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Tens of thousands pour into Boston streets to decry hate

Bostonians marched, rallied against white supremacy

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Tens of thousands pour into Boston streets to decry hate
Activists Monica Cannon-Grant (left) and Angelina Camacho (right) lead a march from Roxbury Crossing to the Boston Common to oppose white supremacist actions in Boston and Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo: Chris Lovett)

Bostonians turned out by the tens of thousands to demonstrate and chant against white supremacy and racism. An estimated 15,000 people joined Saturday’s Fight Supremacy march, and the crowd swelled to about 40,000 as marchers converged with like-minded demonstrators at the Boston Common.

The march and resistance rally responded both to the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville the weekend before and to a planned so-called “Free Speech” demonstration taking place on the Common on Saturday August 19. The Boston Free Speech rally organizers denied association with Charlottesville, but their event was criticized for including speakers with ties to conservative extremism.

Boston counter-demonstrators made it clear that they intended to send a message against those who would promote racism, white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and similar ideologies.

“You don’t get to stand in the city of Boston with your racism,” Monica Cannon-Grant of Violence in Boston, an organizer of the march, declared at the pre-march rally.

“We must check white supremacy and confront it everywhere it rears its head,” said District 7 Councilor Tito Jackson, speaking to the Banner as the crowd gathered before the Fight Supremacy march.

One Free Speech rally speaker is known for founding an organization described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “alt-right” — that is, adhering to a mix of racism, white nationalism, anti-semitism and populism. Another Free Speech speaker, later said to have been un-invited by organizers, is credited with drafting a white nationalist manifesto and had headlined the supremacist rally at Charlottesville.

Some of Saturday’s Fight Supremacy counter-demonstrators arrived straight to the Boston Common, while others began the day outside Roxbury’s Madison Park High School and marched to meet them. Gatherers overflowed the plaza outside the high school and spilled across the full width of Malcolm X Boulevard and down the street as far as the eye could see.

A speaker also told the crowd that the Charlottesville supremacist rally could be intended as blueprint for other supremacists to follow and in response, “Boston is going to get a blueprint for what resistance looks like here and around the world.”

Other speakers, such as Khury Peterson-Smith of the International Socialist Organization, said Trump’s White House had emboldened white supremacists and that Boston had to stand to oppose hatred and ensure no racists ever felt welcome here.

The Fight Supremacy protest was organized by Violence in Boston, Angie Camacho, the Black Lives Matter Network and several local chapters and the Movement for Black Lives, according to the event’s Facebook page.

The marchers

Marchers chanted for valuing the lives of black and brown people, and speakers also called to protect immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Jews and other groups. The event drew attendees from surrounding towns and from out of state, such as Carolyn Betensky, who came from Providence, Rhode Island, to stand and be counted.

“I want the anti-racists, anti-white supremacist crowd to be overwhelmingly larger than the so-called Free Speech white nationalist crowd,” Betensky, who is white, told the Banner. “I couldn’t not be here.”

Patricia Durham, a black Roxbury resident, told the Banner she came to “let everyone know that racism is not what needs to be on Earth.”

Casimir Dreonette, who is black and a father of two, came from Quincy, MA, to show his humanity to those who espouse racism and to try to understand them, he said.

“I needed to be here to spread love, show the other side we’re all one and ask them, simply, ‘What have I done to make you hate me?’ ” he told the Banner. “I want to see what’s hurting them enough to hate me.”

Alan Pedersen, who is white, came from Somerville. He said it was important to ensure supremacists’s messages do not go un-countered and to show supremacists that they will be opposed.

“We have to show we’re not afraid,” Pedersen said.

Several of the march’s speakers also countered myths of white exceptionalism, underscoring that whites did not make America alone, but rather used land seized from Native Americans and the labor of enslaved black and brown people. Several said that dismantling supremacy means targeting both overt and systemic forms of racism. The march’s Facebook page, as well as several speakers, state that this work includes ending what they say is the underfunding of public schools as well as housing policies they said displace longtime residents by filling neighborhoods with units that are unaffordable to those currently living there.

One of Saturday’s speakers from Black Lives Matter also called out unwillingness to name hatred for what it is. President Trump has drawn fire for blaming equally the white nationalist who drove a car into civilians in Charlottesville —killing one woman and injuring 35 people— and the counter-demonstrators who arrived to oppose their messages for the violence that took place.

The BLM speaker appeared to refer to these comments, stating, “When we said that black lives have inherent value, they called us a hate group. When there are white supremacists, they call them anything but.”

On the Common

While the marchers proceeded through the streets calling chants such as “Hey hey ho ho, white supremacy has got to go,” a few dozen attendees of the Free Speech rally gathered at Parkman Bandstand. Those attendees came together behind a broad, police-enforced buffer zone stretching between them and the counter-demonstrator crowd, which dwarfed the Free Speech rally by several orders of magnitude. Given the 35 to 40 yard buffer of empty space and the size of the counter-demonstration, by many accounts those attending the Free Speech rally were able to speak, but not to be heard beyond their group.

Free Speech rally members left 45 minutes into their planned two-hour event, and by the time the front of the march arrived, the Free Speech rally had de-assembled and attendees were being escorted out in paddy wagons flanked by police in riot gear.

Reflecting on the day, Angie Camacho, one of the organizers, told the Banner she hopes the counter-demonstration turnout encourages people to take action in face of injustice, knowing they will be supported.

“For those who feel threatened that if they stand up they’ll be alone, what we accomplished was a show of solidarity that hopefully would inspire people to get involved in their local community to stand up for inequality, because they will not be alone if they do so,” Camacho said.