Organizers marched to get googly eyes on Boston trains. Officials listened. (2024)

The crowd of about 30 demonstrators that gathered at the Boston Common park in late April had a message to share. They were energetic and loud. They came armed with slogans, which they plastered on colorful poster boards and yelled in rhyming chants as passersby gawked. After about 40 minutes of demonstrating, they marched to the offices of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to deliver their agenda.

And two months later, they got what they wanted. On Wednesday, the agency emailed the campaign organizers to inform them that Boston’s public transit network, the T, had acceded to their single demand.

The MBTA, in the face of public pressure, stuck large, cartoonish googly eyes on the front of several of its trains.

“We just wanted one small thing, and we rallied for it, and we got it,” Arielle Lok, one of the organizers behind March for Googly Eyes on the T, told The Washington Post.

Phillip Eng, the general manager and chief executive of the MBTA, said the march’s demand was unexpected and unique — but easy to agree to.

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“When something like this comes up, and it’s just a little opportunity to add a little levity to the day, people embraced it,” Eng said. “I guess we’re a little surprised by the amount of attention it’s gotten.”

Lok and co-organizer John Sanchez, both 22, said the campaign began as nothing more than a lighthearted plot to bring a spot of whimsy to Boston’s commuters. Lok said she was inspired by the reindeer-themed decorations applied to buses around Christmas in Vancouver, where she had previously lived. Could she and Sanchez convince the MBTA to do something similar?

“It was just like, ‘How funny would it be to do this?’” Lok said.

“We were like, we want to have a march, and we want to gather the people of Boston for this noble cause,” Sanchez said.

Lok and Sanchez, co-workers at an environmental start-up, made a webpage for March for Googly Eyes on the T in April and laid out their case for sticking wide, cartoonish eyes on Boston’s trains — “​Your day immediately becomes 10 times better. The T train is your friend. It has PERSONALITY. It cares about you. It sees you.”

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The joke could have ended there. But about a week before the march was scheduled — when Lok and Sanchez were the only two RSVPs — the pair enlisted friends to put up posters advertising the event around Boston and in dorms, pitched the story to local newspapers, and sent links to subreddits and community forums. Interest picked up.

“I had two amazing people reach out and just [donate] a couple hundred dollars to buy equipment for posters … because they had grown up in Boston and wanted to see it happen,” Lok said. “That was just a lovely moment of people really coming together to see something silly.”

At noon on April 29, about 30 people came to take up Lok and Sanchez’s cause. The pair distributed signs with slogans including “Give the T vision,” “Eye believe in the MBTA” and “The T that sees ... you home.” The crowd jumped up and down, rattling the pupils in the googly eyes stuck to their posters. Sanchez led chants with a loudspeaker: “Dot your I’s and cross your T’s, googly eyes on T trains, please!”

Lok and Sanchez said they were shocked by the turnout, which included strangers who learned about the event after it was shared by social media accounts run by public transit enthusiasts. Some brought their own signs and googly eyes.

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“There was so much energy,” said Francisco Turrubiate, a computer science student at Boston University who learned about the march from a group chat. “Everyone seemed just really excited to start this. And there was a lot of laughing.”

The march ended a few blocks south, at MBTA’s headquarters. Several amused employees returning from their lunch breaks stopped to talk to the demonstrators, Lok and Sanchez said.

“We gave them a firm handshake and a giant googly eye,” Sanchez said.

That caught the attention of Eng, the chief executive. A staffer who had been handed an eye from the crowd told Eng about the demonstration later that day, he said.

“I gave my chief operating officer a call and said, ‘Hey, we can have a little fun with this,’” Eng said.

Eng and Ryan Coholan, MBTA’s chief operating officer, decided they couldn’t decorate all of MBTA’s fleet but placed stickers of large plastic eyes on the front of five trains — four on the green light-rail line and one on the MBTA’s commuter rail — on June 14. Sightings of the wide-eyed trains, beaming at passengers like cartoon characters, began to circulate on social media.

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The “googly eye” trains are still a rare surprise on a network that operates hundreds of trains a day. Lok and Sanchez said they didn’t know their march had worked until last week, when MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo emailed them with photos of the newly decorated trains.

“John and I were in the same office, and I just ran up all the stairs, and I was just like, screaming,” Lok laughed. “I was like, ‘John, we did it! There’s eyes on the T.’ ”

Lok and Sanchez are still hunting for the googly eye trains in Boston — both of them commute on the T, they said — and are reeling from the success of their tongue-in-cheek campaign. They will have time to keep searching. MBTA does not have a timeline or immediate plans to remove the decorations, Eng said.

“I think every agency is looking to just do a few things that make people’s lives easier and more enjoyable,” Eng said. “This was an easy one to do, and we’re glad we’re able to be part of it.”

Lok and Sanchez said the campaign felt like a college prank — if a college prank could be so wildly successful as to compel the leadership of a sprawling public agency. They’re mulling what to do next.

“There’s nothing better than committing to a bit like this,” Sanchez said. “And bringing people together for it, and everybody doing something for the silliness of it.”

Organizers marched to get googly eyes on Boston trains. Officials listened. (2024)
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