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Protesters Stage Occupation of Democracy Center to Oppose Indefinite Closure

Organizers led chants from the roof of the building and hung a banner that read, "Welcome to the People's DC."
Organizers led chants from the roof of the building and hung a banner that read, "Welcome to the People's DC." By Elyse C. Goncalves
By Elyse C. Goncalves, Crimson Staff Writer

Roughly 30 people began an occupation of the Democracy Center on Monday in protest of the center’s imminent closure.

The occupation, which was ongoing as of Monday evening, is the latest and most drastic attempt by activists to stop the Foundation for Civil Leadership, the center’s financial supporter, from closing the center for renovations. Though the FCL announced in April that the center — a meeting place for local progressive organizers and activists — would close Monday, it was unclear whether those plans were delayed amid the occupation.

Since announcing the closure, the FCL has been met with fervent — and often tearful — opposition from local organizers, who say the space is crucial for their work. The occupation came one day after Aaron K. Tanaka ’04, an FCL board member, publicly announced his resignation in an open letter to center affiliates and just over a week after nearly 100 people staged a rally in opposition to the closure.

Protesters rallied in front of the center beginning around 8:30 a.m. Monday as organizers led them in chants including “shutting down the DC, that’s not what democracy looks like” and “ho ho, hey hey, the DC is here to stay.”

Protesters also engaged in a call and response of the group’s demands, led by two organizers standing on the building’s roof.

“Stop the closure of the Democracy Center, stop the eviction, include the community on the board, include community in renovation plans, no retaliation for organizing,” an organizer said to the crowd through a megaphone.

Around 10 a.m., the group filed into the building, donning masks and handing their phones to organizers, a measure they said would keep participants anonymous.

In a press release ahead of the occupation, the Democracy Center Advisory Council — an advocacy body made up of center affiliates — said they had reached an impasse with FCL leadership in conversations about the future of the center.

“FCL’s refusal to negotiate has made it clear that they do not see us as trusted, equal, and knowledgeable stakeholders in the building we have been organizing in for decades,” the press release reads. “FCL is unwilling to take any concrete steps towards repairing harm, rebuilding trust, or engaging in democratic process.”

In his resignation letter, Tanaka wrote that he voiced his concerns to the FCL board after learning of the closure in April, adding that the FCL has “severely failed” to honor its obligation to local organizers.

“Despite many years of good will, this decision would rightfully feel like a betrayal to the many groups and people that call the DC their home,” Tanaka wrote. “This decision not only disrupts vital work, but also threatens to unravel years of community building and collaborative efforts.”

The announcement of the closure sent many progressive advocacy groups scrambling to find alternative working spaces, including the Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team — one of two groups hoping to establish a nonviolent police alternative in the city.

The Cambridge City Council unanimously passed a policy order asking the FCL to keep the center open in late April, citing concerns expressed by advocacy groups.

In a statement to The Crimson, FCL interim Executive Director Sue Heilman said the FCL has been providing organizations support in the relocation process.

“Tenants that have been in the building less than five years were offered a full year of rent relief,” she wrote.

Heilman also reiterated that the building would be renovated and evaluated for issues of accessibility and safety.

“It’s important that the building be vacated by end of working hours today so that our work to assess and renovate the building can begin,” she added.

As of Monday evening, it was not clear when the occupation would conclude.

—Alma T. Barak and Ben Ali H. Brown contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Elyse C. Goncalves can be reached at Follow her on X @e1ysegoncalves or on Threads @elyse.goncalves.

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