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A unified agenda for minorities eyed
Boston Globe
10/19/2003
By Anand Vaishnav


Dozens of community activists and civic leaders vowed yesterday to pursue a united political agenda for Boston's minorities.

With US Census figures showing that slightly more than half of the city's 589,000 residents are minorities, activists yesterday urged more than 200 participants at a University of Massachusetts at Boston forum to collaborate on common long-term tasks.

Conference organizers outlined several immediate goals: re-electing Councilor at Large Felix D. Arroyo, the only councilor of color elected citywide; sending youth representatives to Boston School Committee meetings; and getting multilingual ballots during elections.

''It's not just talk,'' said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association. ''We're meeting next week. We're meeting the week after that. We're bringing together a core group of people to put these plans into action.''

Yesterday's daylong conference was prompted a year ago by calls by Arroyo and Councilor Chuck Turner to analyze how Boston's growing minority population can muster more political power.

Yesterday's gathering was a momentous step for a city that has long battled racial divisiveness, according to organizers, from the makeup of its political leaders to the desegregation of public schools.

The conference, called ''The New Majority: Uniting Boston's Communities of Color,'' was sponsored by UMass-Boston, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, and the Foley Hoag Foundation.

Former mayoral candidate and longtime political activist Melvin H. King said he hoped it would build on what Boston's minority communities have accomplished together, such as fighting overzealous developers and starting groups like the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.

''What we're here today to do is move from isolation to inclusion,'' King told the audience, which included whites.

Participants divided into six groups, each one tackling a different issue, such as education; economic development and workers' rights; and housing, land use, and community development.

Worries over the state's new voter-approved English immersion law -- which replaced bilingual education for immigrant students in Massachusetts public schools -- topped the list of education concerns. Audience members also discussed a lack of parental involvement in schools, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam, and possible plans to return to neighborhood schools by ending busing within Boston.

''We have to think about how that affects diversity and recognize that this city is not completely desegregated and the quality of schools is uneven,'' said Tom Louie, head of the Mass English Plus Coalition, a language-rights group.

Across the hall, audience members tackled the issue of how to increase voter turnout. Some suggested the creation of political action committees or making voting more user-friendly and understandable for new voters.

Another goal, others said, should be to follow a tenet of mass movement politics: Have the organizations that represent different ethnic groups unite behind shared causes.

''The issue is, how do we move from a culture of separation to a culture of power,'' said Wen-ti Tsen, a Cambridge artist.

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.