There has been a lot of noise this week about how the City of Boston granted permits to for so-called “Free Speech” rally, at which hundreds of white nationalists and demonstrators from an assortment of extreme right-wing fringe groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, are expected to show up. They’ll be at the bandstand on Saturday afternoon, with Boston Police Department-provided barriers safely separating the goons from the counter-protesting public.
But not everyone can get a permit so easily. For decades, and under three different mayoral administrations, organizers of the Boston Freedom Rally from the cannabis advocacy group MassCann/NORML have been denied permits for their annual event. They have fought and won their case in court every single time, but even in the midst of so much national drama, officials have once again denied the group permission, this time for the upcoming festivities and convcert on Boston Common from Sept. 15-17.
“There have been quite a few years when we just got a permit [right before the event],” says Bill Downing, a longtime marijuana advocate and Freedom Rally organizer. “We have to go through this process with every mayor. It took us successfully suing Menino five times for illegally keeping our permits from us [for him to stop trying to block MassCann].”
Last year, the city held up the organization as officials pressured MassCann to hire police officers (as opposed to security guard as usual). “That was just their first demand,” Downing says. “They then came up with demand, after demand, after demand.” Boston was still withholding permits up until the day before the rally, forcing Downing and MassCann’s ACLU-appointed attorney to go to court, where they won approval as usual.
Next up, Downing says. “We have a meeting Monday at 10 am at City Hall, a citywide special events meeting. There are representatives from 8 or 9 different departments—the police, the parks department, emergency medical, inspectional services.”
After that, who knows? They may wind up back in court. Whatever happens, it won’t change the initial fact that city officials apparently believe right-wing extremists have more rights than pot smokers. As Black Lives Matter organizer Monica Cannon noted at a press conference earlier today in Roxbury about tomorrow’s planned counter-protests.
“We know that Mayor Walsh denied the cannabis community to have their rally there, and forced them to go to court in order to get an injunction to have their rally. So I don’t understand why he didn’t do the same thing when it comes to the hate speech that [Saturday’s “Free Speech” demonstrators] are trying to bring as well.”
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.