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The fiery neighborhood dispute over a Whole Foods market slated to open this fall in Jamaica Plain may be headed toward a conclusion, according to activists on both sides.
Opponents of the high-end grocer say its arrival will contribute to the trend of gentrification that threatens to displace low-income residents, particularly in the traditionally Latino Hyde Square neighborhood where the market will go. Supporters say Whole Foods will help with the revitalization of the neighborhood.
A vitriolic community meeting ended in the arrest of three protesters last Thursday, and in the week since, some activists have begun to reexamine the tenor of the debate.
A Heated Public Debate
Representatives from Whole Foods held a long-awaited community forum at the Curley School, a few blocks down Centre Street from where the new store is headed. Video from multiple sources is available on YouTube, making it clear that things went off the rails pretty quickly.
"Yeah it was quite a meeting," Rick Stockwood said, chuckling.
Stockwood is the founder of Jamaica Plain For All, a pro-Whole Foods group. He says he was eager to finally get some neighborhood questions answered.
"Questions about things that we knew are legitimate concerns, such as parking and traffic," Stockwood said. "And there was clearly a group of people there that were there for the purpose of causing a distraction."
Opponents, however, deny that charge. Chloe Frankel, a volunteer with Whose Foods?/Whose Community?, an anti-Whole Foods group, says that tempers at the meeting did escalate.
"I do want to say, very clearly, that it was not our intention to get arrested," Frankel said. "It was also not our intention to stir up the degree of frenzy that ended up getting stirred up. Things were already kind of at a fever pitch, and there was a pretty heavy police presence."
As shouting matches erupted from both sides in the auditorium, Frankel and another activist entered the upper balcony and hung a banner reading "Displacement. What is Whole Foods going to do about it?" Frankel says she intended the action as a peaceful and relatively unobtrusive way to register her opinion.
"We weren't planning to storm the microphone, or to storm the presenters," Frankel said.
But Boston police didn't see it that way. Frankel and her compatriots were led away in handcuffs and officers shut down the meeting shortly thereafter. Frankel says the episode marked a turning point for her.
"I really stopped and stepped back and made a real conscious decision, actually, to slow down a little bit and to really think about different ways to engage people around this issue," Frankel said.
For his part, Stockwood with the pro-Whole Foods group is now predicting a slow retreat among the hardcore opposition.
They are "as they've been referenced lately, a lot of 20-something-year-old white kids who look at this as a great opportunity to take down Whole Foods," Stockwood said. "I don't think think a lot of them see it as a long-term issue for them, it's a short-term issue, and they'll graduate and move off to wherever. There are a number of us who own property that'll be in the neighborhood for the next 20, 30, 40 years that will have to live with those consequences."
Indeed, Frankel fits the description of a white, 20-something student. But Whose Foods?/Whose Community?, her organization, identifies itself as a multi-generational, multi-ethnic coalition.
A Community Market
Regardless, both Frankel and Stockwood say their respective organizations need to better serve the people who will be most affected by Whole Foods: the low-income, and significantly Latin-American, inhabitants of Hyde Square, where Whole Foods is replacing Hi-Lo Foods, a long-standing Latin market.
Veteran neighborhood activist Claudio Martinez got some shouts of support when he took the mic at last week's meeting. That is, until he turned to address the largely white crowd.
"Your paternalistic and condescending attitudes, sometimes dressed in progressive and radical attire, towards Latinos in our neighborhoods, are insulting to many of us," Martinez told the crowd.
Many people in the audience didn't exactly warm to that opinion.
"There was certainly a lot of irony in that moment," Martinez said later. "The people screaming at me were, in fact, the pro-Whole Foods crowd."
On his back porch about a block south of Hyde Square, Martinez admitted he has his problems with the pro-Whole Foodies, describing some of their attitudes toward low-income Latinos as "xenophobic." But the people he was calling "paternalistic and condescending" were actually the anti-Whole Foodies.
"For the the last three months [they] have been talking about these poor Latinos that cannot defend themselves against Whole Foods so they are gonna come and defend us," Martinez said.
Nonetheless, college-age liberal whites have been natural allies with Martinez on many a successful civic fight in JP, from keeping out Kmart in the 1990s, to the more recent push to convert former Archdiocese property into affordable housing instead of having it sold to the highest bidder. But Martinez thinks anti-Whole Foods activists have a lot to learn from that history.
"Just mobilization and protesting are not enough to get things done," Martinez said. "They need to be done in a context of current political realities."
And the reality, according to Martinez, is that Whole Foods is coming in the fall. The question now is whether they'll hire people from the neighborhood and whether they'll offer Latin-American staples at an affordable price.
Those are objectives that anti-Whole Foods activist Chloe Frankel says she helped further when she hung that banner at last week's rowdy meeting.
"I do think there's a sense that after June 2, the stakes were raised a little bit," Frankel said. "If nothing else, Whole Foods has a real sense that there remains significant opposition to their coming in. So the way I see that is that it does create more hoops for them to jump through."
And in so jumping, Frankel hopes Whole Foods will be compelled to give the community more of what it wants. This is, if the the community can agree on what it wants.
This segment aired on June 9, 2011.
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