Images by Chris Faraone
You should probably ignore any individual or lone reporter who attempts to inform you about the demonstrations that snaked through Boston, Cambridge, and even a few corners of Somerville last night.
Like me, those folks may have witnessed segments of the protests; perhaps your source was on Tremont Street when activists crashed the annual tree-lighting, or by the Federal Reserve Bank when people moved north on Atlantic Ave, heading toward the Zakim Bridge to join a couple thousand other comrades.
But no matter how much any single person or news organization claims to have the full story about how Bostonians reacted the failure of a grand jury in New York City to indict Eric Garner’s killer, chances are they only got a glimpse of the full story. What happened was somewhat unprecedented, in the past decade at least, and it will take a couple of days if not more to piece the narrative together. That doesn’t simply mean recounting the behavior of police, though that’s important, but rather it involves considering who showed up, and how much energy remains looking forward.
From what those of us at the Dig who covered #EnoughIsEnough ascertained, few, if any people — even organizers — had specific tactical plans heading into last night’s demonstrations. Like one activist told us, “No one can prepare for 4,000 people.” Nevertheless, benevolent mobs closed in around the Park Street MBTA station at around 7pm, then made their finest effort to spoil caroling and other programming on Boston Common. They did a commendable job, too, still protesters proved unable or unwilling to entirely disrupt the holiday hokiness, which featured any number of cheesy songs that, when mashed up with protest chants the likes of “I CAN’T BREATHE,” made for quite an aural spectacle. To say the least, progressives in the crowd were none too psyched about the cheerleader routine either, but that’s another story altogether.
By 8pm, the crowd began splintering. I followed hundreds toward Beacon Street, where a couple of demonstrators lunged toward the Golden Dome and were promptly hauled away by troopers. It was a show of disrespect fitting for the front lawn of legislators who brought us a three-strikes law, who are complacent with an ineffective Department of Correction, and who were considering a Stand Your Ground law until hubbub around the Trayvon Martin shooting exposed them.
What happened next on the ground depends on where you were. I followed at least 1,000 protesters on a lap around Downtown Crossing that, after stopping at least half-a-dozen times for spontaneous die-ins, wound up on Atlantic Ave by South Station. Police followed along, scrambling to stay ahead of the pack, and with significant success. Their biggest headache seemed to be a young man riding on his bike wearing a Santa hat who laid down, even if only for a minute, in front of every other car that passed him.
A few blocks away, closer to the I-93 off-ramp by Chinatown, I found what must have been another couple thousand people staring down police with State Street in the background. After troopers blocked a ramp into the tunnel that some protesters had eyes on, the crowd did an about-face and began marching down the wrong way of an eastbound I-90 tunnel. Authorities had backups on the highway, but not enough to stop the crowd. By the time I arrived, hundreds had walked directly into, and effectively stopped traffic. A redneck in a tractor-trailer flashed his middle finger, and certain rallyers began hollering at cops, but it was a remarkably peaceful scene considering that everyone was standing in the middle of the interstate.
After exiting the tunnel at about 9pm and checking the surrounding scene, I returned to the standoff on Atlantic Ave, where a couple hundred mostly young people remained in the intersection. Meanwhile, hundreds of others went to join forces across town near the Zakim. I stayed, looking around corners, sizing up the military presence. Most cops on the line appeared to be restrained, and we’ll learn more about their tactics later as first-hand activist accounts trickle in. Nevertheless, there were batons and riot gear just feet away had they decided to clamp down. This was no secret to the horde.
So much for the days when you couldn’t find a decent mass protest around here. In addition to the rush last night and the comparable action on the prior Tuesday in response to the Darren Wilson grand jury verdict in Ferguson, Missouri, there’s heat on numerous Boston fronts. I saw individuals from several movements on the Common last night — housing rights crusaders, queer activists, the whole gamut. Pile on the growing fury over having an Olympics planned without a note of public input, and #EnoughIsEnough.
Some have railed about the need for demonstrators to get focused, and to address specific issues. Maybe that will happen. Maybe it won’t. But how about the assholes who work under the Golden Dome? The lawmakers who gave us three-strikes, and who, in the midst of the Ferguson fiasco, pinned medals on cops who’ve killed under questionable circumstances? Those legislators and the other power players around here have had years to figure these things out, and to address disparity. Instead they’ve chosen not to, and to fatten their war chests at the expense of the commonwealth.
There has also been a lot of talk about when Boston last saw so many people in an uproar. There’s Occupy Boston, of course, which attracted innumerable raised fists over a span of months, as well as major anti-war protests in 2006, and before that the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which gave us our modern surveillance state. But for a more appropriate comparison, armchair historians may want to look back further. Next week is the 40th anniversary of the March Against Racism, held in Boston on December 14, 1974. It may have been four whole decades ago, but the 25,000 people who took over the Hub during the height of the busing crisis brought an eerily similar message to what was heard through Boston’s streets last night: “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.