About 40,000 people gathered on Boston Common on Aug. 19.

Credit: Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

A Diverse Group Showed Up In Boston To Confront Racism With Love

August 21, 2017

Twenty thousand counter-protestors marched from Roxbury to the Boston Common, where a so-called “Free Speech” rally was held Saturday. There, another 20,000 people had assembled chanting anti-racism, anti-Trump slogans.

The day of protest and a much bigger counter protest made international headlines and was widely seen as a rebuke to white supremacists who had gathered a week before in Charlottesville, Va., and to President Donald Trump.  

By 9 a.m., hundreds had already assembled on Malcolm X Blvd., at the Reggie Lewis Center.  Before the march, police confiscated sticks and poles that were used to hold placards, one of which read “death to Nazis, impeach Trump, this land is our land too.”  

“Looka here, we got to be here,"said John Selders, a United Church of Christ bishop from Hartford. "Where hate is, love’s gotta show up too, and I’m embodying some love.” 

By 11 a.m., a multi-hued collection of nearly 20,000 marchers began streaming down Tremont Street, according to Boston Police estimates. They included Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, blacks, whites, teachers, clergy, trade unionists, laborers, nurses and doctors.

“I’m an internal medicine resident at Boston Medical Center, and this is my first political rally,” Matt Strickland said. “I grew up in Canada. I would watch things like this unfold. I would be a supporter but from afar. And with what’s going on right now in the U.S., especially in Charlottesville recently, I felt that I had to draw a line and be here.”

By 12:45 marchers began arriving at the Boston Common, just as the Free Speech rally was breaking up. The rally organizers lacked a sound system, and their much louder detractors drowned out every word they uttered.   

Thousands cheered as cops in riot gear escorted 50 or fewer people at the rally out of the area, for their own protection. Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans praised what he called the 99.9 percent of counter-demonstrators who were there “for the right reasons.”   

But sporadic fights away from the main group briefly interrupted the peace. 

Around 5 p.m., at the intersection of West and Tremont streets about 100 demonstrators — who had lingered — cornered a man who they believed was a white supremacist. There was a loud and angry confrontation.

Police pushed their way through the crowd and took the unidentified man into protective custody. The crowd followed, at times throwing water bottles and bags of liquid at the cops. Police on bicycles and on foot finally moved in, using pepper spray. Throughout the day, 33 people were arrested. 

One man, who asked not to be identified, was there at the confrontation and said he was ready for a fight.

“Last time they were here, there were about 60 of them and 60 of us, and they were marching around intimidating people,” the man said.  “One of them came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to put you in the oven,’ and I hit him. We got into a little tussle. So the cops said, ‘Okay, just chill.’ But I don’t know, man, I got no problem kicking their [expletive].” 

A tiny number in the crowd of 40,000 wore T-shirts in support of the left-wing street organization, "antifa," whose members are more than willing to engage in fist-fights with neo-Nazis.

But the vast majority of counter-protesters said they were there to demonstrate without engaging in that kind of confrontation. One was Elaine Armquist.  

In a parking lot, long after most protestors had gone home, Armquist was stuffing a bullhorn and posters into her car, preparing to head back to North Andover. She said she was ecstatic about the number of counter-protesters who showed up in nonviolent defense of racial inclusion.

“This morning I was at the Reggie Lewis Center, and there were more women in line for the bathroom than there were in the bandstand spewing hate,” Armquist said. “And I’m really glad that neo-Nazis are running scared in my city because they don’t belong here, and they’re not welcome here.” 

Organizers of the weekend’s counter-protest said they sent a strong message to President Trump and his white extremist supporters that Boston is not Charlottesville. 

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