ShareThis Page

Free speech supporters: Outnumbered, but rally was a success

| Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, 6:18 p.m.
Protesters face off with riot police escorting conservative activists following a march in Boston against a planned 'Free Speech Rally' just one week after the violent 'Unite the Right' rally in Virginia left one woman dead and dozens more injured on August 19, 2017 in Boston, United States.
Getty Images North America
Protesters face off with riot police escorting conservative activists following a march in Boston against a planned 'Free Speech Rally' just one week after the violent 'Unite the Right' rally in Virginia left one woman dead and dozens more injured on August 19, 2017 in Boston, United States.
A counterprotester, part of a small group who remained on the street hours after a 'Free Speech' rally was staged by conservative activists, scuffles with a security guard and police, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston.
A counterprotester, part of a small group who remained on the street hours after a 'Free Speech' rally was staged by conservative activists, scuffles with a security guard and police, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston.

BOSTON — Supporters of a small, conservative "free speech rally" held Saturday in Boston said that despite being outnumbered by tens of thousands of counterprotesters, their event was a success.

Demonstrators protesting against racism and white supremacy had descended upon historic Boston Common, dwarfing the rally's few dozen attendees and leading to what appeared to be an abrupt end of the event. Less than an hour after rallygoers arrived, they were escorted out of the area by police, as boisterous counterprotesters scuffled with officers.

But event organizers, speakers and participants say coverage of the event has been mischaracterized and that it accomplished its purpose — to talk about the importance of free speech.

"We were there to discuss the spectrum of American views," said Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, who gave the keynote at the rally.

Ayyadurai, a Cambridge technology entrepreneur who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, added that the crowd was a politically and racially diverse group of mostly students.

In the days leading up to Saturday's long-planned event, organizers publicly distanced themselves from the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead and many more injured.

Addressing concerns that a similar event might come to Boston, Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh had denounced "hate groups" that would potentially attend Saturday's gathering.

But when asked about the atmosphere at the Parkman Bandstand on the Common where supporters gathered Saturday, participants described the opposite of what opponents had feared.

"I was holding one of the 'Black Lives Do Matter' signs," said attendee April Sutherland, 25, of Seattle. Photos show the signs being held up as Ayyadurai is speaking. "It was powerful to have our voices heard. The police were very good at escorting us out (and) we were met with people who were so encouraging. Forty thousand people were objecting to something they didn't realize was a lie."

Melissa Smith, 32, of Brookline, said she participated in the rally because free speech is important to her.

"(The event) was very successful," she said.

Despite multiple confrontations, fights breaking out and objects getting thrown at police, authorities touted the events as mostly peaceful, reporting a total of 33 arrests for disorderly conduct, assaulting a police officer and other offenses. Those arrested are expected in court this week. Officials say about 40,000 people attended.

The counterdemonstration received praise from Walsh, who said Boston "stood for peace and love" and President Trump, who said the people in Boston were "speaking out" against bigotry and hate. Trump added in a Twitter message that "Our country will soon come together as one!"

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.