Thoughts on Boston’s Counter Protest

In the wake of the events at Charlottesville, many cities this past weekend had their own similar marches. Boston was one of these, with a march planned (scheduled before the Charlottesville incident (incident= grotesque pro-white supremacy speech, violence, etc.)) in support of ‘free speech’.
The quotes are included because many of the scheduled speakers had ties to white supremacist and nationalist groups. The Massachusetts Chapter of the KKK was also planning to attend (according to a statement made by the national KKK).

There’s been a lot of discussion about what happened in Boston yesterday, and having been there I would like to throw my own two cents in. Especially as President Trump is making what are, in my mind, unfounded criticisms of the counter protesters (my group) as anti-police agitators.

So, in bullet form, my not very gathered thoughts.

  • The ‘free speech’ rally was planned to take place from 11 am to 2 pm in the bandstand on the Boston Common. They were supposed to start setting up around 10 am.  Their online scheduled listed their most controversial speakers as holding the stage from 2- 2:30, or after their permit was scheduled to expire. There was some worry in my family that they would be shut down and use that to feed into their narrative of being silenced and oppressed.
  • There was a group of counter protesters marching to the Common from the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury. Dad and I didn’t join this group, but instead went straight to the Common (because I have a potentially broken toe and he is minus one leg. Walking was looking too favorable for either of us). After I had some bread (Heyyy, The Biscuit in Cambridge is really good) and peanut butter, we got on the Blue Line and got to the Common around 10:45.
  • The Common was already pretty much swarming, more with counter protesters, but a few people (literally a few. Maybe 5 at most) were clearly there as part of the ‘free speech’ rally. Since then I’ve recognized them from pictures.
  • I got to see Vermin Supreme, which was really cool. I was a bit starstruck actually. The only reasonable response to seeing someone walking around with a rain boot on his head, I think. (How does he get it to stay there?)  He announced that he was scheduled as a speaker and that his understanding was that they were using his presence as a ‘fig leaf’ to cover and add credibility to their agenda. His plan was, apparently to tell them in his speech to “get the fuck out”, but he never got the chance. We’ll get to that later.
    But really, when the guy with the rain boot hat is lending you credibility, you’re in deep shit.
  • Major props to Mayor Marty Walsh and the BPD, who were very friendly and very human. The BPD had been told to come out without riot gear and to keep interactions with both group very low key, to prevent escalation and confrontation. Personally I think they did an excellent job.
  • Just a few minutes after we got there, dad and I were walking alongside a group of officers, who told us that the member of the ‘free speech’ rally with the permit hadn’t even arrived yet.
  • The bandstand where the rally was to take place was fenced off, and then that fence was fenced off, surrounded by a 75 yard (according to the Boston Globe) essentially de-militarized zone/no man’s land. Only the police were in this middle ground, which was designed to separate the rally from the counter protesters.
  • ANTIFA was there in pretty full force, which was very cool because I hadn’t seen ANTIFA before.  Have to say, the all black and covered face thing is a little sexy. I was impressed by how moderate and peaceful they were being (ANTIFA has a reputation for being rather extreme). But we saw ANTIFA members being interviewed by CNN and actively protecting ‘free speech’ rally members from pushing counter protest crowds. So good job, ANTIFA.
  • One of the ‘free speech’ rally people was dressed in fatigues and a bullet proof vest and had a big backpack. Very threatening. Was happy to see the BPD search him and take some things. (People were asked not to bring sticks and other threatening items- this led to some people with flags being escorted out).
  • The ‘free speech’ rally didn’t really start getting set up until 11:30 or noon. And after it began it seemed to fizzle really quickly. After a bit less than an hour they packed it in and left. Actually, they left before the huge group marching from the Reggie Lewis Center even made it to the Common.
  • The rally had somewhere between 20 and 50 people, with estimates putting it at 36. Estimates also say that there were 4000 counter protesters in the Common. That’s including Dad and I, but not the much larger group that was coming from Roxbury.
  • While I was there, neither the rally nor the counter protest were violent. People were shouting at each other sometimes, and the counter protesters were doing a lot of shouting and chanting. The most physical I saw it get was when a man had his ‘Make America Great Again’ hat taken off of him. I saw it on fire later in the day.
  • There were multiple ‘free speech’ rally people walking back and forth across the Common (under police and ANTIFA protection) trying to provoke the counter protesters.
  • Honestly the “Shame” shout from Game of Thrones is a lot of fun.
  • In spite of the relative freedom of movement the ‘free speech’ rally members seemed to have, they’ve been blaming their poor rally performance on the counter protesters, who apparently blocked both their sound equipment and a number of their speakers from getting into the bandstand. This may be true, I don’t know- but i doubt it. I saw a few of their speakers before hand walking around the park and no one was giving them any trouble. Even when things got busier, there were people (both police and otherwise) making sure that they could get through.
  • Honestly I think their rally collapsed due to lack of organization and the volume of the counter protest.
  • I left shortly after the ‘free speech’ rally disbanded. Around that time I got a few texts from Mom saying that the police were out in riot gear around Berkeley College (not very close to us). I believe the group marching from Roxbury had just arrived and there were also groups from the Common following the ‘free speech’ rally out, and some of these people were blocking their way out. Police in riot gear were necessary to escort rally people to police vans and clear their way out. I’ve also heard that some things were thrown (rocks? urine?).
  • On the whole, the counter protest assembled more out of opposition to and frustration with the rising tide of nationalist and pro-white supremacy groups that have been given a platform by this political client (i.e., this shit president). And particularly in outraged response to the events at Charlottesville and the president’s infamous “many sides” reaction. Not so much in opposition to the kind of pathetic ‘free speech’ rally.  If the response were only to the ‘free speech’ rally, it would be enormously outsized. But it was in the context of some really frightening, horrifying, and disgusting developments in American society and politics. People who were looking for something solid to oppose and fight against didn’t really get it in the form of the super-disorganized and out of its depth ‘free speech’ rally.
  • So kudos to the BPD and all of the surrounding police departments that came to help out (Harvard University, Transit, and Brookline Police, among others)- post-sports riots have trained you well for this kind of thing.
  • I met a lot of nice and interesting people who were lovely to spend a sunny summer day with, standing up for something we all deeply care about.
  • I’m so proud of Boston for standing in solidarity for something the city really values, and against something the city has stood against since… 1770?
  • Even when faced with people who are pro-white supremacy I still don’t like people with Yankees hats. It’s too deeply ingrained.

Did you go to any political events this past weekend? What have you heard about the one in Boston?

I carried a sign that said ‘White Silence is Compliance’, and I would like to thank Glossier for the pink cardboard. A brand with pretty homogeneous advertising, taking a stand for diversity with or without its consent.

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