Essential Workers for Black Lives

Evan H. reports from the Essential Workers for Black Lives protest on July 20th.

On Monday, July 20th, at 9 AM, essential workers gathered in front of the Massachusetts State House to protest. The nation-wide action, officially titled “Essential Workers for Black Lives,” was hosted by SEIU (Service Employees International Union). The Facebook event described the action as “a day of reckoning,” where “across the country, workers will rise up to take action for Black lives,” asking supporters to join as “workers share demands and kick-off dozens of actions across the state in support of dismantling racism and white supremacy to bring about fundamental changes in our society, economy and workplaces.” Though it would seem difficult for many essential workers to attend a protest at 9 AM on a Monday, there looked to be about 80-100 people in attendance.

I arrived right as the event started and, while it was crowded around the gate to the State House, Beacon Street in front was still open for traffic, so supporters were a little cramped into the space on the sidewalk. Social distancing was encouraged and practiced for the most part, though 6 feet was difficult to maintain. But this didn’t seem a problem to anyone because every individual was masked and event organizers were walking around offering hand sanitizer (as well as water bottles). 

Beyond the hosting groups (SEIU Locals 1199, 32BJ, 509, and 888), many other organizations were present in solidarity at the action, including Cosecha Massachusetts, members of TPS Alliance, and Teamsters Local 25, to name a few. Cosecha has been camping outside the State House in tents for several days, as they’ve been trying to concretely link the struggle for driver’s licenses for all immigrants with the other police reform issues that are being publicly fought over. In effect, SEIU’s hosted event was in some way attending Cosecha’s encampment as much as it was holding a protest of its own. There were several speakers representing the different groups, and even local politicians. Each of them took their turn speaking through a megaphone, though it was a little difficult to hear their words because the megaphone was rather quiet and the masks the speakers were wearing muffled their voices. But that did not put a damper on the prevalent messages of the action. 

Some of the demands overheard at the action were: No more lives lost to police brutality, ending qualified immunity, ending gentrification, PPE for all workers, unions for all, and driver’s licenses for immigrants. All of these demands went hand-in-hand with the overall message of solidarity: essential workers for Black lives. One speaker made the point that “Roxbury policing is NOT the same as Wellesley policing,” speaking on the blatant inequality of heavily policing Black and Brown urban communities in contrast to predominantly white suburban towns. One speaker asked us all to take a moment of silence on one knee, in honor of all the Black lives lost at the hands of police.

Some of the sights at the action were just as powerful, if not, more than the words being spoken. There was a tent set up by Cosecha with signs reading, “PASS THE WORK AND FAMILY MOBILITY ACT NOW,” “This is a racial justice issue, this is a public health issue,” and “MANEJANDO SIN MIEDO.” Beside this tent was a metal fenced cage, and inside, laying on the ground, was a person wrapped in a mylar blanket. On the other side of the protest space, there was another cage with a person inside. On the cage, signs read, “FAMILIES BELONG TOGETHER, NOT IN CAGES.” There were also tents with signs that read, “All cages are connected,” and “Driver’s licenses are a necessity. If not in a pandemic, then when? ACT NOW!” Many supporters were holding signs that read, “STRIKE FOR JUSTICE,” and “UNIONS FOR ALL.”

Every 5 minutes, the enormous Teamsters Local 25 truck would drive by and lay on the horn in solidarity and support with the action. Several other cars drove by and honked in solidarity. It seemed almost like a parade of workers constantly driving by, raising their fists and honking their horns. 

At about 10:20am, the event came to a close. All-in-all, the action was short, yet powerful both in sight and sound; very uplifting and emotional at times, with an overall sense of unity, as workers of all colors and backgrounds felt connected and stronger together.