Jeff Jacoby / August 5, 2021

The Grievance Industry vs. the Boston Marathon

Brookline’s designation of Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples Day, a change made four years ago, has no logical connection with the arrangements being made for the Marathon’s return.

The mission of the Boston Athletic Association is “promoting a healthy lifestyle through sports, especially running.” This it does in numerous ways, above all by organizing the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and arguably the most prestigious.

First run in 1897, the Marathon was held without fail every April on or about Patriots Day, the Massachusetts holiday commemorating the battles at Lexington and Concord. That streak was snapped in 2020, when the race had to be cancelled because of coronavirus pandemic. This year, the Marathon was postponed six months; instead of April, it is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 11. That coincides with the state holiday of Columbus Day — or Indigenous Peoples Day, as it has been rechristened in a number of communities. One of those communities is Brookline.

That last detail might seem an irrelevant aside, since Brookline’s designation of Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples Day, a change made four years ago, has no logical connection with the arrangements being made for the Marathon’s return.

Ah, but in Brookline, the left-wing Boston suburb where I make my home, logic and common sense are often at war with the grievance industry.

Because two miles of the Marathon course pass through Brookline, the Boston Athletic Association each year obtains a town permit for the event. On July 27, the BAA’s senior operations manager, Stuart Wall, appeared (via Zoom) before the Brookline Select Board to formally make the request. He noted that the BAA was consulting closely with the town’s police, fire, and public works departments, and sought permission to install the necessary equipment and facilities along the route, such as portable toilets, medical stations, and mile markers. “We look forward,” he said, “to working with the town to conduct a safe and successful event for all the athletes, volunteers, and spectators taking part in the 125th Boston Marathon.”

At which point, the permit was promptly approved by the board, as members took turns expressing happiness at the return of the Marathon, one of the most joyous and exciting events on Brookline’s yearly calendar.

No, wait — that’s not what happened.

Rather than celebrate the BAA and its storied Marathon, some board members, especially vice chairman Raul Fernandez, chose instead to lambaste the association for the “disruption” it caused by scheduling the Marathon on what, in Brookline, is Indigenous Peoples Day. He scolded the BAA for not playing up the holiday on its website and for contributing to Native Americans’ “sense of erasure” with its decision to hold the race on Oct. 11. “For indigenous people in our community,” he said, it was one more example of how they “are continuously left out of conversations.”

According to the Census Bureau, indigenous people (American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) account for just two-tenths of 1 percent of Brookline’s population. To judge from their success in persuading the town to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, Brookline’s few dozen Native residents, far from being “left out of conversations,” are heard loud and clear.

Meanwhile, Fernandez wasn’t finished excoriating the BAA. He insisted a “more public-facing acknowledgement” of Indigenous Peoples Day be incorporated into the Marathon — and not just banners along the route or mentions on TV.

“What does reparations look like for this, too?” he demanded. “What kind of contributions is the BAA planning to make… ? What is the BAA going to do to actually improve the conditions of indigenous people today and to highlight those communities?” He threatened to vote against a Marathon permit unless the BAA finds a way to “make it right.”

Seriously? The organizers of the Boston Marathon should pay reparations and beat their breasts for doing what they have done for 125 years — namely, focusing on running a world-class athletic competition one day each year, without being distracted by other activities taking place on the same day? Oct. 11 isn’t the exclusive property of Indigenous Peoples Day — or of Columbus Day, or the International Day of the Girl, or National Coming Out Day, or National Sausage Pizza Day, all of which are commemorated on Oct. 11. Someone should explain to Fernandez that it is possible to host the Marathon and celebrate a holiday, as neighboring Newton intends to do. No one ever demanded reparations or complained of “erasure” when the Marathon shared the third Monday in April with Patriots Day (or with Passover). It is preposterous to claim that the rules must be different this year.

Brookline’s woke posers can try, but they aren’t going to stop the race. On Marathon Day, tens of thousands of runners will challenge themselves to excel, cheered on by throngs of well-wishers along the route. Perhaps Fernandez will spend the day sulking over some invented slight. If so, he won’t be missed.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

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