Sunday, November 20, 2011

Covert Despots

Unacknowledged in the Occupy Boston/Greenway battle is yet another manifestation of autonomous agencies. The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway is just one of many organizations given terrific power in a narrow scope by government, one whose folk consider themselves legislators and constabulary.

In this particular, peculiar case, the chair of the organization cites their manufactured rules as de facto laws. It wants the city to enforce these by whatever force necessary, while claiming to want a gentle resolution.

Who died and made them king? Well, we all did and it's the American way. From nuclear regulation to professional baseball to physicians' associations among who knows how many examples, we cede authority and often pay many hidden costs.

Lackaday, good-hearted and pretty smart City Councilor Matt O'Malley got caught in this web spun by Greenway Chair Georgia Murray. In her open letter to Mayor Tom Menino, she asked to throw the bums out. She cited their rules, as though these were laws. She points to rules allowing only "passive enjoyment" of Dewey Square Park, prohibition on "overnight sleeping," and a permit for  "Any use of the park that requires set ups (sic) and anticipates crowds." Her letter reads in part, "We believe that the current use by Occupy Boston is not compatible with our obligation to ensure that everyone may enjoy the Greenway..."

As a pseudo-lawmaker, she tries to bolster her case with odd, vague justifications, including:
  • The Conservancy abandoned plans to have a food festival on October 15 on Dewey Square Park (a permitted event) from public safety concerns.  We anticipated large crowds of attendees and there was inadequate space due to Occupy Boston.  Fifteen small businesses lost income they were counting on.  
  • On our Farmer’s Market days, the farmers are experiencing a real reduction in income due to the noise, odors, and interference by the members of Occupy Boston and other protest groups. 
  • Our neighbors are buffeted by noise and wary of aggressive confrontation when they are passing through the Dewey Square Park. 
  • There are disturbing incidents of drug dealing. 
  • Sanitary conditions are deteriorating significantly over time.  Although we do not currently have a rat infestation problem, it is only a matter of time given the current conditions. 
Or from other angles:
  • Greenway folk did not adapt to the well-known Occupy encampment, by moving its festival to one of the several huge, open plazas short distances down the park.
  • Unquantified hearsay about the markets is dubious, particularly the "noise, odors and interference" claim that reads like Thurston Howell III remarks. 
  • Likewise, there's more hearsay about inconvenience to unspecified "neighbors."
  • Assertions of drug dealing in a park well known from nighttime drug dealing long before Occupy.
  • Unsubstantiated claims of deteriorating sanitary conditions, replete with a future fantasy about maybe rats, in a camp with continuous programs for cleaning, rubbish removal and more.
This junior-high level rhetoric did suck in O'Malley. The Herald tried to stir up some trouble in its ongoing anti-hippie mode. It got him to say what he surely thought might be fairly neutral lingo, "The Conservancy makes a strong case. Small businesses are hurting from this. It may be time to move them off the Greenway." They did pick up on his addendum that any eviction "should be done 'peaceably.'"

Matt's a great guy and a lot more free-speech oriented than the typical Herald winger. I bet he figured he was threading this political needle instead of getting a bunch of snotty comments, including from me, on his Facebook page.

The imperiousness of the Greenway people is predictable. First, they are volunteer do-gooders. As is typical of that group, they act like others should do what they want because they are so splendid in character and deed.

Beyond the typical volunteer syndrome, they also show the inherent problem of the quasi-autonomous groups. These have nominal power in restricted areas. In that process, they too often act as though their privately promulgated rules have the standing and power of laws produced through representative legislation.

Let's be plain.The Greenway Conservancy folk are not lawmakers and neither cops nor prosecutors.Their rules are guidelines, which they at least obliquely acknowledge by asking the mayor to ask the cops to do something. The letter does read as though their rules are laws, at the very least publicly discussed and approved regulations that might emerge from City Council.

We've experienced this from many agencies. Some are scary and dangerous, like the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Nuclear Regulatory Agency). Some should be benign, like the American Medical Association, which grew into regulatory powers over physicians, but all too often does not discipline or remove those needing it.

In the current, very local case, the Greenway Conservancy folk apparently stifled their Brahmin impulse until they popped. They saw the courts refuse to clear Occupy's camp and the mayor deciding to hang back. At least Menino has the political savvy to understand the peril of smothering protest in the town that fomented the American Revolution.

In contrast, the Conservancy board has decided whom they will classify as public and what activities they will allow. Now they are stomping their feet.



Anonymous said...

I worked for the Greenway for a short time as a part-time employee. The entire organization is a mess and they care more about the lawn looking nice than actually having people enjoy and use this supposedly public park the way any other public park would be used.

Also, from working with the conservancy I know that drug dealing in Dewey Square has been a persistent problem, and not just at night. I brought it up multiple times to my supervisor and he rarely suggested any action taken, said there wasn't much they could do.

Perhaps the market revenues are down as a result of dropping temps. That market was slow on a good day.

After all of the bad publicity this non-profit gets, a lot of which I really don't understand (is the Greenway really worse than an elevated highway??), you'd think they would take the chance to actually allow their space to be used for something rather than waste time trying to get the protesters off their lawn.

Shirley Kressel said...

An excellent posting and comment! You are entirely correct. In fact, it is the Greenway Conservancy that has "occupied" our public space. The Conservancy is not an environmental or park-advocacy group but simply a corporate lobby for downtown real estate developers and other business interests. It did not create the park, nor does it own or control it. It has also wangled millions of public dollars while pretending to be a struggling "non-profit" (paying its Executive Director a quarter million dollars a year) steward of the park. I've been trying to oust the Conservancy ever since it formed, knowing that it is absorbing millions of taxpayer dollars while it privatizes this state land for the benefit of its corporate members.

The Occupy movement, exercising its Constitutional rights of free speech and free assembly, is a rightful user of this space. Occupy, unlike the Conservancy, welcomes all, and keeps no one out. In fact, this manicured but largely deserted prairie, dependent on laborious event staging to attract people, is finally getting some use.

This is truly an example of the unfair society Occupy is exposing: the 1% takes the assets of the rest of us – and then takes our right to protest.