Boston’s Truth and Poverty “Spill the Tea” Tour, 2019

Poor People's Campaign at Orchard Gardens K-8 School, April 28, 2019
Poor People's Campaign at Orchard Gardens K-8 School, April 28, 2019

It was an ordinary spring afternoon in mid-April, the day after the Boston Marathon. The city was recovering from its annual spectacle, and my preschool-aged son and I were on the Red Line train on our way home. He laughed as he played with my keys, and I smiled.

And then I saw “Sarah.” Young, with dark hair, carrying an infant on her chest in a Babybjörn. A cardboard sign was strapped to the baby that said, “Homeless with two kids. Please help. We need food.” She stopped before each person on the train, pausing for a second. Most ignored her request or shook their heads ‘no.’ A white-haired man gave her a dollar.

When Sarah and her tiny daughter came to face us, I shook my head and apologized. “That’s ok,” she said, and moved on to the next person. I looked down at my son, then back to her infant, and felt the sorrow swell up inside my heart.

Two weeks later, on a damp Sunday morning, I rode my bike across Roxbury and stopped next to a school bus parked behind Northeastern University. The bus was filling up with a group of people, young and old, faith leaders, labor organizers, activists, students, the working poor and homeless, singing civil rights songs. The Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival was taking the movement to the streets for the Greater Boston “Spill The Tea” tour, as part of a national mobilizing effort.

For the next five hours we rode the school bus around Boston, parked, and heard stories from community members. At Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester we learned of gun violence and high school students being murdered. At Dudley Station we heard of joblessness and gentrification, as we watched giant condominiums being erected. Rallying outside Faneuil Hall, the city’s historic Georgian brick meetinghouse named after a slave trader, we learned of efforts to rename the hall and broaden democracy in the city.

At “Methadone Mile,” a homeless encampment located next to a large jail complex, we learned of the epidemic of intravenous drug use and a lack of availability of quality opioid treatment. And from the window of our school bus, we saw a young woman being revived from an overdose.

At Orchard Gardens K-8 School, we parked the school bus and filed out into a cold rain. Next to the front door of the school, a 10-year-old student, Jada Ricard, and her 9-year-old classmate, addressed us. The girls spoke courageously about how they were no longer permitted to go outside on the playground for recess, because of danger due to needles and syringes which were frequently found on the ground. Jada and her friend had addressed Boston City Council members and their representative in Congress, begging for help for Orchard Gardens K-8 School.

We finished our tour back at Copley Square, where the Boston Marathon finish line is located, and where large numbers of homeless people congregate at the Boston Public Library. Sitting on the school bus, we heard from MIT Professor Jonathan King from Massachusetts Peace Action, on the $750 billion dollar Pentagon buildup. I hadn’t realized that half of our federal taxes paid to the IRS are spent on the military, foreign wars and nuclear weapons.

And finally, our tour of Boston was over, and we got off the school bus.

The drizzle was beginning to clear. I stood, thinking about my journey on the Red Line two weeks before, meeting “Sarah” and her infant daughter. And the children at Orchard Gardens K-8 School with needles on their playground.

America has the money to end poverty, provide everyone a high quality public education, and fund a Green New Deal. We simply have to remember the lessons from December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf, when American colonists, frustrated about “taxation without representation,” dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor.

We can do this, for our children.