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Despite Activist Pleas, Owner Says Decision to Close Democracy Center is ‘Not Changeable’

The Democracy Center is located at 45 Mt Auburn St. Leaders are moving forward with closing the Democracy Center indefinitely for renovations.
The Democracy Center is located at 45 Mt Auburn St. Leaders are moving forward with closing the Democracy Center indefinitely for renovations. By Sami E. Turner
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

Despite impassioned speeches and protests from community activists, leaders are moving forward with plans to indefinitely close the Democracy Center for renovations.

Ian Simmons — the president of the Foundation for Civic Leadership, which owns the building — doubled down on the plans at a contentious meeting with community members and organizers on Thursday evening to discuss the Center’s closure. The Center, which has operated at the corner of DeWolfe and Mt. Auburn Street for the past 22 years, is set to close its doors in July.

“The renovations are long overdue,” Simmons said. “We don’t expect the work to be completed overnight — it’s gonna probably take many, many, at least several many years.”

“The building itself is going to close to the public on July 1st,” he added. “That is not changeable.”

But during the meeting — as with prior meetings discussing the closure — emotions ran high as dozens of organizers testified to their need for the space. Cara Kasey, local activist and artist, repeatedly confronted Simmons during the meeting to demand a response to community demands posted on the walls of the meeting room.

“What is going to be done to take care of and protect this kinship that you should be completely humbled and honored to even be allowed and brought into?” she asked.

“How are you going to address these community demands? How are you going to take care of what we've brought — by your invitation — into the space while this goes on?” she added.

Attendees referred to a list of five demands that were hung on the wall, including an indefinite pause to the center’s closure and increased transparency and democracy to determine the future of the space.

FCL leaders plan for the space to become an outlet of Democracy House, an organization that provides “opportunities for rising generations to strengthen democracy,” according to Simmons. While Simmons insisted that community groups will be welcomed back into the space after the renovations, organizers remain skeptical.

“The promises have been extremely vague, nonspecific, and they’re hardly reassuring in the broader context, that there's a new vision for the space,” said Cambridge resident Dan J. Totten, who has used the space for seven years. “It’s clear that the owner desires this building to serve as an expanded home for Democracy House following the renovations.”

While Simmons could not answer questions about what exactly would be done to renovate the building — citing an ongoing “investigation,” he said that improvements may include expanding American Disability Act accessibility, making the building more sustainable and adding square footage. Simmons also requested that organizers share improvements they’d like to see made.

Still, the organizers continued to plead with Simmons to reverse the decision to close the space.

Chloe Koulefianou ’23, who interned with FCL, expressed concern about the loss of supportive grassroots organizing in Cambridge after the space is closed.

“There is no rectifying this decision if it is made,” Koulefianou said. “I feel like you can never find a space like the Democracy Center anywhere — it's an incredibly unique space.”

“Shuttering the DC in the name of the long-term is like breaking a vase and trying to glue it back together,” she added.

In response to organizer concerns, Simmons reiterated that the space will close, but that he believes the atmosphere will return when the space eventually reopens as the Democracy House.

“I’m a little more optimistic than maybe you’d be at this moment about the ability of the community to come together again in a revived civic space, and for great things to happen here again,” Simmons said.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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