How Boston Counter-Protesters Organized Against “Free Speech” Rally

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Kaleigh O'Keefe

Editors note: Coverage of the Boston protest provided by our Media Consortium partners at DigBoston  and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism

As tens of thousands of protesters marched from Roxbury, through the South End, and towards Boston Common on Saturday, another resistance action took place across the street from the Massachusetts State House. Planned in response to the “Free Speech” rally, with organizers beginning to put plans in motion even before the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last week, the Stand For Solidarity Rally was meant to be visible opposition to what the Facebook event describes as “grass-roots led, far-right mobilizations.”

Led by C.O.M.B.A.T., the ANSWER Coalition, Boston Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Boston Democratic Socialists of America, organizers told DigBoston that they estimated approximately 1,000 people but, due to the crowd sizes around Boston Common, it was impossible to tell how many participants were actually there. Their programming included a variety of speakers, with the goal of bringing attention to local issues that the community is currently fighting.

DigBoston spoke to three organizers about why they led this mobilization, and what they hope Boston will continue doing to fight white supremacy going forward. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Kimberly Barzola, ANSWER Coalition

Why were you and your group part of this action today?

We saw a similar [free speech] demonstration in May with a fairly large group of free speechers at the Common and, at that time, they greatly outnumbered us. We wanted to bring attention to active campaigns and the different kind of struggles and work our organizers are engaged in. Today is actually also the Millions For Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington, DC, and some of our organizers are there. [MCI-Norfolk] prison has been promised a new water filtration system since 2011 and it’s resulted in really egregious water quality, black and brown water. The prisoners are organizing themselves to get the word out. Tim [who was formerly incarcerated in Norfolk] was able to speak today to continue to talk about what’s happening with #DeeperThanWater.

How was the turnout?

Much larger than we could have imagined, but as we were seeing increased interest on social media, one of the things we wanted to prioritize was safety plans. We made sure our marshals were in communication and well trained, we spoke with the National Lawyers Guild. What made our event unique is that we wanted to articulate these specific local struggles that some of us are currently engaged in and need the attention of people who came out today to denounce white supremacy. White supremacy is embedded into our political system; it’s not just the free speechers with Confederate flags or rebranding fascism with suit and tie. It’s people at the State House, closing youth homeless shelters and denying people of basic human rights. That’s a violent form of white supremacy that exists and people of Boston are working to fight back every day.

Stephanie Houten, C.O.M.B.A.T.

What were your goals today?

One of the things we were worried about was safety because last time we were very close to a free speech rally and they had [members of local far-right, anti-government group] Oath Keepers with open firearms on the Common, which isn’t legal in Massachusetts, but they were allowed last time. So as a safety procedure and political strategy, we wanted to be in front of the State House, where Beacon and Park Streets meet.

[Our goals] have to do with things that are a direct result of white supremacy and systemic racism, things like justice for Terrence Coleman, who was killed by a Boston police officer last year. Police brutality generally; there are people in jail who shouldn’t be. We wanted to show, in the context of Boston, what does white supremacy mean here? We wanted it to be about local struggles and what white supremacy means in Massachusetts and Boston, like [Gov.] Charlie Baker is cutting funding for HIV services and closing Youth On Fire for homeless youth.

Why are you organizing, personally?

For me, I just think as a mixed race person—I present as white but I’m Latina—I’ve also had an identity struggle being biracial and growing up around white people who assured me I didn’t look Latina and it was good, or maybe I did and they’d treat me differently. But these struggles are intersectional. If someone else is struggling, and I’m struggling, I think it’s important for us to unify. When we found out the BLM event [Fight Supremacy march] was happening, we wanted to do unification as some point because that’s the strongest way we can combat white supremacist forces. I think today in Boston, there were so many people and that’s what’s important. But it’s not just about mobilizing to the Common, but also about education and learning and listening to others and organizing beyond this. What is everyone going to do next week with follow-up events for Norfolk prison and Terrence Coleman? What will people do to support those after today?

Rachel Domond, Northeastern Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID)

What was your role at Stand For Solidarity today?

There were about 25 or 30 of us who were ultimately there for the people, and the people’s protection, rather than to hear speakers or witness the rally. My role was essentially to be on the lookout for fascist groups or individuals of the free-speech rally and beyond who intended to come and interfere/attack/etc. people at our counter-protest.

There were thousands of people who attended the counter-protest today, from young children to elderly folks. I saw disabled folks, people in drag, white allies and families; just about everyone. I was very enthused to see all variations of people that believe in solidarity and liberation of the people.

Why did you decide to get involved?

We had to demonstrate for the comrades who have lost their lives defending the people, for those imprisoned by the system, for those who do everything as told and are still murdered, and for the international communities such as Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea which are also affected by the imperialist pressures the United States puts on them… White supremacists represent nothing but fear and violence in the United States; they are not a mere ideological or political current. Their existence and continual growth presents a mortal threat to all whom are oppressed, whether it’s those who are Black, Muslim, Native, Jewish, LGBT, women, working class, etc.

What would you like people to know?

There is no way to reform the system that we live in; we need revolution to solve the problems that plague our institutions. We need people power; if we are truly committed to seeing sustainable change in this country, we must understand that it comes from the people, and the people only. Attendance to rallies and demonstrations should not be the end of involvement. We need more. We need organizers, we need people willing to study the experiences of revolutionary leaders and engage more readily with the processes associated with catalyzing a revolution. Revolution is a long process; we may not even see it in our lifetimes. But pending we care enough for the survival of the human race and the planet, we must be willing to engage in a meaningful way that goes beyond just showing the oppressors we’re here.

This dispatch was produced in collaboration with DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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