In last week’s press conference, Trump maligned the opposition to the white nationalist protestors and labeled them the “alt-left.” The far right fringes had years to come up with that phrase but never did. Now that Trump coined it, it’s the new snowflake! I kept asking — and second guessing — myself over and over whether there was a true alt-left. Going into last weekend, I still had no resolution. And now after the weekeend…?
On Saturday August 19, Free Speech Boston held a so-called “free speech” rally in the Boston Common. At best, it promised to be in incredibly poor taste due to the events two weekends ago in Charlottesville. At worst, it would be a repeat of rampant violence. Nevertheless the rally was going to be met with a counter protest. If there was an alt-left, I would meet it here.
The counter protesters (of which I was one) easily outnumbered the original rally by thousands and stayed around the Common long after the free-speechers wrapped up.
Some attendees were walking alt-right caricatures, including a man asking where the Nazis were to a CNN reporter over and over again. Less obvious was a man and woman standing with a flag at the top of the steps to the State House. I overheard the man say he felt he was “in the minority.” He spoke to a cameraman about how the Confederate monuments should not be destroyed. That alone may have been enough to incite chants and shouting from nearby counter protesters. They started to leave for the other side of the Common. “You don’t destroy buildings!” yelled the woman as they walked way. She wore a feather in her hair. I never found out why.
Eventually I spent time near the bandstand and ended up talking to two Trump supporters. Trump Supporter #1, a self described troll, had an Anonymous-themed t-shirt and thought that Pence would be much worse as a president. Furthermore, he claimed to have voted for Obama twice but supports Trump “because he’s my president.” Trump Supporter #2 had a MAGA hat on backwards and said this was his first demonstration because he was curious. He was also nervous, which seemed understandable given the numbers and the reactions he got just from walking back from 7-Eleven with water. As we talked, speakers at the free speech rally were being booed as they made their way from the bandstand.
At one point an activist was enraged with the hat and started yelling. I convinced TS #2 to take off his hat while we were talking in attempt to help bridge the gap with people he wanted to debate with, saying something close to the following:
A lot of people, like sexual abuse survivors who can’t believe Trump won, can be triggered by that hat if you wear it around here. I support Black Lives Matter, but if a relative of mine was a policeman killed in the line of duty, I wouldn’t show up in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt.
For all that blather, the young man nodded in understanding. “Read the room,” he said.
We all left with handshakes, TS #2’s MAGA hat tucked in his bag of water along with a flyer one of the counter protesters handed him. People standing nearby thanked me for helping diffuse a situation.
For every conflict with free speech demonstrators being shouted off the grounds (primarily the rally’s attendants), there were moments of conflict being diffused.
In attempting to find more dialogue between individuals, I moved back towards the State House and found a nearby man, also “pro-free speech,” orating to nearby phone cameras and journalists about the evils of collectivism and wearing a t-shirt with a helmet. The shirt was faded enough that the Catholic crusader depicted on it looked like a Klansman to somebody. A nearby protestor went on about Catholic crusaders. “They burned Jewish villages… killed Jewish kids!”
I have no idea how it happened, but somehow this ended with the two hugging.
When I got back to the State House, a Trump supporter started his own rant in the middle of the crowd. Some activists started getting in his face while organizers kept chanting keep things peace-ful! I was too far away to discern what was said in the middle of the circle, but in the end, I saw yet another hug between the Trump supporter and an activist.
A group of young white males wearing black with bandannas were running and jumping in a circle when they led off a chant of all lives matter! One of the black demonstrators (among others) shouted to correct them.
“It’s Black Lives Matter!”
“I gotcha! I gotcha!” one of the young men said as the all-lives chant died down and restarted.
“We won,” I heard someone say. “We outlasted the Nazis.” I was feeling good about this until I saw Facebook pictures from Black Lives Matter organizers. Police, in riot gear and on the move. Who were they moving towards? For all my running around, I never saw them. The image of police for me that day was one with bright yellow vests moving along to Queen’s “Bicycle Race.” The photos and video I was seeing elsewhere gave me the impression that two battles were being fought, by two very different groups.
When things were heated up, people I was with ran down to Boylston Street to see what was happening. Most people, already overwhelmed under the unending heat, only got more confused and angry, reduced to spectators in what was supposed to be a unified event. The last hour I was down there seemed like a perfect representation of this new leftist movement in America. We’re still divided, we don’t know how to come together, but we’re trying.
Long after the protest was over, a friend of mine overheard two people in a store talking about the counter protest: Then I turned the corner, and there was all these white people! The event become more diverse as the day continued, but my pictures don’t lie.
Were those of us gathered the alt-left? That would assume we are as united as the alt-right. From what I saw on Saturday, that still needs some work.🔷