Tag Archives: Boston

From Charlottesville to Boston – a lesson

Participants in Boston’s Free Speech rally. Speaker is Republican Senate candidate Dr Shiva Ayyadurai. Not a Nazi or white supremacist in sight. Was the media feeding me porkies?

Funny thing – I have become more worried about the lessons of the Boston “free speech” rally than the Charlottesville white supremacist demonstration. Here’s why.

There is nothing new about fighting Nazis, neo-Nazis and fascists in street demonstrations. Many on the left did this, and did it violently, in the lead up to the second world war. It’s happening in Europe again – and, more seriously, in Ukraine.

Participants in genuine anti-Nazi actions are usually proud of what they did. It is one thing to attempt to get one’s head around the concept that freedom of speech should allow expression of racist views but I guess once the violence starts the moral issues become clearer.

So while we can debate the role played by anarchists, Antifa, and outright thugs on both sides in Charlottesville there does seem to have been an excuse there for moral outrage and the inevitable conflict is understandable.

But what about Boston? I originally thought the “free speech” rally held this last weekend was really about white supremacism. The mainstream media told me this. The 15 – 45 thousand demonstrators against the rally convinced me of this. I had absolutely no sympathy for those in the rally and identified morally with the counter-demonstrators. But I was thankful that police organisation prevented conflict – at least conflict between the rally participants and the counter demonstrators (fighting did break out between some counter-demonstrators and the police).

But I was wrong

I was misinformed by the media. It wasn’t until I got involved in a social media discussion that I decided to check out what was really happening in Boston. I checked out who organised the free speech rally and what their aims were. I tried to find out who spoke at the free speech rally and looked for videos of speakers and the whole event online.

In fact, the “free speech” rally organisers were not white supremacists or Nazis. Conservatives or “right-wingers” perhaps. But they do seem to have genuine interests in free speech and the various speakers represented a range from conservatives to Green Party members – and a Dr Shiva Ayyadurai, a Democrat currently standing for the Senate (See the video of his speech above). the placards were anti-Monsata and pro-Black-Lives Matter.

Here is what the Boston Free Speech people say about their rally:

“This Free Speech Movement is dedicated to peaceful rallies and are in no way affiliated with the Charlottesville rally on 8/12/17

While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence. We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence.

We are witnessing an unprecedented move towards sweeping censorship that undermines our democratic system. We are witnessing increasingly regular incidents of political violence being used to silence political opponents. We are witnessing our social media and online communities purging both progressive and conservative content from their networks. We oppose all instances of censorship. We believe that the way to defeat and disarm toxic ideas and ideologies is through dialogue and reason, and that attempting to silence any voice by force of mob or force of law only empowers the radical elements of society and divides us.

There is a lot of misinformation in the media slandering our name by likening our organization to those that ran the Charlottesville rally. THIS COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! “I can tell you the march we had in May…That group pulled a permit, they worked very well with us” as stated by Boston Police Commissioner William Evans in a press conference Monday (8/14/17)

We are a coalition of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents and we welcome all individuals and organizations from any political affiliations that are willing to peaceably engage in open dialogue about the threats to, and importance of, free speech and civil liberties. Join us at the Parkman Bandstand where we will be holding our event. We look forward to this tide-changing peaceful event that has the potential to be a shining example of how we, in the city of Boston, can come together for the common goal of preserving freedom of speech for all and respectfully discussing our differences of opinion without engaging in violence.”

So, in Boston we had a very small gathering (probably well under 100) exercising their free speech at a permitted rally in the Band Rotunda. (Yes, there were apparently more, including some of the programmed speakers, who couldn’t get through the crowd of counter demonstrators which had blocked of entrances).

They were surrounded by 15 – 45 thousand counter demonstrators yelling a stream of abuse at the rally participants – accusing them of being Nazis, etc. Fortunately, the police had manned a cordon to keep the two groups well separated. I say fortunately because it did remind me of those brave anti-apartheid demonstrators who had invaded Hamilton’s Rugby Park in 1981 to prevent the Waikato – South Africa Rugby game. On that day the police helped to prevent some of the violence.

An aerial view shows how counter-protesters vastly outnumbered a few dozen participants at a ‘free speech’ rally (rotunda) in Boston. Image credit: Daily Mail.
This brought back memories of how the police protected anti-apartheid demonstrators on Hamilton’s Rugby Park in 1981. Photo Credit: Daily Mail.
 My lesson

The presence of a small number of white supremacists in society is probably inevitable and shouldn’t concern us too much. Similarly, the presence of a relatively small number of anarchists and thugs who attend such demonstrations with the aim of creating violence is also probably inevitable. The police in Boston showed how this could be handled in a relatively painless way.

So these minor groups really don’t concern me too much. Nor do honest anti-fascists who attempt to close down white supremacy manifestations.

But that was not the case here. What we had was a huge crowd of counter-protesters who thought they were opposing racists and Nazis – but they weren’t. They were opposing free speech.

These people were misinformed and misled. Misinformed and misled by the mainstream media and politicians who insist on labeling proponents of free speech white supremacists.

Nazis and anarchists do worry more. But not as much as a misinformed mass movement.

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A sombre night in Boston

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Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) tweeted the above picture today from the International Space Station. As he wrote – “A somber Spring night in Boston.”

Boston Marathon bombings

I think it demonstrates the sort of high-tech world we now live in – high connectivity, immediate information transfer and amazing technology. We have astronauts in near earth orbit tweeting condolences and images in  response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon. But the bombs themselves probably also relied on the technology of cell phones for their detonation, even though they may have been relatively primitive devices themselves. On the other hand, authorities quickly closed down cell phone communication – maybe preventing further detonations. And they are investigating records of cell tower transmissions – hopefully this will give them leads enabling rapid arrest of the perpetrators.

Technology – it’s a mixed bag. It can be used for evil as well as good.

Empathise with victims of terror everywhere

The other thought this atrocity evokes in me is that our technology and culture seems to restrict our empathy to the “first world.” The world we see everyday on our TVs. Inevitably we wear cultural blinkers.

What happened in Boston today happens regularly in a number of “third world” countries, and we hardly hear about those events. Meetings, markets, churches, mosques and other places humans gather together are regularly bombed in a number of “third world” countries. Just in the last few days dozens of people were murdered in Iraq in this way. Wedding parties are bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sometimes these people are “collateral damage” –  victims of invading or intervening countries committing acts of war. More often they are people purposely targeted in terrorist acts committed for religious, ethnic or ideological reasons.

Whatever – innocent people around the world are regularly killed in such hateful attacks – and we hardly notice. So, while I react with an understandable grief and anger at the shocking waste of life and widespread injuries in Boston today, these feelings are tinged with guilt.

I felt the same way when I reacted to the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. Even today, when I hear or read the term “9/11” I inevitably think of another “9/11” – the bloody coup which overthrew democracy in Chile on September 11, 1973. A coup which lead to the torture and murder of thousands of Chileans.

No, I am not critiquing people for this inevitable cultural blindness. I just wish the great technology we now have would do more to make us realise we are all in this together. That it would more quickly break down the cultural barriers which cause this blindness.

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