Wednesday, July 24, 2024

When Massachusetts’s statewide transgender nondiscrimination protections were placed on the ballot in 2018 by anti-transgender reactionaries, an unprecedented trans-led grassroots effort coalesced. The result: Massachusetts became the first state in the country to uphold transgender nondiscrimination protections at the ballot. Here in Cambridge, the Democracy Center at 45 Mount Auburn St., Harvard Square, served as Get Out The Vote headquarters for the Yes on 3 campaign for trans-nondiscrimination protections. As leaders of the 2018 Yes on 3 campaign’s Cambridge teams, we were dismayed to learn that the Foundation for Civic Leadership is planning to suddenly and unilaterally close the Democracy Center for renovations, with less than three months’ notice to resident organizations and community members. Troublingly, FCL made this decision without consulting or including any of the organizations whose work will be devastated by the closing. We made history at the Democracy Center, and we fear that if FCL goes forward with the plan to suddenly evict the tenants, future historic endeavors for democracy and justice will be prevented from taking root.

Four hundred sixty-two volunteers came through the Democracy Center during the four days of Get Out The Vote and had thousands of conversations with voters on the phone and in person about the reality of trans lives and the importance of nondiscrimination protections. For a campaign with a limited budget for canvass sites, the Democracy Center was essential.

It was then, and is now, too essential to be erased. Many of our campaign’s available canvass sites were at supportive synagogues and churches. We were grateful for their support, but also know that for too many queer and trans people, having to set foot in a religious space is a barrier to entry. The Democracy Center was the place where hundreds of trans folks and allies got on the phone to talk with strangers about their very humanity being on the ballot – in relative safety, surrounded by love.

We know what a loss it would be to grassroots organizing for the Democracy Center as it existed to keep its doors closed. For that reason, numerous members of the 2018 Yes on 3 field team have been involved in the campaign to pause the closing and establish a democratic decision-making process involving the resident organizations and community members who rely on the space for vital advocacy. FCL has claimed that after renovations, the building will reopen as an even better site for advocacy to strengthen democracy. But democracy is rarely strengthened by unilateral decision-making made by multimillionaire-led foundations over the unanimous recommendation of civic leaders.

We see a country increasingly ridden with fascist anti-trans legislation, including here in Massachusetts, and we look toward a tense election in the fall. We saw democracy at work at the Democracy Center during Get Out The Vote 2018 and fear a 2024 election and its aftermath without an open Democracy Center. How can we fight to make our commonwealth, our country, our world safer and more welcoming for trans people, when the very places we come together to do that are kicking us out? Why shut down this hub of democracy at the very moment when democracy is perhaps most under threat?

Following FCL’s sudden announcement, affected community members and organizations formed a Democracy Center Advisory Council to advocate for this community’s survival. After six weeks of willing offers to meet with FCL, the foundation emerged from delay and silence to agree to a meeting with the Advisory Council on Thursday, just one business day before closing. In that negotiation, FCL refused to enter a democratic process with community leaders and declined to take any steps to repair the harm this wholly undemocratic process has done to grassroots organizations. These renovations, which should support our communities’ many varied efforts to strengthen democracy, are instead being used as a bludgeon to silence organizers. Our message to FCL: Reconsider this harmful decision, pause the closing and engage with the community-formed Democracy Center Advisory Council as equal partners to chart a better way forward. Anything else is not democracy.

Leaders of the 2018 Yes on 3 Field Team, including: Aspen Eberhardt, Cambridge volunteer coordinator; Kevin Hosford, Cambridge logistics coordinator; Jessie Roffe, Cambridge site coordinator; Jonah Ko, Cambridge volunteer trainer; Isaac Petersen, Cambridge volunteer trainer; Martin Hamilton, Greater Boston field organizer; Margaret Hughes, Greater Boston regional field director; Ngakay Wong, Greater Boston field organizer; Lizzie Rutberg, remote teams organizer; Kerry Monahan, confirmation call program co-leader,; Joshua M. Daniels, confirmation call program co-leader