FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What Free Speech Rally in Boston?

The Boston Free Speech Coalition billed it as a “Free Speech Rally,” but no one could hear the speakers who dared to show up at the August 19 gathering on The Boston Common.  Some supporters were reported to have been blocked from attending by counter-protesters.  A tiny group of around 50 “rallied” on the Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand.  Or, more appropriately, they huddled there in the face of tens of thousands of counter-demonstrators, whom police kept at such a great distance that the speakers could not be distinguished, let alone heard.  Police also blocked journalists from access to the bandstand, preventing them from recording and reporting the speakers’ statements to the public.  Scheduled to last two hours, the “Free Speech Rally” petered out in less than an hour.  The few attendees, escorted to the Bandstand by police, were, afterwards, escorted safely, again by police, through threatening counter-protesters, some reported as criticizing officers for protecting “Nazis.”  Needed is a closer look at what officials lauded as a “peaceful rally.”

The Boston police are to be lauded for preventing a repeat of Charlottesville, where Robert E. Lee statue-defending, torch-carrying, violence-disposed white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members marched, carrying torches and chanting “blood and soil” and “the Jews will not replace us.”  Many of them were armed, some with semi-automatic weapons, which was enough to intimidate Charlottesville police and not just counter-protesters.   The latter’s number included anti-fascists, who, engaged in a free-for-all battle with the white supremacists, as the police watched from a distance.  The clash was climaxed by a 20-year-old white male, identified as a Nazi sympathizer, plowing his car into peaceful counter-protesters, killing a 32-year old woman and injuring 19.  The violence between the white supremacists and counter-protesters was seized on by a duplicitous President Trump to legitimize the white supremacists and neo-Nazis: he condemned the violence “on both sides,” and later said, “You also had some very fine people on both sides.” (“Trump’s remarks about the melee in Charlottesville,” By Meghan Keneally and Katherine Faulders, abcnews.go.com, Aug. 23, 2017)

Fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured in Boston, thanks to the Boston police and to counter- protesters, most of whom were peaceful and a few of whom intervened and protected “free speech” supporters from being assaulted by other counter-protesters.  But a blow was dealt to the First Amendment’s right of free speech.

Charlottesville, coming just a week earlier, led to an overreaction to Boston’s “Free Speech Rally.”   Counter-protesters called rally participants “white supremacists,” “Nazi scum,” and other, profanity-laced, names.  Mayor Martin Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans were quoted as implying similar motivation to the participants, both saying that the estimated 40,000 counter-protestors revealed that Boston stood against “hatred and bigotry.” (“In a city with fraught racial past, a day of protest against hatred and bigotry,” By Mark Arsenault, Boston Sunday Globe, Aug. 19, 2017)  But the rally organizers were reported as saying that is not who they are.  One organizer, John Medlar, was quoted as disavowing white supremacy, and as wanting “people from across the political spectrum” to speak, to “show people that we can listen to each other [and] bring reasonable opinions together without resorting to violence.” (“Tens of thousands march for unity, overwhelming ‘free speech’ rally,” By Globe Staff, The Boston Globe, Aug. 19, 2017)

The speakers that the organizers were reported to have invited included “progressives, conservatives, anti-war activists, and veterans” (Ibid), and representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement. (“Rightwing rally and counter-protest in Boston – in pictures,” Associated Press, The Guardian, Aug. 19, 2017)  But, with the media prevented from covering the speakers, how would anyone learn who showed up and spoke, and what they actually believed and said?  According to quoted Police Commissioner Evans, “That’s a good thing because their message isn’t what we want to hear.” (“ ‘Free speech’ rally speakers, little heard, end event quickly,” Beth Healy, The Boston Globe, Aug. 19, 2017) This censorship was a disservice to every thoughtful person in Boston and beyond.

The danger is that, rather than the Constitution, those in power may determine who has freedom of speech and who doesn’t, who shall be heard and who shall remain marginalized.  Today you may be among the thousands surrounding the tiny group on the bandstand.  Tomorrow you could be on the bandstand, espousing political or religious views that may threaten the status quo.

This is not only about freedom of speech, but also about freedom of the press.  An authoritarian, self-contradictory President Trump, who hates reporters with good memories, has proposed that the government should jail journalists who publicize classified information.  Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions strongly agrees, and is prepared to prosecute those in the press who publish leaks and “put lives at risk.” (“Leak Investigations Triple Under Trump, Sessions Says,” By Charlie Savage and Eileen Sullivan, The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2017)  “Put[ting] lives at risk” are code words for an aversion to transparency that could put self-serving political leaders at risk.

Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate’s words need to be repeated.  He was quoted about being kept from hearing what was said on the Parkman Bandstand: “I am burning over this.  If we repress and suppress unpopular speech, all we’re doing is keeping ourselves ignorant.”  Silverglate was joined by lawyer Robert Bertsche, who said, “It would have done greater honor to the First Amendment if the rally organizers’ message – no matter how noxious – could in fact be heard..” (“‘Free speech’ rally speakers, little heard, end event quickly,” Ibid)

The leadership of people of faith is pivotal here.  Along with non-violent protests against white supremacists and their ilk, another invaluable service people of faith can provide is opening their houses of worship for dialogue between and with people of various political persuasions.  Panels with participants representing diverse political views, held in sanctuaries and halls with engaged audiences, will do much to illuminate democratic values and expose bias, with solidarity trumping division.

Keeping religion out of politics is to separate religion from life; for the political structures greatly determine who shall have life and have it more abundantly and who shall not, who shall be free and who shall be oppressed, who shall live and who shall die.  “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” as Jesus taught, depends on understanding, rather than fearing and dehumanizing, one’s neighbor – those nearby or far away.

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
Renee Parsons
The Supreme Court and Dual Citizenship
Eric Draitser
On Ilhan Omar, Assad Fetishism, and the Danger of Red-Brown “Anti-Imperialism”
Elizabeth Keyes
Broadway’s “Hamilton” and the Willing Suspension of Reality-Based Moral Consciousness
David Underhill
Optional Fatherhood Liberates Christians From Abortion Jihad
Nick Pemberton
Is Kamala Harris the Centrist We Need?
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Bailouts, Bernie and the Washington Post
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Blackout
William Astore
America’s Senior Generals Find No Exits From Endless War
Jeff Hauser – Eleanor Eagan
Boeing Debacle Shows Need to Investigate Trump-era Corruption
Ramzy Baroud
Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh
Nick Licata
All Southern States are Not the Same: Mississippi’s Challenge
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Sly Encouragement of Lawless Violence
Cesar Chelala
Public Health Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean
March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail