Thursday, June 13, 2024

Talia Blatt, 19, introduces U.S. Sen. Ed Markey at a Sunday rally at Cambridge City Hall. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A late campaign swing before Tuesday’s primary vote brought Ed Markey to the lawn of Cambridge’s City Hall on Sunday, where a rally bore evidence of how the U.S. senator’s persistence in progressive politics has paid off: The dozens who came to hear him speak – and stand in line for a picture afterward – were crowded with people in their teens and 20s.

And while there was a parade of local and state politicians leading off the speeches, the person who introduced Markey was Harvard’s Talia Blatt, 19. She said she’d come to realize only recently how he had been supporting her interests as a citizen for her entire life, often in lonely, low-publicity fights such for federal money that would remediate the toxic chemicals riddling the school she attended as fourth-grader.

“His humility has kept him out of the spotlight. But he has been quietly shaping the best contours of our daily life literally for decades, and young people are not going to let him stay on the spotlight anymore. We’re ready to give credit where credit’s due,” Blatt said. “He has electrified my generation. He is the original Green New Deal maker, but he has inspired Green New Deal makers in Massachusetts and across the country, from teenagers to middle schoolers to elementary school students.”

Markey on Sunday speaks with Blatt and state and local politicians behind him and a group of young voters on his side. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Markey was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973, serving there until joining the U.S. Senate in a 2013 special election when John Kerry was appointed secretary of state to President Barack Obama. (As a Malden native, Markey began political life representing Malden and Melrose in the state Legislature; but on Sunday he recalled working in Cambridge’s post office – across the street from where he spoke at City Hall – to make money to attend Boston College.)

He has led on a number of issues over the years, including energy and technology, but the issue resonating most consistently now is the environment. Though he has a legislative history on the issue dating back to the 1980s, it was freshened as recently as last year by writing economic and environmental reform legislation with one of the newest members of Congress, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “He’s like the canary in the coal mine. Long before others realized the troubles we were facing in society, he was out there by himself bravely and staunchly advocating for justice – climate justice, economic justice, social justice, human rights,” leadoff speaker state Rep. Majorie Decker said.

Consistency was a theme among the speakers, but they tied Markey’s reelection to key issues of the senator’s that, rather than long being settled, were nearing crucial, do-or-die political moments.

“He’s not campaigning on all he has accomplished in the past, although he certainly could, but on what his vision is for the future. And that is the Green New Deal. That is social justice reform. That is net neutrality, that is municipal broadband, and that is Medicare for all,” city councillor Marc McGovern said.

Markey speaks

Markey speaks Sunday at Cambridge’s City Hall. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Markey began his remarks with a shout-out to Blatt and other young people fighting for him.

“We have hundreds and thousands of Talias in this campaign. Young people have risen up. The Sunrise Movement is risen,” Markey said, referring to a youth coalition working against climate change and in support of the Green New Deal.

His comments linked social justice with economic justice, decrying not just the violence that resulted in Wisconsin police officers shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back Aug. 23, but a pandemic economy that has resulted in joblessness for more than half of black adults nationwide, because they’re more likely to work retail and service sector jobs. “There is an election in a few days. That is a celebration of our democracy, but that democracy is not shared,” Markey said.

“We’re at a point now where we need leadership. We have to move from hate to hope, from peril to progress, with politics that moves us from contempt to compassion, from caution to courage, from convenience to conviction – not the politics of ‘me,’ but the politics of ‘us,’” Markey said. “We need the politics of renewal and not regression, the politics of redemption and not inequality, the politics of truth and not denial, the politics of love and not hate – the politics of hope, and not fear. That is where we are.”

Cambridge was where “this whole American experiment was born,” he said, citing its history of birthing fighters for the civil rights movement, suffragette rights. same-sex marriage and even environmentalism. “This democracy was forged by new leaders who were not afraid of change or revolutionary ideas, a group of visionaries who had the courage to embrace the future and overthrow an old order when that old order became obsolete. But they also knew that revolutionary thinking is an ongoing process.”

Challenged by Kennedy

Markey is challenged by U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who is 39 but whose campaign has struggled to explain even to younger voters why he should take over Markey’s seat. Polls suggest that Markey leads Kennedy by nearly 2-to-1 among voters under the age of 35, and among all voters by leads of as much as 12 percentage points. Meanwhile, a poll showing Kennedy in the lead was exposed Friday as a fake.

On Sunday, Kennedy supporters drove repeatedly past Markey’s rally in a truck equipped with loudspeakers, trying to disrupt the event. Later, perennial failed City Council candidate Gregg Moree, a Kennedy stan who brings up the political dynasty’s name repeatedly when campaigning for himself, wandered into the rally carrying a Kennedy sign.

He was not greeted warmly, though he exchanged words briefly with McGovern – who moments earlier had said from the lectern that there are people in Washington, D.C., “we need to send packing. Ed is not one of those people.”

School Committee member Ayesha Wilson added what sounded like a question about why there was a challenge from Kennedy at all. “Ed is definitely a champion for when it comes to the life of working-class people, for affordable housing, for when it comes to education. I need him back in the Senate,” Wilson said. “We are living in this pandemic and we know that it is a challenge, and we don’t need drama to stir up. We need continuity.”