Boston Proud: in the face of hate
AUGUST 24, 2017 – This past week was a tumultuous, exhausting, and ultimately uplifting set of days. Our community found itself swimming in the aftermath of hate, both nationally and locally – reeling from the horrific outcome of the events in Charlottesville, and shocked by the second instance of vandalism of the Holocaust memorial in Boston. Many of us in the Greater Boston area were worried and fearful of how last Saturday’s “Free Speech” rally on the Boston Common would play out.
Yet, as it has before, Boston stood strong. Saturday’s Free Speech rally was overpowered by more than 40,000 people who came with a different message, and who understood the importance of simply showing up. The overwhelming message across our city this past weekend was one of unity against racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of hate and bigotry. Boston – a city still in some ways haunted by a history of racial injustice – came together this weekend. This city showed the country how community members and leaders can start to respond to hate and make a significant impact, by sending a powerful message of unity while embracing diversity.
That strength was the result of the joined efforts of Boston’s leadership, grassroots organizing, and civil rights coalitions. Here at the Anti-Defamation League, as one of the city’s civil rights organizations, we were proud to work with coalitions of community and interfaith partners over the last week. ADL supported the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s interfaith gathering on Friday night that drew 1,700 people, including Republican Governor Charlie Baker, Democrat Attorney General Maura Healey and Democrat Mayor Marty Walsh. The mayor and governor jointly published an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe earlier in the week and the Massachusetts legislature, along with Governor Baker, passed a resolution to “strongly denounce and oppose the totalitarian impulses, violence, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis.” This is the type of unity against hate – without equivocation, from across party lines – that needs to be affirmed throughout the country in these challenging times.
In the week leading up to the rally, ADL worked in coalition with other civil rights partners, including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice in Boston, to express public safety concerns after the events in Charlottesville in advance of the Free Speech Rally in Boston. ADL worked with Mayor Walsh, who hosted a meeting with all civil rights and community leaders about the public safety plan for the rally and response by the city. Boston Police Department worked tirelessly with the entire community and exercised incredible professionalism and restraint throughout the day of the rally. The preparation, planning and training of our law enforcement officials paid off. Ground rules were widely publicized and the vast majority of people followed orders and instructions that police gave. On the day of the rally, thousands of peaceful counter-protestors came together to support Charlottesville, marginalized communities in Boston, and call attention to the embers of racial hierarchy and white supremacy from those torches of old that still burn in our society.
Boston should be very proud of how the event was handled.
This past weekend’s uplifting show of unity and rejection of hate proved just how easy, and how important, it is to simply show up and stand up when you encounter hate. But, we must continue to show up. And we must turn strong words into action. We need to build upon the statements, resolutions, and protests to advocate for policies that promote justice and equality for all. ADL has partnered with the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) on a new joint initiative to fight extremism and bigotry and promote justice and equality. Under the compact, mayors commit to vigorously speak out against all acts of hate; punish bias-motivated violence to the fullest extent of the law; encourage more anti-bias and anti-hate education in schools and police forces; encourage community activities that celebrate their population’s cultural and ethnic diversity; and ensure civil rights laws are aggressively enforced and hate crime laws are strengthened when needed. Over 200 mayors have already joined, committing to this necessary work to bring Americans together. We can’t wait any longer. ADL is ready to work with local communities across the country on action to combat hate.
By Robert O. Trestan and Talia Ben Sasson-Gordis
Robert O. Trestan is the New England Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Talia Ben Sasson-Gordis is the Associate Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
What I saw at the Free Speech Rally
By Larry Constantine
BOSTON – What was that all about? I was probably not alone in wondering this as the Orange Line train pulled out of Downtown Crossing after Saturday’s Boston “Free Speech” Rally, an event that some feared might become another Charlottesville but proved to be something else. It was no love-in, but neither was it violent confrontation. Was it really about free speech? Was it about standing up against hatred and intolerance? Or was it against fascism? All of the above? None of the above?
Of course, it could have been different things to the varied constituencies and factions assembled on a hot summer day to stand up for what they believed in and believed Boston stood for. The rally itself, if it could be called that, was tiny. Fewer than 50 free speech demonstrators and speakers huddled into the Parker Bandstand near the edge of Boston Common without even an adequate public address system. They were outnumbered more than ten-to-one by police, a 500 strong contingent from Boston and surrounding communities, including MBTA Transit Police and even officers from the Harvard University patrol. It is possible, the media even outnumbered the police.
I couldn’t hear the speeches from the bandstand. They were inaudible to the assembled crowd kept, along with the media, behind police barriers some 100 feet away. In the immediate aftermath, crowd estimates for the counter-demonstrators on the Common and marchers along Tremont Street ranged from 15,000 to 50,000. By the following Monday, most media reports had settled on 40,000, an estimate attributed to Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans. Few incidents of violence and only 33 arrests were reported over the whole course, mostly for disturbing the peace. I witnessed only one shouting match; like the others, it was quickly broken up by motorcycle-mounted Special Operations officers before it could escalate.
Conflicting signals from rally organizers left doubts over the extent of their ties and sympathies with the alt-right and white supremacists. In ways, the counter demonstrations were equally hard to parse. It was oddly disconcerting that, within a tide of friendly faces and signs touting tolerance and peace, some faces were covered by black masks or red bandanas. I spoke with one black-garbed young woman wearing a Red Sox cap, face hidden behind a black scarf. She gave only a nickname, Spec. I asked about the mask. “It’s the dox thing,” she said, using Internet-speak for being stalked online and publically outed with real identity, address, and other personal details revealed. “Doxing is a threat. We have jobs, families. We have to protect ourselves.” It was an age- and culture-bound worry, mostly limited to twenty-something protesters with one flavor or another of antifascist leanings. Few among the masked would consent to being interviewed, and none I approached were willing to give names. I later watched as an AP reporter pleaded with a group of masked counter-demonstrators, but none were willing to be interviewed under their real names.
Some I talked with self-identified as antifa, the truncated rubric under which many militant ultra-left antifascists in America are cast, but there were also sign-carrying antifascists who insisted they were not antifa. One man, no name offered and face fully covered by black mask and goggles, insisted he was neither antifa nor antifascist but “anti-cap.”
And why were they there? People offered varied reasons for turning out. Kristin Jayne, a third-grade teacher from Natick said she was outraged by outpourings of overt racism, all the way “to the very top.” Patrick Gray, an Episcopal priest from Hamilton, said he was there to learn. “How can we love everyone, “ he asked, “even the unloved, the loveless, the unlovable?”
A scattering of kipot in the crowd, plus occasional signs and T-shirts in Hebrew, made clear that Jews were a well-represented minority among counter-demonstrators. Reuben Stern and his father Alan, along with Jeremy, Noni, and Rob Sutherland were among a substantial representation from Temple Beth Shalom in Needham. Wanting to be “present and counted,” they held aloft a hand-lettered sign declaring them “Jewish, Tolerant, and Proud.” Lex Rofes, sporting a rainbow-hued kippah, and Val Langberg, along with their friend Samantha Weiser, drove all the way from Providence because they saw a clear need for a strong Jewish presence against “white supremacists and their so-called free speech rally.” Samantha carried a rainbow sign quoting Hillel the Elder in Hebrew and English. Emily, who wore her Syracuse University Hillel T-shirt, and her mother, Marilyn, declined to give a last name but proudly declared being affiliated with Temple Beth David of the South Shore.
Community pride emerged as another theme running through many responses. People were proud to be part of a community that, at least for that one day, rejected hatred, rejected racism and religious intolerance, and could manage competing demonstrations without violence.
Perhaps it was, as I overheard while I made my way out of the crowd, the peace of Shabbat.
Larry Constantine is a freelance journalist and photographer. His tenth novel, The Intaglio Imprint, is out in September under his pen name, Lior Samson.
Jews cannot afford to be silent
By Steven A. Rosenberg
In these days when there are broken hearts across the country, it may be easy for some to dismiss a swastika, drawn yet again earlier this month on a Marblehead athletic field. It’s harder to turn away, though, when the New England Holocaust Memorial is shattered for the second time in a month. And for those who need further proof that America is a less tolerant place than it was a year ago for Jews and minorities, the scene of hundreds of white supremacists marching and carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us,” in Charlottesville should have been a wake up call. More hate followed though, and death: a white supremacist was charged with killing a woman after he was seen driving his car into a crowd near the rally. Then, President Trump lifted the alt-right to a sense of legitimacy by insisting on drawing a moral equivalency between Charlottesville’s neo-Nazi marchers, and the counter-protesters.
Bolstered by the praise of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Americans found themselves in the middle of a public love fest between the president and openly-proud fascists. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists,” Duke tweeted. Meanwhile, Trump pulled closer to his base by challenging those who would pull down Confederate statues, and even drew a moral equivalency between Confederate leader Robert E. Lee and former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – mentioning them in the same sentence in his press conference. “So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” he told stunned Americans watching him on live TV. And later in the week he took to Twitter again to express his disappointment about the removal of Confederate-era statues. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted.
With his inability to consistently denounce or separate himself from violent right wing groups such as the Klan, Trump has set a new bar for what he will tolerate. To be fair to Trump, his ascent occurred at the same time that right wing violence has increased in the US. Over 100 people have been targeted and killed by far-right extremists since 2001, according to a US government study, and just two years ago white supremacist Dylann Roof hoped to start a race war when he killed nine people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Despite Trump’s olive branch to those who hate, elected officials, law enforcement, clergy and nonprofits like the Anti-Defamation League are taking right wing violence and intimidation seriously. In Boston, 40,000 people rallied against hate last Saturday, and across the North Shore there were peace vigils in Ipswich, Marblehead, Salem, Somerville and Swampscott.
Just how long Trump will keep his nose in right wing rhetoric is unclear. It’s been a chaotic seven months since he took office, and he has shown a tendency to make bold declarations and then move on to more entropy.
Still, the seeds of hatred have been sewn, and for the first time in decades, Jews have a reason to be concerned about their future in America. Elected officials, such as Governor Charlie Baker, should be commended for their proactive stance against racism and anti-Semitism. Last week state leaders signed a joint resolution and proclamation denouncing neo-Nazism and white nationalism and sent it to the White House.
Nationally, Jews also need to send a message to Trump. To date, close Trump aides such as Gary D. Cohn, the director of the president’s National Economic Council, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have been silent. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Las Vegas casino mogul who wrote a check for tens of millions to finance Trump’s campaign, has also stood silent.
As Jews, we know that silence in the midst of intolerance and racism often emboldens those who seek to divide a society. In this landmark moment in presidential history, we cannot afford to be silent. The world is watching.
Steven A. Rosenberg is the editor and publisher of the Jewish Journal. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.