Report on Boston Anti-Fascist Demo
The following is a report by an IBTer who participated in an anti-fascist action in Boston, Massachusetts on Sunday 8 May.
The demonstration, organized around the old Spanish Civil War slogan "They Shall Not Pass!" was a response to a provocation by local neo-Nazis including White Revolution, the Connecticut White Wolves and Aryan Nation. These scum advertised a "White Unity" weekend in Boston, to coincide with a special Holocaust Commemoration Service for Yom HaShoah. The commemoration was scheduled to mark not only the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps but also the 10th anniversary of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Among those invited to take part in the observances inside Faneuil Hall were Holocaust survivors and German diplomats. The Nazis declared intent to march on Faneuil Hall during the ceremonies was a provocation that had to be answered.
We arrived at the designated rally site in front of Faneuil Hall, right next to Quincy Market, in the hub of downtown Boston. It was a particularly damp and chilly morning. More than 500 counter-demonstrators had gathered on the cobblestone square outside the hall. They included anarchists, Zionists, and members of various socialist groups. The Barnesites [Socialist Workers Party] had set up two Pathfinder book tables and one guy was selling Socialist Appeal [the paper of Ted Grants American supporters]. The largest contingent was that of PL [Progressive Labor Party] with roughly 30 people, including a number of black and Hispanic youth. The SL [Spartacist League] had about 20, the majority of whom were in their 40s or 50s. There were roughly 15 people with the ISO [International Socialist Organization] (most of whom appeared to be students), and about that many Marcyites [International Action Center/Workers World Party (IAC/WWP)]. The WWP, which had posted press releases to several web sites to advertise the event, only had one comrade actively pushing their paper. During the days events, to the extent that the demonstration had any tactical leadership, the WWP provided it. Their central leader seemed to have some influence with the anarchists and to be in touch, at least intermittently, with both the ISO and PL.
The demonstration appeared to have been haphazardly organized which may account for the lack of publicity and the absence of some groups from New York who we would usually expect to make the trek to Boston for this sort of thing (e.g., the LRP [League for the Revolutionary Party], IG [Internationalist Group], and FSP [Freedom Socialist Party]). Presumably most of what is still alive on the Boston left attended. The absence of the reformists of Solidarity and the CP [Communist Party], both of which claim Boston branches, speaks for itself.
When we first arrived much of the crowd, including most of the left groups, was marching around the square, while the Zionists and anarchists mostly stood off to the side. After perhaps an hour a man with a Confederate flag bandana was identified in the crowd. A WWP/IAC leader, with the support of a bunch of anarchists, took the lead in getting rid of him.
Soon after the first fascist sympathizer beat a hasty retreat, a small clot of racist skinheads emerged from the corner of Quincy Market. This time a much larger crowd converged on the fascists but a bunch of cops appeared almost immediately from the direction of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall to form a tight protective circle around the Nazis. At this point the police did not seem eager to engage in combat. Before long mounted police rode into the crowd and shepherded the fascists across the street to a McDonalds, where several other Nazi sympathizers were rumored to have been trapped earlier. After the skinheads were extricated in unmarked police cars most of the demonstrators returned to the square.
PL and the SL resumed picketing but this time the ISO and Marcyites chose not to participate. We joined the marchers and soon witnessed a rather peculiar spectacle. When the lead PL chanter, a young Latina woman with a megaphone and a red flag, would initiate a chant of: "Communist Revolution: The Only Solution!" the SL would respond by trying to drown it out with the equally supportable "Arab, Hebrew, Black and White: Workers off the World Unite!" When PL chanted "Death to the Nazis" the SL would answer back with: "Emmett Till, We Will Not Forget!; Matthew Shepard, We Will Not Forget!; Abram Leon, We Will Not Forget!" This was clearly not accidental, as leading SLers were present throughout. At one point a clot of anarchists converged on the SL/PL picket and began chanting: "This is not about communism!" After a while the SL pulled out of the picket and appeared to hold some sort of consultation.
When look-outs spotted a dozen Nazis with a phalanx of cop protection a block down Court Street, marching toward Congress Street, a cry of "Theyre Coming! Theyre Coming!" went up and most of the demonstrators stormed up the hill to confront the fascists. By this point all the SLers had disappeared, with the exception of one comrade who remained in the square talking on his cell phone.
A cluster of about a dozen Nazis marched round the corner, protected by dozens of cops in riot gear. These fascists were rather better organized than their straggling sympathizers we had seen earlier. Most of them were male skinheads in their 20s, many of whom were thought to be members of the Arkansas-based white supremacist group, White Revolution, whose leader, Bill Roper, had been billed to give a talk on "Who Are The Jews?" the previous day.
Congress Street is a wide street with a raised median dividing the two lanes of traffic. The police had put up crowd control barricades (the shorter kind that look like bicycle racks) along the sidewalks on either side of the street. The median itself had a short wrought iron fence. To confront the fascists it was necessary to jump both the first line of barricades and the median fence.
All the left groups present (chiefly the ISO, WWP and PL) and most of the rest of the demonstrators attempted to get across the street to get at the fascists. In response the cops around the Nazis tightened their line and mounted cops arrived to back them up. The cops attacked the first wave of the anti-fascists and managed to drive the crowd onto the western sidewalk. One of those clubbed was a 15 year old Jewish high school student from Brookline who was quoted in the Boston Globe the next day. He was bleeding from a blow above one eye, but remained in the demonstration. In the paper the police denied hitting demonstrators, but we clearly observed a cop clubbing a rather elderly Jewish man.
The crowd continued to try to get at the Nazis until, about halfway down the block, in an obviously pre-arranged move, the police barricaded the street with cars they drove out of an underground parking garage. They then escorted the fascists around the cars and up a cement staircase to the City Hall Plaza, which is on the opposite side of Congress Street from Faneuil Hall. The police had set up a sort of improvised pen for the fascists on the bottom landing of the staircase and surrounded it with barricades.
The Nazis put on a show with an Israeli flag, stepping on it, blowing their noses on it, rubbing it over their crotches, grinding a piece of ham into it etc., while holding aloft crudely anti-Semitic signs like "Six Million Lies!" and "Nuke Israel." The overwhelming number of cops, many in riot gear, others on motorcycles or horses, successfully protected the fascists. PL initiated an appropriate chant: "The Cops, The Courts, The Nazis and The Klan. All are a part of the Bosses Plan!" which the crowd failed to pick up. We had no more success with "Cops and Klan Go Hand-In-Hand."
It seemed at one point that the cops were considering trying to disperse the demonstration and there was much revving of motorcycle engines and aggressive riding of horses up and down the street. Most of the militants (along with the news photographers) were on the west side of Congress Street where the fascists were, while the Barnesite tablers and a throng of liberals, reporters, pacifists, legal observers etc. remained on the other side in front of Faneuil Hall.
When a woman sympathetic to the fascists was identified in the crowd she was surrounded, spat upon and denounced. Instead of backing away she yelled a racist insult and lashed out at a black demonstrator. The cops moved in immediately and arrested both of them although the WWP/IAC subsequently bailed out the anti-fascist.
The fascist rally went on for a while outside City Hall before they made a carefully choreographed exit through the City Hall Plaza where a waiting police van whisked them away to a nearby MBTA (subway) station.
The ISO proclaimed it a victory, but it clearly was not. The next days Boston Globe reported:
"Billy Roper, chairman of White Revolution, called the protest a lot of fun and said it successfully helped spread his organizations message . He praised the police for protecting his members. Im very much a fan of the Boston Police Department after seeing the way they did things, Roper said."
While the fascist sympathizers learned that they run certain risks in trying to spread their filth in public, the cops showed that they were willing and able to contain protests on that scale. To smash future attempts by Roper and his ilk it will be necessary to organize far larger and more tactically coherent protests involving the organizations of blacks and other oppressed people as well as, most importantly, the powerful, integrated trade unions.
A series of photographs of the event is available at http://dowbrigade.com/Nazimothers/
Posted: 15 May 2005