On August 19, approximately 40,000 people gathered in Boston Commons to oppose a tiny group of white supremacists and fascists gathering under the banner of a “Boston Free Speech Coalition.” Coming on the heels of last week’s white supremacist and fascist rally in Charlottesville, Va., (which led to the death of one anti-fascist leftist, Heather Heyer, and injured at least 19 others), the counterdemonstration drew enough mass support to squelch the pathetic 50 or so fascist and white supremacist “free speech” protesters.
This so-called “Free Speech” rally was the second of its kind held this year in Boston. On May 13, the first “Free Speech” rally drew roughly 300 from far rightwing and white supremacist forces such as the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers. The progressive, anti-fascist forces on that day were only able to turn out about 150 people to stand defiantly in Boston Common in defense of “the people’s territory.”
The August 19 “Free Speech” rally was organized by a self-described Libertarian college student named John Medlar. The rally drew the attention of such fascists and white supremacists as the Klu Klux Klan and Kyle Chapman of the right wing paramilitary group the “Alt-Knights.” Despite the public statements of the organizer disavowing such groups, the extreme, fascist right still flocked to support the rally. Klu Klux Klan national director, Thomas Robb, said “Our members don’t stand out, they don’t walk around giving Nazi salutes, they might be your next door neighbor or Cub Scout leader.”
August 19: Unity-Struggle-Unity
Knowing this rally was going to occur at least a month ahead of time, Boston organizers with the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT) put out a joint call for resisting fascism and white supremacy, in a demonstration called “Stand for Solidarity.”
In contrast to the May 13 counterprotest, there was a much broader call for the action from grassroots organizations such as Boston Youth Organizing Project, ACT UP – Boston, the Fight for 15, the #DeeperThanWater coalition, and more.
The initial call for the so-called “free speech” protest was met with much indignation from the radical left. To build the counter-demonstration, the organizers of the Stand for Solidarity rally put together a list of demands based on the popular grassroots social movements in which they had months and, for some, years of on-the-ground organizing experience. The rally foregrounded mass-based grassroots struggles, for only the struggles of the people at the bottom of society can truly overturn white supremacy and fascism.
A thousand to one
Unlike at the first “free speech” rally on May 13, anti-racist and anti-fascists were not outnumbered. On August 19 the people outnumbered the fascist and white supremacists roughly 1000 to 1 and drowned out their message of veiled and not so veiled hate and bigotry. It was abundantly clear that the fascistic, white supremacist and far right forces were no match for the masses mobilized.
The people showed that “we are many, they are few.” The power of the people, in motion, was enough the drown out the ultra right. In the end the reactionaries were dealt a serious blow by the people. This kind of mass activity and mass action is what will defeat the white supremacists and their class.
Stand for Solidarity: All our struggles intersect and must be fought as one!
The “Stand for Solidarity: Resist White Supremacy” demonstration garnered the support of thousands of Bostonians from all walks of life. The demonstration was multinational, multi-gender and intergenerational, and was organized by a coalition of radical and progressive organizations. The central organizers of this demonstration were the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition, C.O.M.B.A.T., the Democratic Socialists of America and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
In addition to denouncing the white supremacist “free speech” rally in Boston and recent fascist mobilization in Charlottesville, many organizations at the demonstration sought to link the struggle against open, blatant white supremacy to struggles against the white supremacy ingrained in the daily experience of millions across the country.
Facing a crowd of thousands of people, Michael Flowers from C.O.M.B.A.T. opened up the speak out, saying
“We share a deep commitment to the fight against white supremacy; racist hate cannot go unopposed in our city. We believe that our best methods of protection for one another are mass mobilizations like the counter-demonstrations that will converge on the common in just a short while. If there is one thing that I have learned from my experience organizing it’s that struggle builds lines of empathy and communication. This empathy and communication is at the heart of what it means to build solidarity. To quote Lilla Watson: ‘If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.’”
Struggle of prisoners for clean water
Tim Muise, representing the Deeper Than Water Coalition, spoke about the water crisis at Norfolk Prison, saying:
“While we sit here in this heat, there are elderly men, elderly women drinking toxic water within the prisons. You judge a society by how they treat the marginalized. You have to care about the incarcerated. And I’m here to speak for them…. Don’t think for a minute that it was the conservatives that took our rights away. It was not. It was the liberals who sacrificed them on the altar of compromise. We must come away from this event today with marching orders.”
A pre-recorded speech from prison rights activist Derrick Washington, who is currently incarcerated at MCI Norfolk, was played through the speakers:
“The question of representation is always at the forefront of any democratic society. So what is a nation that doesn’t represent the entirety of its citizens and population?….The inhumanity and degradation of day to day prison life is synonymous with the n***** breaking consciousness used on slaves before Lincoln dared to proclaim his emancipation. Because while sexual assault, K2, knife fights, and inmate-on-inmate hand-to-hand scrimmages dominate modern prison culture, there’s no denying the cruel and unusual death trap of the toxic environmental conditions that exist within Massachusetts prisons. It is not by choice, and only by force, that we’re compelled to drink rust-colored sewage water that flows so abundantly from inside Norfolk’s water systems.
This is nothing unordinary, and some of us have grown indifferent to the rust particles and other unknown sediments which fill up our drinking cups. But unfortunately, our water crisis proves to be just one of the many inequities that afflict the men and women snuffed out from society and buried deep within this graveyard of exclusion commonly described as prison.”
Phoenix from the BYOP invited rally attendees to get involved in local organizing work:
“[Boston Public Schools] has poor schools. Has cut budgets. The youth are on the streets. Over 6,000 middle school students applied for jobs, only about 2,500 got them… where you think the rest were? A lot of Black and Brown faces are not in the crowd. A lot of immigrants are not in the crowd right now. They can’t be here right now. There’s ICE on about every other corner….Your politicians, the same ones who stood there and said they don’t want the fascists, they still signed that permit. Do not believe the hype. It is the people and only the people that will win this….. Look to your neighbor and ask if they need food or water. Everybody is gonna go home today and take a nice shower. You gonna feel good. You gonna use soap. Well I know 20 [of] youth who ain’t got no home. I got another 15 wondering where they’re gonna be tomorrow. And I know right now it’s easy to look at the news and say ‘no you’re not coming to my city’, but what about the ones who already live here?”
Kimberly Barzola, an organizer with the PSL and ANSWER Coalition, spoke about the need for an end to U.S. militarism, imperialism and intervention:
“White supremacy here is connected to white supremacy abroad… On January 20th, 2017, Trump’s inauguration day, ANSWER Coalition along with thousands of people across the nation inaugurated the resistance…. And so the war on oppressed communities here in the U.S grew substantially with news of the muslim ban, and increase of inhumane ICE deportations as well as clear, targeted policies on LGBTQ people. In addition to these egregious policies that we’re seeing here, it is the continuation of decades and decades and decades of war and aggression on countries like Syria, Venezuela and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And let me just say we have no right telling other people what to do. When has the U.S. going into other countries ever solved anything, besides bringing them more poverty?”
Rachel Silang, an organizer with the People’s Congress of Resistance, spoke passionately about her experience growing up in Lowell, Ma., and about the need for unity.
“I grew up in a community where so many of us did not have jobs, so many of us did not have health care, where I don’t know if I’m gonna get a phone call to tell me that another loved one has died because of the police, because of ICE, because of poverty, because of domestic violence, you name it….I’m not going to go home, and going to eat cake while the fascists organize. But the question really is, how do we win?….We win when we get organized. We win when we stand together….
“The People’s Congress of Resistance is a coming together of grassroots leaders, it is a coming together of organizers, of resisters like you, and resisters like you, and resisters like you, who say, I want to go and I want to stand up and I want to do more. I wanna get organized, I want to win. So we’re coming together in DC on September 16th and 17th at Howard University. All of you can come. Anyone who says I want to fight and I want to win, I want to build a people’s institution of power because these millionaires in Congress, these people out here claiming they represent us, claiming they care about our community, these people claim that. But they don’t. And they say they have the power, but guess who has the power? We do. We have the power. It is people like us who won everything. We won the right to Social Security, we ended segregation … we have fought for the independence of our people, and of people like us, of oppressed people, it is only because of people like us that we have ever won.”
Tahia from Mass Action Against Police Brutality said to the crowd:
“If you came out and this is all you can do; thank you. I want to push you a little further and say this is the beginning of what you can do. The only way they win is if we don’t fight.”
Counterprotesters and the police
A second rally and march titled “Fight Supremacy” was organized by the Black Lives Matter Network, Violence In Boston, Angie Camacho, Black Lives Matter Boston, Black Lives Matter Cambridge, and The Movement for Black Lives.
Starting at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury, the counter protestors marched for three hours and eventually converged with the “Stand for Solidarity” rally and speak out at the Boston Commons. The “Free-Speech” protesters were escorted out of the Parkman Bandstand by the police by 1:00 PM — one hour before their permit was scheduled to end.
After the fascist “free speech” protesters were released into the massive crowd of anti-racist counterprotesters, there were a number of physical confrontations, leading to at least 33 arrests, mostly for disturbing the peace and some for assault and battery.
After each confrontation, it was plainly clear which side the police were on. A marshall for the “Stand For Solidarity” rally said, “What I saw when I went back out maybe at 2:30…. was a few solitary white supremacists surrounded by 10 to 12 cops, and then a crowd of leftist protesters chanting at them. After about 10 minutes of milling around with the cop bodyguards, the cops escorted him to a police car in front of Park St, opened the front door for him, and drove him to safety.”
Cops were seen standing by and waiting for situations to greatly escalate before moving in. But while the confrontations in the Commons were largely allowed to escalate, once some of the anti-fascist counterprotesters left the park and took the streets, heading towards a number of business and banks in the downtown area on Washington St, the police moved in with riot gear, batons, and pepper spray. This Saturday in Boston was a clear demonstration of the fact that the police were created to “serve and protect” white supremacy and the private property of the ruling class. Instead of smashing the fascists, the police smashed the people’s movement against it – they do this because they serve the same interests as the fascists: capitalist imperialism.
President Donald Trump called the protesters “anti-cop” in a tweet, also thanking Mayor Marty Walsh and saying the police looked “tough and smart.” Let’s be clear: the police were not out there to protect the masses of people. In fact, they played no part in closing down space for the the ultra rightwing.
Many mainstream media outlets have lumped all the different organizations involved into “a coalition of mostly left leaning groups and activists” without identifying any by name, and have flattened the political content of the day to a vague rejection of “hate.” But each of these organizations should be named and thanked and recognized for their efforts, and the specific political demands of the Stand for Solidarity rally should be broadcast to the public.
The Stand for Solidarity rally was organized by C.O.M.B.A.T.; ANSWER Coalition; Boston Boston Party for Socialism and Liberation; Boston Democratic Socialists of America and endorsed by: We Unite Organization, Inc.; Youth Action March; ACT UP Boston; Boston May Day Coalition; Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice; Our Revolution Cambridge; PHENOM (Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts); Boston Socialist Party; Greater Worcester Our Revolution; Mass Action Against Police Brutality; Greater Boston Chapter: Green-Rainbow Party.
The rally also presented the following demands related to grassroots progressive struggles:
1.) Remove all the memorabilia of racism and white supremacy in Virginia and Boston!
2.) Drop ALL charges on anti-racist/anti-fascist protestors and pay for their medical fees in Virginia!
3.) End the Racist Deportations – Free Francisco! Pass the Safe Communities Act!
4.) End Charlie Baker’s cuts! – Fully fund the HIV budget and the Youth on Fire Homeless Day Shelter
5.) Jail ALL Killer Cops: Justice for Terrence Coleman, Usaama Rahim, Santos Laboy and All Victims of Racist Police Terror! Free David Wright!
6.) Free, Drinkable and Clean Water for All the Prisoners at Norfolk!
7.) Stop the War on Black America! Amend the 13th Amendment – End legalized Slavery!
8.) No War on North Korea! No War on Venezuela! End the Sanctions
Lessons from the day: Organized struggle
The vast outpouring of popular outrage against white supremacy and fascism effectively rendered the so-called “free speech” rally voiceless. The far-right forces, though protected by the police, were so outnumbered that they were forced to end their demonstration early and cede the bandstand to the anti-racist protesters.
But it was more than just sentiment, however widespread, that mobilized the masses of people on August 19. The organizations named above also played a key role in publicizing, planning, and directing the counter-protests. As Barzola wrote in a Facebook post later that day:
“….But you better believe that this did not happen overnight. That we’re not just some group of kids trying to start trouble. That we’re not disciplined and tenacious. The past few weeks I’ve sat in spaces until midnight, with people coming in after their day and night jobs to get on conference calls and make sure safety plans are as up to date as possible and that our speakers list is dope af. You better believe that no one has paid us a dime to do this. That we put every [ounce] of labor we don’t sell to feed and house ourselves into this work. And so you better believe that we are not heroes. Because we struggle just like you. Because no one will free us EXCEPT us.
You best believe that tech startup with Gates Foundation money isn’t gonna free us. You better know that we’ll be back at it next week, after making sure we’re all okay and taken care of. That we’ll be reviewing notes and reflecting on what could’ve gone better and what disasters we avoided. So please. Don’t you dare say I can’t make a difference because I’m young. I made a difference the moment I realized I had power, learned to articulate it, and brought it back to the people.”