For two decades, the Rev. Eugene Rivers has crafted an image as a contrarian community activist. He deserved credit for working with troubled young people in Boston and having the courage to live among them in a Dorchester home that was once shot at. Yet his brusque, sweeping critiques of other black civic and religious leaders as being out of touch have prompted complaints of self-serving grandstanding.
What Rivers didn’t do was vote on Sept. 24 — a decision that contributed in its own small way to Golar Richie’s third-place finish. This fact only emerged after Rivers had unleashed a tirade in a guest column in the Boston Herald: “The black community must confront the unavoidable fact,” he wrote, “that we are largely responsible for ensuring, by our disorganization and inaction, that a white Irish man will again lead the city of Boston.” Anyone who accepts this analysis has to count Rivers as part of the disorganization and inaction. He is a registered voter, but he told the Globe’s Adrian Walker that he was too busy on election day to go to the polls. That’s apparently a familiar problem for him, since Walker reports that Rivers hasn’t voted since at least 1996.
Rivers has shown a willingness to invoke the hard-won struggle for voting rights for African-Americans. He once helped direct an anti-violence project in Boston named after the Freedom Summer voting rights campaigns in the South, which cost some participants their lives. Rivers has often urged black leaders to “put their bodies where their rhetoric is.” He should take his own words to heart.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly described the Rev. Eugene Rivers as a supporter of an effort to help mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie by persuading some other candidates to leave the race. Rivers said he was unaware of the effort before learning of it from the press.