Nights in the Abandominium: A glimpse into surviving homelessness during Boston winters

From team Carolyn and Christina H.

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After Boston’s largest homeless shelter closed last year, concerned citizens banded together create C.O.P.E. (Communities Offering Practical Encouragement) and distribute goods to help those who can not find shelter survive the intense winters typical for the area.  With the third highest homeless rate in the country (behind only NYC and LA) homeless rights advocates argue it is time to declare a State of Emergency on Homelessness in Massachusetts.  In the mean time those without shelter rely on unofficial channels like C.O.P.E to provide materials like blankets, shoes and coats to help them manage the extreme weather.





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A Community Tackles Diversity

For my four hour challenge, I decided to kill two birds with one stone by covering an event using the tool Audacity — a platform I’ve been wanting to try out for a while. Knowing I would need as much of that time as possible for editing, I stayed close to home for this assignment to speak to my fellow students and colleagues about ongoing efforts to promote an inclusive community at The Fletcher School.



Opposition To Muslim Cemeteries In The U.S. Mainly Relying On Narrative Of Water Contamination


Residents opposing Muslim cemeteries in Texas (left) and Massachusetts (right)

Residents opposing Muslim cemeteries in Texas (left) and Massachusetts (right)

In the rural town of Dudley, Massachusetts, a cemetery has been proposed. People who live close to the land the cemetery is to be built on are opposed to it. The concerns voiced primarily focus on environmental impact of the cemetery due to burial practices and potential contamination of local wells. The agreed upon conditions by the organization attempting to build the cemetery however, seem to placate these concerns. They are quoted as saying “the group will comply with whatever the town wants when it comes to burials, even if it means not strictly following tradition”. Yet there is still opposition to the construction of the cemetery.

While there is “no law in Massachusetts that directly address green burials”, people have still taken issue with a cemetery located within the proximity of the wells they rely on adjacent to the property. A hearing was held in accordance with Massachusetts law, and many residents turned up to protest the cemetery plans, however the final approval lies in the hands of the town and the Board of Health, who’s job it is to make a final and informed decision about how best to protect the residents’ health. Despite comments from the town suggesting that the cemetery will move forward, people are still upset.

If this was the entire story, it seems likely it would come to a quiet end with the Board of Health approval, given the assumption that residents trust their government and Board of Health officials. The aspect of the story that is not represented above however is that the proposed cemetery is being brought forth by the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester. Despite the assurances from the organization that they will comply with town policies and laws surrounding safe burial, and that they are willing to adapt burial practices to satisfy concerns in the town, opposition remains.

It seems the only other substantive concern residents and abutters have is a question of whether there will be noise pollution. One attendee asked whether “he was going to have to listen to “crazy music” like the call to prayer.”

Sadly, what is left seems to be a simmering anxiety based on poorly understood cultural practices and a series of statements it is hard to categorize as anything other than racism and xenophobia. The debate in Dudley echoes almost identically a number of other challenges to Muslim cemeteries in the U.S., for instance in Walpole, MA and in Farmersville, TX, which have mainly cited claims that there is a risk to local water supplies, and many residents’ insistence that the opposition is not at all based in religious prejudices.

In response to the concerns, the president of the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester Khalid Sadozai stated “We are the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We want to bury our loved ones somewhere in Massachusetts area.”

At the time of this writing, neither the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester, nor the Dudley Board of Health, nor the Dudley Water Department, nor the Dudley Zoning Board, nor Dudley Police Chief could be reached for comment.

Will Boston’s T cost more to ride?

By Christa Case Bryant, Mónica Guzmán and Jorge Caraballo.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known by Boston locals as the T, is proposing a fare hike of 5 or 10 percent to update its system and improve service. But many riders and interest groups say low fares are not the problem. Adjusting for inflation, fares have nearly doubled since 1997. Nearly one-third of the MBTA’s employees made more than $100,000 last year, some of whom signed off on their own overtime. Critics say the MBTA should get its fiscal house in order.

On Monday, the MBTA fiscal control board met to consider the proposed fare hikes and hear public comment.

[View the story “Should Boston’s T raise its fares?” on Storify]

The MBTA came under scrutiny when it released data showing that nearly one-third of its employees received more than $100,000 in gross pay in 2015. Below is a chart based on MBTA data published by the Boston Globe.

The red line charts MBTA employees' base pay in 2015. The blue line charts their gross pay. The increases were largely due to overtime and back pay. (Data: Boston Globe)

The red line charts MBTA employees’ base pay in 2015. The blue line charts their gross pay. The increases were largely due to overtime and back pay. (Data: Boston Globe)

“Charlie and the MTA”
Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax-Hawes

Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
“One more nickel.”
Charlie could not get off that train.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

Now all night long
Charlie rides through the tunnels the station
Saying, “What will become of me?
How can I afford to see
My sister in Chelsea
Or my cousin in Roxbury?”

Charlie’s wife goes down
To the Scollay Square station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window
She hands Charlie a sandwich
As the train comes rumblin’ through.

As his train rolled on
underneath Greater Boston
Charlie looked around and sighed:
“Well, I’m sore and disgusted
And I’m absolutely busted;
I guess this is my last long ride.”
{this entire verse was replaced by a banjo solo}

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don’t you think it’s a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O’Brien
Fight the fare increase!
And fight the fare increase
Vote for George O’Brien!
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

Or else he’ll never return,
No he’ll never return
And his fate will be unlearned
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man (Who’s the man)
He’s the man who never returned.
He’s the man (Oh, the man)
He’s the man who never returned.
He’s the man who never returned.

New dawn for Nina Simone?

Was Nina Right?  Is it a new dawn …of personal activism?

a songwriter sells out club passim in harvard square to take steps towards racial equity…

From Team Christina and Cindy!

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Cambridge Canvassing for Hillary


I attended a canvassing event for Hillary Clinton’s campaign this morning in Cambridge, and challenged myself to cover it using video – specifically, using the Videolicious app that Gordon shared with us a couple of weeks ago. Having made my deadline for filing the report, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on some points that may be of help and interest to the class.

But first, I’d like to express my gratitude to a volunteer featured in the report – also named Hillary – who very graciously allowed me to accompany her for part of her canvassing activity, was more than happy to talk with me, and didn’t object to my capturing a few moments on digital film. (Hillary, if you ended up reading this, thank you for your kindness and of course, enthusiasm!)

On the tool:

In many ways, Videolicious is an amazing and promising app, but – particularly if you do not have an account (which are only available through institutional licenses) – there are some limitations:

  • Most importantly – personal, mobile-only accounts can only record 1 minute of video. Though I might have used different software, I wanted to give this tool a try given its intuitive interface and potential usefulness “on the go” for the future. If nothing else, this aspect did make the assignment an important lesson in editing.
  • Many special editing features and higher quality materials (i.e. HD video output) are also not available in the personal, mobile-only accounts.
  • The way the camera is positioned on your phone makes framing the “talking head” portion of your report somewhat challenging – although I tacked up my script, unless you have a well-placed teleprompter or can speak extemporaneously it is even more difficult to balance eye direction, background, and lighting with the practicalities of delivering the report in a short timeframe and in a less than ideal space.
  • Some video clips are too short to capture in the final piece, and get skipped over – it may be an understandable cutoff of around 1 second or less, but should otherwise have been enough frames recorded for use in other software.

On the experience:

I truly enjoyed this opportunity to get out in the field, interact with people and ask questions, and think journalistically about the coverage of an event. And although writing a text-based piece would have been its own kind of challenge – given that my background is more in communications than traditional journalism – I am glad that I pushed myself even further out of my comfort zone to try the video. (Though I will admit that being able to use my photography skills was, at least, a small comfort.)

With the app-imposed time limit, I found that I cut a lot out of material that I might normally include in a story – this made me think about the importance of marrying visual content like video with the context of written (or other) content. All of these components were also a lot to think about at once – capturing soundbites, images, video, names, etc. and thinking about publishing across multiple platforms is a lot for one reporter to do, but is becoming more and more common.

On participatory media:

Provided that our class is considering citizen participation in journalism, it seemed appropriate to attend a very civically- and politically-minded event. It did not disappoint. For example, state legislator Sal DiDomenico made several comments about the media’s role in buoying Bernie Sanders’ chances against Hillary Clinton in the interest of a contested primary. Every speaker, meanwhile, made a point about the important role played by the volunteers in attendance in getting the word out about the candidate. People become an even more integral part of the message and dissemination of media content.

My guide to canvassing (the volunteer Hillary mentioned above) also had some very sharp reflections on how she and her peers have been using social media in this presidential race. The “staying power” of repeated headlines (via social media sharing) stood out to her. And she was also amazed at how quickly a tweet she had sent, for example, was picked up and retweeted into the wider conversation beyond her immediate circle.

Given the caliber of speakers, it is not surprising that members of the press were in attendance. Yet there seemed to be all kinds – a reporter from the New York Times with a trusty notepad, another who appeared to be recording for radio or other audio formats, and several individuals on their phones like me. It made me wonder how different our takeaways and reports might be.