I don’t have a long list of protest credentials attached to my name. I once protested a speech given at Harvard by the President of China, Jiang Zemin. It was 1998, and I was 19. I watched a friend rip a Chinese flag from a man and break it in front of him. Zemin would later say that throughout his entire American tour, Harvard was the only stop that he heard the protest.
I wear that badge.
Nearly twenty years later, I felt compelled to abandon the comforts of suburbia by dusting off the boots of complacency and reinvigorating dormant personal ideologies. I watched the build-up and the eventual carrying out of the domestic terrorism in Charlottesville through the lens of a good friend who was a central figure. She was amongst the group that was encircled by the tiki torch terrorists. She would later file a complaint that lead to the charges currently levied against Christopher Cantwell, who lost a bit of his tough guy persona when a video surfaced of him crying into a camera when learning about the issued warrants.
When I learned of the free speech rally in Boston that invited Kyle Chapman, known as the “Based Stickman” who rose to prominence by beating protesters with a lead stick, it was clear to me and apparently 40,000 others that this was not a rally for free speech so much as it was a rally for hate speech. There are things that are simply intolerable. This is one.
I did, however, have to weigh the realization that I am a parent of three, and my ability to continue to provide for them is important and the fact that they also should see that rhetoric should also become tangible. As I hear stories of my friend from Charlottesville still being terrorized, I simply could not stay home.
My two hour ride was surrounded, not by fog, but an ominous mist, much akin to the Stephen King TV show of the same name that my wife has been watching recently. This setting offered long periods of solemn reflection of my decision and the potential harm I was putting myself into. I arrived in Boston and hopped onto the train to ride to the start of the march. Others with the same intentions filled the musty chambers of the T. I struck up a conversation with a B.C. professor who appeared similar in age. It was a nice start to the day. As we exited the train to the platform, we wished each other a safe day.
The concern was palpable.
I arrived probably twenty minutes after the start time of the march, but thankfully for me, liberals are a lot like my sister-in-law; late for everything.
We began our march in what gradually culminated into a sweltering heat (especially disadvantageous for fair skinned Irish folk such as myself) on Tremont St. We passed many landmarks, including the Boston Police Department’s headquarters, as the Prudential Center looked on in the distance as we proceeded toward the Boston Commons. The helicopters that buzzed through the blue skies offered acute awareness of the gravity of the day, especially on the heels of the deaths of the two state troopers in Charlottesville the week before.
I mention the police headquarters for the simple reason to tell you that at every stopping point along the march, I made a point to talk to the officers stationed at every cross street. All but one were happy to engage in conversation. I learned that each officer on motorcycle duty is issued a personal bike. Another had a shamrock on his speedometer, so we chatted about being Irish, but split the difference when I told him I was a Yankees fan. It would later be suggested by the President that we were police agitators. The police I spoke with were not agitated, nor were they put off by our being there. They were normal guys who were tired because this was overtime for them, but also happy because it was overtime for them.
As we marched beyond the mile marker, the tense atmosphere began to give way. A truck that lead our group had four large PA’s to which they blasted music through. We listened to the Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the Love?”, Kendrick Lamar’s, “We Gonna be Alright”, and a host of Bob Marley songs, including, “Redemption Song”. It reminded a lot of us why we were there; to spread a message of peace. Before I made my journey to Boston that morning, I made a post on social media saying that the last thing the priest tells us to do at the conclusion of Mass, is to go in peace.
This was my goal, and this was the goal of everyone else that I walked with.
As we approached the Commons, people lined the streets as if it were the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Folks hung out windows all down Tremont St. to show their support. They either raised a fist of solidarity, cheered, or flew flags of their native lands. It was heartwarming. It was not long after that that we learned Kyle Chapman and company had cut their rally short and disappeared.
Our message had been delivered.
At this point, I chose to make my way back towards my car, and suburbia.
As I got home, I looked for news and settled on Twitter to see the reaction. While the predominance was positive, there were plenty of negative reactions. They varied from the uninformed “Look at the left protesting free speech” rants to the more reasoned, “Look, they’re throwing bottles of urine at the police officers”. I’ll ignore the former. The latter, however, is a shame; a disgrace. This had become the storyline. The counter- protesters were causing trouble. Thirty-three people were arrested. This was the narrative. This, however, was misleading, intentionally, of course.
There were 40,000 counter protesters. There were 33 arrests. This accounts for 6/10ths of 1% of the counter-protesters. 99.4% of the counter-protesters were doing what I was doing.
One day, my children will ask me about some of the things I did when I was younger, and maybe they’ll vaguely remember that I went to Boston that one day.
And now, I wear that badge, too.
Peace be with you.
On Twitter for your scolding @ryandavidprice