Michelle Wu wanted to free the T. On a subfreezing February morning, the Boston city councilor was handing out flyers at the Park Street subway station. In a soft voice, she urged bundled commuters to sign a petition opposing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s proposal for a 6.3 percent fare hike, part of her campaign to make the T free. The gold-domed state house rose behind her. Below, one of the notoriously failing trains slowed to a stop.
For weeks, Wu had been making her case, sometimes with her youngest son on her hip as she told local reporters that Boston needed to do better for climate and community. She didn’t present concrete plans for alternative funding so much as urge the MBTA and lawmakers to seriously discuss the possibilities. “Making the investment in fare-free transit would not only nourish our future, but also align with our history,” Wu wrote in an op-ed in The Boston Globe, referencing the state’s establishment of the first public school, park, and library in the country. Wu knew her audience, reframing the city’s history as a roadmap for how to move forward.
In the past, no member of the Boston City Council, long a rubber stamp for the mayor, had ever led such a crusade against the MBTA. But Wu embodies the kind of political change that’s making waves in Washington, D.C., and cities across the country. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib defy the status quo in Congress. Once considered a long shot, the presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has become a 2020 sensation, with his opposition to the Electoral College and fresh approach to Christianity and gay rights. This month, Lori Lightfoot was elected Chicago’s first black female and openly gay mayor.