It will be called the Boston Model. It will be the way for those in power to pretend they support free speech while starving it to death. It reminds me of several things. One is the time the Democrats changed the rules in the Senate allowing federal judicial nominees other those to the Supreme Court to pass with a majority vote perhaps thinking they would always control the Senate. This is like that. Others will follow the Boston Model and it may be used against the people who are not the flavor of the month.
It reminds me of the pussilanimity of the Boston’s academic community. None spoke out against this suppression. It reminds me of Orwell’s “all animals are equal but some are more equal. “ All speech is free but some less free.
It may have been different in Boston for the planned free speech gathering there on Saturday, August 19, but for Charlottesville, VA. After the clashes between the white supremacists and those opposed to them that lead to the unfortunate death of one woman, Heather Heyer, run over by a supremacist and the ham handed much belittled response to it by Trump, the planned Boston free speech gathering took on a different hue.
Boston officials, as everyone else in the nation, took notice of the unfortunate but predictable happening in Charlottesville. Their response was to immediately put up the “not welcome” or “no vacancy” signs. Mayor Walsh, Governor Baker, and others said that those who planned to attend the meeting were persona non grata. They did not approve of the speeches that they expected them to give. Thousands thought this prior government censorship and suppression of speech to be good.
Yet at the same time with forked tongue they said the rally could go on. For all that transpired the free speech people’s permit to rally could just as easily set as the place for the event the south tunnel into Castle William on Castle Island. You ask, “where’s that?” Well that’s the point.
The idea of free speech is that one can be heard. Heard not only by the converted but by others. It is epitomized by the Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park where for the cost of a soap box one can address and interact with the public openly. The recent obituary of Republican kingmaker Arthur Finkelstein notes he told of his start in politics. “I would stand outside on soapboxes in Greenwich Village at 3 in the morning and argue with people about the nature of freedom.”
As it happened the Boston rally took place subject to such onerous conditions as to deprive the free speech people their right to an audience and create an atmosphere designed to chase those interested in attending away. The bandstand where the speeches were to be given was encircled by a metal fence keeping people around 100 yards away. To gain entrance one seeking to participate had to pass though a crowd of hostile people who surrounded the only entrance.
That reminded me of a game we played as kids called the “hot oven.” Boys would line up on each side of a line and the one selected would have to run between them and be punched or hit with belts. How one got to be the lucky one I forget. It wasn’t fun having been the victim on occasion. I recall what hurt most deeply was when those who you thought to be your best friends gave you the hardest hits.
Our “hot oven” was more familiarly known as running the gauntlet. The Boston hot oven boiled over with screams. But not all made it safely. I saw one guy hit with a sucker punch and another had items torn away. I’m sure many thought it was not worth going through. Those who did faced the police who manned the entrance.
The police became the arbiters of who could pass on. They checked identifications. Yes, these are the same people who object to checking voters identifications. Since when do you have to be questioned by officers of the state as a prerequisite to hear a speaker. What were the standards they used? Those who were not supportive of the speakers, who were undecided, or who had crossed-eyes were barred.
Even the press could not attend the small gathering at the bandstand. Did anyone in the media complain? Where were the First Amendment lawyers seeking emergency hearings? I heard no complaints. The media happily let the free speech advocates’ speech be suppressed by state fiat.
You cannot have free speech if you are not allowed to address more than yourself and if locked in a closet. Nor can you have free speech if others supporting you are locked in with you. The idea behind it is to transmit your message to others uninterrupted if you own the forum.
As much as Boston is praised for its actions in keeping the peace it should be condemned for its suppression of free speech. Hardly is that honoring free speech when those who intend to speak are told their speech is not welcome. Hardly is it free speech when those who want to hear it have to run a gauntlet where they can be picked upon and identified.
The city officials took these steps because it was called the “hate speech” of white supremacists which is odious too many; but so too are some expressions of speech odious to others. Many find speeches urging boycotts if Israeli goods to be vile and legislation is pending to make it criminal. I remember the guy who wanted to get a plate in Vermont reading: “Irish.” The state and a judge denied him the right saying that was hate speech.
Perhaps then we can see the future of the St Patrick’s day parade in Boston. It will be allowed on O’Callahan Way in South Boston. It will be between noon and 1 p.m. Only those who can prove they are Irish and live or have lived on that street can attend.
The Boston model of allowing free speech but then denying it an audience may be the new way for government to pretend compliance with First Amendment rights. In truth it is the massacre of it. When you deny speech an audience you have effectively murdered it.
The Revolution that began in Boston on the 19th of April 1775 may have experienced the beginning of its end on the 19th of August 2017. The shot heard round the world in ’75 is much different from the shot into the heart of the First Amendment in ’17. Where is our Paul Revere?