization that fights for racial, social and economic justice. The organization presented a teach-in at the rally that mimicked its weekly meetings in Jamaica Plain, East Boston and Brockton, where residents facing housing displacement can speak to an organizer and a lawyer.

Herrera said the CLVU helped keep her and her husband, Victor Garcia, in their Roxbury apartment after their landlord raised rent substantially. She said her neighbors in the building have all been replaced by college students.

“You are trying to go to sleep, and you get very stressed because you never know if one day they are going to throw you out,” Herrera said in an interview. “You keep receiving notices [saying], ‘You have until this month,’ … so you have to live day-by-day.”

The couple now volunteers with THE CLVU and helps immigrants who don’t speak English understand eviction or rent increase notices.

Other community partners that contributed to the event included Mothers Out Front, 350 Mass for a Better Future and Movimiento Cosecha Boston. The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition presented another teach-in workshop where Joel Rivera, MIRA’s field organizer, informed listeners about the two Safe Communities Acts S.1305 and H.3269.

The Safe Communities Act is sponsored by State Sen. James Eldridge and State Rep. Juana Matias. The bill prohibits questioning individuals’ immigration status by law enforcement until required by law or in a criminal investigation.

Rivera said he is originally from a town outside of Houston, Texas, that had a large population of Mexican immigrants. Since encountering the different people living on the East Coast, Rivera discovered vast diversity there as well.

“[The] diversity of immigrants in Massachusetts is astounding,” he said in an interview. “There are Latinos who speak Spanish, Brazilians who speak Portuguese, Caribbean people that speak Portuguese-based Creole, East Asians who are refugees and immigrants. It’s really hard to organize a movement with a group of immigrants whose experiences and languages are so diverse.”

Saturday’s workshop had several teach-ins about climate change, held by community organizations such as Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. Many of the community organizations at the rally spoke out against the proposal of a substation site in East Boston built by Eversource, a New England energy provider.

Electrical substations serve as the interface that lower the voltage in transmission lines to levels appropriate for the distribution grids. Environmental and community impacts can include extensive land clearing and the construction of a permanent access road to the substation.

Larger substations may require retention ponds and other alterations to the landscape, according to a report conducted by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Rivera emphasized the importance of addressing issues that affect climate change to aid current and future immigrants.

“Environmental factors like climate change are exasperated by capitalism and exploitation of poor countries, especially in the Global South,” he said. “These are part of the push factors that push people to leave and come to the United States … They are being displaced — there is nowhere else for them to go.”

At the end of the workshop section of the rally, those working with community partners and attendees marched together from East Boston Memorial Park to the proposed Eversource substation site.

Mary Regan, a Dorchester resident, attended the event and said she believed in the causes that were discussed.

“Alone we feel powerless, like we’re a twig that can be broken easily,” Regan said. “But when we organize, we are like a bunch of sticks bundled together that you can’t break. We become strong.”

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