Safety Net’s History & Purpose
The Safety Net is creating a movement of people of color who have been excluded from the decision-making process to confront power directly and demand fundamental changes in the rules of the game, so that we can achieve our right to a healthy environment.
The Safety Net began in 2000 to bring together residents from Melnea Cass Boulevard and Tremont Street in the Roxbury area with a focus on the tenants of the ten housing developments in the area. This area is a prime area for new development because of the proximity to Interstate 93 and the downtown district. (Much of the vacant land in this area was cleared more than 30 years ago for the proposed Southwest expressway that was ultimately defeated by local residents and the coalition groups that grew from the organizing.) Roxbury has now been labeled as having a plethora of vacant land. Residents are now being faced with proposals of satellite parking garages, servicing the Longwood Medical area clientele, and Biotechnology research facilities threatening to bring more traffic, air pollution, and gentrification.
In over five years, the Safety Net has become a significant new community voice promoting environmental justice and community control over development, increasing community participation, developing new leaders and focusing on the critical issues of the neighborhood’s future development. The Safety Net is a group of residents that have their ear to the ground to bring awareness and education about issues that are facing our community to the forefront by learning with residents, and creating needed tools to generate a proactive resident driven constituency of Roxbury residents. We have the option of pulling from the rich pool of coalition resources that has been gathering strength over the past 5 years. The Safety Net promotes resident-created sustainable development for others to use as a model for organizing, encouraging resident involvement and sitting at the decision-making table to enforce residents’ visions.
David Vs. Goliath
In 2002, the Safety Net was the first community group to discover Boston University’s plans to build in the Roxbury/South End neighborhood a BSL4 lab, which would research the most dangerous pathogens and incurable diseases. Alarmed by the extraordinary threat posed by this lab to our community, which already suffers from an excess of toxic sites and environmental threats, Safety Net immediately began a campaign to stop the lab. While many viewed this as an impossible David vs. Goliath struggle, given the array of powerful support for the lab, we saw no alternative but to fight for our lives. This has been a long, demanding struggle.
Klare Allen is the Community Organizer for the Roxbury resident driven group the Safety Net and Coordinator for the citywide resident group; STOP the Bio-Terror Lab Coalition since leaving ACE in 2004/2005. Over the past six years, we have built a Coalition to Stop the Bio-terror Lab, which consists of community residents, scientists, lawyers, students, members of peace and justice groups and the faith community. Safety Net residents organize in their housing developments near the site — e.g., Cathedral, Villa Victoria, Grant Manor and others, Safety Net and Coalition members have made repeated visits to City Councilors, attended countless coalition meetings, protested at the BU site, City Hall, and the State House, spoken at city, state and federal hearings, submitted public comment, and initiated both state and federal law suits. In short we have done everything we could think of and more.
Residents do all of the outreach mentioned above as well as serving on committees that work to ensure developments that take place in Roxbury are ones that support the health of the community. These committees include the Lower Roxbury Resident’s Leadership Committee (made of housing developments and churches), The Project Review Committee and the Oversight Committee of the Roxbury Master Plan (established by the city).
Thus far, we have succeeded in delaying the opening of the BU proposed lab since 2004 to date. The Safety Net and Coalitions goal is to make sure that dangerous, life-threatening research will not be carried out in the State of Massachusetts. We believe that the tide has turned; opposition to the lab is growing throughout the greater Boston area and we are on the brink of convincing NIH (National Institute of Health) to eliminate the Level 4 component of the laboratory. The Blue Ribbon Panel (hired by NIH) held two public meetings in Boston and the Boston City Council will hold a hearing on safety, emergency preparedness, and the legality of doing rDNA research in a Level 4 lab in Boston.
We must mobilize for these important hearings where we intend to deliver the knock-out blows which will convince these public officials that it is neither possible nor morally justifiable to open a BSL4 lab in our densely populated, Environmental Injustice community. Our outreach consists of holding informational forums, attending other community meetings, strengthening the work of the District and Great Boston Committees, and holding educational events in impacted areas including housing developments, neighborhood centers, businesses and schools.
A final exciting part of our plans for the upcoming year grows out of the contacts we have made with other local groups fighting BSL4 labs in communities across the country. We plan to hold a national conference next spring where we will share the organizing and political strategies we have developed in our fight against the BU BSL4 lab. We see this conference as an unparalleled opportunity to empower residents as people around the country learn from our experience and recognize our leadership role in this struggle. We particularly look forward to watching the committed Boston residents and coalition members absorb that people from all over the country are looking at us as leaders in this work.
Join the Safety Net or the Coalition to STOP the BU Bio-Terror Lab by calling (617) 436-1592 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.