In Boston, Massachusetts, U.S, a small “free-speech” rally has been overshadowed by thousands of counter-demonstrators chanting anti-racist and anti-fascist slogans. The initial rally on Boston Common was organised by The Boston Free Speech Coalition, who are enthusiasts of the First Amendment and Right to Free Speech. They expected thousands of supporters to attend; instead, the approximately 25 conservative attendees were cut short as more than 10,000 anti-racist demonstrators encroached on the common. The group was escorted out by police about 90 minutes after their rally began. The protest then shifted to a picnic style event, with demonstrators reportedly tossing beach balls, banging on bongo drums and playing reggae music.
Before the rally, the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, highlighted that some people who were invited by the Free Speech group to speak “spew hate”. Walsh said it was ”clear today that Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate.” Counter-demonstrators held up positive signs of support for all Americans, including signs that stated: “Love your neighbor,” ”Resist fascism,” “Hate never made US great,” “No Trump. No KKK. No racist USA,” and “Americans against hate.” The group also chanted things like: “Hey hey, ho ho, white supremacy has got to go”, “Black lives matter” and “shame.” After the free speech group had left, the Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief, William Gross, encouraged counter-protesters in front of reporters by stating: “They want to put us down because of what we look like, our lifestyles, where we came from ― it’s not happening in Boston, so again – take away the victory. We’re good… I’m proud of you, alright my brothers and sisters thank you, for real.”
Positively, the emphasis in the media has been placed on the peaceful approach to this event from both parties. It is important to remain non-violent at these counter-demonstrations against hate for many reasons. We need to ensure the safety of the individuals involved, but we also need to ensure that the important messages we are trying to express are not overshadowed or able to be twisted into negative media that takes the attention away from the real issues that need to be resolved. The thousands of anti-racist protesters involved are being rightfully applauded and supported by the media, the police and the Mayor of Boston.
On their Facebook page, The Boston Free Speech Coalition had invited “libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech” to attend. They stated they are not white supremacists, but the rally still attracted controversy because they invited Augustus Invictus to speak, who is a known holocaust denier and an organiser of Charlottesville’s white supremacist rally last week. He later retracted his attendance, but Invictus spoke at a previous rally in May and told the group to arm themselves for a civil war. Instead, Shiva Ayyadurai, a Republican candidate for 2018 United States Senate election in Massachusetts, spoke at this Free Speech rally as his supporters stood beside him holding signs that stated “Black Lives DO Matter” and “Stop Monsanto” with the #Shiva4Senate written underneath. In his speech, he stated “I don’t see any racists here” and called on people to question the “establishments” that do not question their own racism stating that “it’s easy to blame white supremacists, but the real criminals who practice controlled speech, it’s the academics.” However, this rally comes a week after a white supremacist turned a peaceful protest into violence when they drove a car through a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia killing anti-racist demonstrator Heather Heyer, and injuring a dozen others. Importantly, there were no major incidents reported at this event in Boston. According to police, 33 people were arrested mainly for disorderly conduct and assaults on police officers, not each other.
Despite the group claiming that the Free Speech rally had no racist intent behind it, it was poorly chosen timing with respect to Charlottesville and other recent events around the U.S. In order to create a peaceful society, it is necessary to stop individuals who encourage violence from having a legitimized platform where they can persuade others. This includes people like Invictus when he promotes the use of arms to protect ourselves from civil war. Importantly, this event was mainly a peaceful, non-violent demonstration on both sides. With the thousands of counter-demonstrators purpose being rooted in support, and against any hate. The sheer number of attendees from diverse backgrounds who came out to fight together for justice brings a sense of hope for the future and presents a vision of what the U.S could look like if all Americans fought against hate to live peacefully together.
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