Hunger Fast Showdown at MTA--Recap
by Eric Romann on Friday, May 28, 2010
After months of campaigning and an intensive week of fasting and organizing at the Rosa Parks Tent City, the BRU's campaign to defeat MTA's racist fare increase reached a fever pitch yesterday, Thursday, May 27, when 150 BRU members and allies shut down the MTA Board.
Shutting down MTA board meeting--backstory
Since February, MTA had denied our basic right to public participation and input by refusing two very reasonable demands: that the Board hold a legitimate public hearing and a Board vote on the proposed increase. They took the unusual step of approving their next budget at a special Board meeting last week, attempting in the process to sideswipe our mass mobilization for yesterday's meeting. This budget includes not only the 20% across the board fare increase, but also 388,000 hours in bus service cuts, both with devastating impacts on Black and Latino, Asian, and white working class bus riders.
In spite and because of this pattern of subterfuge and disrespect, we went yesterday to determined to be heard. Yet we once again confronted a Board of public officials equally determined to do what was necessary to keep us silent. We were left with no choice but to stop business as usual. We brought the MTA Board meeting to a halt for the better part of 4 hours. In the process, two of our organizers, Sunyoung Yang and Gabriel Strachota, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
Here's a recap of the final day showdown:
At 8AM, a large crowd of members and allies gathered at the Rosa Parks Tent City at Placita Olvera. Led by the BRU Fasters for Justice, accompanied by the BRU's Drum and Chant crew and Korean drummers from KIWA, we marched clear through Union Station to the MTA Headquarters where we rallied before going into the Board Room.
MTA Board Chair Ara Najarian attempted to begin the meeting's public comment with only 4 out of 13 members of the Board present, but the BRU wouldn't have it. Esperanza Martinez got the crowd going when she declared "Judiciousness with this Board over the last several months has gotten us nowhere." After repeated chants for a "Public Heaing Now", those 4 Board members scurried into their "behind closed doors" backroom chamber for "closed session" - and the BRU seized control of the room to open up our own Public Hearing, with members of the audience speaking about the impacts of the fare increase.
When MTA Board member and District 2 County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas emerged from the back room to declare he was our strategic ally, BRU Co-Chair Barbara Lott-Holland put the demand directly to him: "Will you make a motion for a public hearing? Will you oppose this fare increase?" No response. Distict 2 residents, including Faster for Justice Channing Martinez, Manual Arts High School Senior Jazmine _____, and Hee Pok "Grandma" Kim made direct and emotional appeals to Ridley-Thomas to stand up for his community by opposing the fare increase. Again, no response.
BRU Lead Organizers Esperanza Martinez and Manuel Criollo negotiated an agreement directly with Board Chair Najarian and MTA CEO Art Leahy for the Board to return and take public comment right away in front of the full Board. Our members, including the five Fasters for Justice, came with prepared testimony and we wanted our voices heard-not later, but now. But Najarian and Leahy double-crossed us, immediately breaking the agreement by moving to discuss the 710 freeway tunnel construction project and again bypassing the public comment period that typically opens MTA Board meetings.
Attempts to pit the BRU against San Gabriel Valley community members who had come to speak out against the 710 expasion - a $14 billion project with potentially devastating environmental consequences - failed when several "No on 710" speakers gave a shout-out to the Stop the Fare Increase campaign and we reached out to them with an improvised new chant "1000 more buses, one less tunnel."
We were not going to let the Board push our concerns to the end of the meeting - when most Board members wouldn't stick around to hear us. Esperanza interrupted discussion of the 710 Freeway, declaring "this meeting is out of order and is officially adjourned." Seven young BRU members and organizers locked arms to in front of the Board Room to stop the meeting from continuing, risking arrest, as the crowd chanted in support.
Board Chair Ara Najarian then returned, asking that the meeting be allowed to proceed so that the matters of greatest concern to him could move forward-as if our right to speak was unimportant. Manuel reiterated our simple and reasonable demands: we want public right now -- not the end of the meeting - and we want a motion introduced by one of the Board members for a public hearing and a Board vote on the fare increase. Najarian flatly refused.
The Board then took the unprecendented step of attempting to hold the Board meeting from behind closed doors and piping in the audio to the Board room itself, but that failed when BRU chants drowned them out.
The Sheriffs eventually were called in by Najarian to clear the room, and Sunyoung and Gabe were arrested for refusing to "disperse." They were released about an hour later.
A great conclusion but an uphill battle ahead
In the end, the BRU demonstrated tremendous power on this day - a great conclusion to an inspiring week of action and sacrifice that drew a lot of attenion in the media, mobilized hundreds of people, and put the MTA on their heals. Yet MTA's recalcitrance in the face of our intense pressure-their refusal to respect our basic democratic rights-was both infuriating and shameful. We have an uphill battle ahead of us, and we must capitalize on the momentum we created these last 8 days to raise the level of struggle even higher in the weeks to come. Stay tuned for next steps in the campaign to defeat MTA's racist fare increase.
We also want to thank our brothers and sisters from allied organizations who came out to help us pack the Board room yesterday. A partial list includes KIWA, Communities for a Better Environment, SEIU 1877/Justice for Janitors, Los Angeles Community Action Network, Comunidades Presente, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, South Asian Network, IDEPSCA, the Santa Monica College Student Rider Movement, and students from Manual Arts and Westchester High Schools.