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Protesters call for decreased military spending, halt to federal budget cuts

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  July 10, 2013 02:07 PM

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Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Longtime activist Mel King addressed protesters on the State House steps Wednesday.

About 80 protesters, some who said they had lost jobs as a result of federal budget cuts, gathered at the State House Wednesday to ask the Legislature to send a message to Washington that such cuts were unacceptable.

Later Wednesday morning, legislators considered a resolution asking Congress to prevent cuts to healthcare, housing, and social service programs; invest in public services; close corporate tax loopholes; raise income taxes on top earners; and reduce military spending by pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

The resolution is derived from a non-binding referendum that appeared on the ballot in 91 cities and towns across the Commonwealth last year and that won a majority of votes in each of those communities.

Longtime activist Mel King, 84, told the crowd he saw his country divided into “two Americas.” He associated one America with Manifest Destiny, slavery, and the use of weapons and technology to control the land and its resources.

The other America, King said, is that of the Abolitionists who opposed slavery, the Suffragists who won women the right to vote, the Civil Rights activists who fought for equality for African Americans, and the labor organizers who demanded fair treatment of workers.

King also spoke of the unity he saw in the days following the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

“The response to the need was absolutely marvelous,” King said. “No one was asked what their health insurance card was. People just responded and served because people were in need. So we have demonstrated that we can be one America.”

Protesters at the rally ranged from students to the elderly. Many carried signs with such slogans as, “Tax the cheats, save our homes,” and “Hands off Social Security.”

Other speakers included state Senator Karen E. Spilka, state Senator William N. Brownsberger, and state Representative Denise Provost, all supporters of the resolution.

Among the crowd was Cambridge resident Lee Farris, an organizer with the rally’s organizer, the Budget for All Coalition. In an interview, Farris said the coalition is composed of labor, religious, peace, and community groups and that, as far as she knows, it is the only statewide group working to effect change on the federal budget.

Farris, 58, said she had been laid off from her job at United for a Fair Economy after 10 years with the organization, when donations declined and the organization’s budget shrank following the recession of 2008.

Ferris said cuts caused by the sequester are hurting the Massachusetts economy and the state’s job market.

“That in turn means there is a less-good job environment for me to go and look for work in,” she said. “I’m a walking statistic.”

South End resident Eleanor McCarthy, 71, said she belongs to the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD tenants. She knows at least two people laid off because of budget cuts caused by the sequester, she said in an interview, and she has seen the local Social Security office reduce its hours.

She’s concerned, too, that reduced Medicare payments to doctors could reduce the quality of healthcare she has access to. “It affects just about everybody,” McCarthy said.

Michael Kane is director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants and one of the coalition’s coordinators. He said in an interview that the Boston Housing Authority’s budget for housing vouchers has been cut by $10 million because of the sequester, which could affect up to 13,000 people in the city of Boston alone.

“A lot of people who have Section 8 vouchers have just been told the payments to landlords have been cut by 10 percent,” he said.

The alternative to the across-the-board cuts, Kane said, would be for the authority to cut 1,300 tenants off its rolls completely. “That could [lead to] a mass exodus from the city,” he said.

Kane said Congressional Republicans continue to insist upon budget cuts even though the country’s long-term debt problem has been stabilized.

“The country doesn’t have a debt problem, it has a jobs and inequality problem,” he said. “We need to send a message to Washington in any way we can. … We’re here to tell the Legislature that they need to join the voices of the million voters that passed the Budget for All referendum.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

State House budget protest.jpg

Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Protesters applauded Mel King’s speech at the rally outside the State House.

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