Only in Boston: Party like it’s 1776

Boston’s crazies concerned citizens love to come out and play when there’s political capital at risk. I saw and attended many protests when I lived here and saw first-hand the energy percolating ahead of the die-in before the start of the Iraq war. Yet, one’s convictions are mere street theater to someone else … and in regards to the latter, Boston ever fails to deliver.

As I wandered through the city yesterday, eager to see the North End with an unobstructed view (I left Boston before the highway was fully sent below the ground), the noise carried up Congress Street softly but easily. As I approached, specifics became clear, including the shrill cries of a woman on the curb in front of Faneuil Hall, “If you want socialism, move to China!” … though the local accent brought it closer to “Chine-er.”

This is the Boston you must see when visiting, even if only once. Of course, Boston has a long history of both civil and hostile disobedience, from the jettisoning of tea into the harbor to the busing scandals of the 1970s and beyond. What I encountered yesterday is an essential flavor of the city and should sit well above Fenway Park on any itinerary.


The crowd yesterday had a decidedly conservative bent – the “Nobama” folks were well represented. The locals have always had a strong loud dissenting conservative community that never fails to mobilize when it feels justice must be served. What results is a mix of professions, economic classes and sanity levels that in its own unique way is a testament to the ability of beliefs to unify.

Though not nearly of the scale of the major protest events in our country’s history (most aren’t), this one was still sufficient to slow the tourist traffic around Faneuil Hall, but not beefy enough to upstage the adjacent breakdancing troupe. Signs were nonetheless held aloft, and zeal oozed from every pore on the tightly laid brick underfoot.

For a devotee of civil liberties, the sight was intoxicating, even if it was only because the debate had truly been brought to the public. It was the essence of the American experiment in the place where it was born.

Doubtless, freedom can’t choose its own spokesmen, and many of Lady Liberty’s representatives yesterday afternoon symbolized the necessary consequences of giving everyone a voice – think of it as the kernel of beauty inherent in tragedy (or vice versa).

As I crossed the street and approached the crowd, I encountered an older gentleman. He had take a knee and was working studiously with a marker and a piece of poster board, ensuring the legibility of the large block letters that would convey his message: “READ ATLAS SHRUGGED.” It wasn’t surprising to find an Objectivist (i.e., a follower of the beliefs expressed by Ayn Rand) at a protest over the healthcare bill. All smiles, he explained his position before taking a spot in the public display with the ostensible goal of maximizing his visibility. John Galt, sadly, was not in attendance – or at least didn’t reveal himself (maybe he’ll co-opt the airwaves later).

Across the street, atop the stairs next to City Hall, I was able to view the scene in which I had immersed myself only moments earlier. The change in perspective was incredible. On the ground, you’re essentially planting your nose inches from a Monet: you’re up close but missing both the magnitude and the message. Above and away, you sacrifice the energy but can appreciate the entirety.

The chance to witness – or participate in – a Boston street rally isn’t something you can schedule in advance, unless you’re planning a trip around controversial legislation. When the opportunity arises, though, it’s worth deviating from your Freedom Trail jaunt, if only for a glimpse.