Despite the fear of a frenzy, most protesters go in peace

With rallies hemmed in, Boston is relatively calm

Election 2004

The Democratic Convention

July 30, 2004|By Riley McDonald | Riley McDonald,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BOSTON - Liberals, conservatives, anarchists, fundamentalists, peace-seekers and war supporters all found reason and space to protest in Boston this week - but peacefully, and in relatively small numbers.

"From the get-go we had expectations of the worst and that hasn't happened," said David Estrada, a Boston police spokesman. "We've been very fortunate."

Local, state and federal law enforcement officials convened on Boston with riot gear and crowd control training in anticipation of massive, rowdy protests. The designated protest area at the convention site was encircled in mesh and barbed wire to ensure that no overzealous protester tried to crash the security gates or throw something at convention-goers.

By the end of the week, with just two arrests and with crowds in demonstration zones generally small or nonexistent, all that preparation was looking mercifully unnecessary.

Many causes

Last night, protests were rowdier, with some demonstrators burning a flag and one wielding a fake Molotov cocktail. But police, who increased security expecting major disruptions, said they were relieved to have made only three arrests.

Wednesday night, as political buffs bound for the convention hall filed past the security barriers separating the convention line from the public, a few dozen people leaned over the fences, passing out stickers and holding up signs advocating everything from gay and lesbian rights to a "white revolution" to paper, rather than electronic, ballots. They drew little attention.

Curious convention-goers, meanwhile, wandered over to peer through the chain-link fences at about one hundred demonstrators inside the designated protest venue, some marching with a "Vietnam Veterans Against Kerry" banner, others standing in front of a sign reading, "Bush Lies, Freedom Fries."

Despite the relative peace around the FleetCenter, protesters and demonstrators fanned out across the city during the week, passing out fliers, setting up exhibits and holding demonstrations that sometimes drew thousands of people.

Outside events

A protest in Copley Square yesterday by a group that calls itself the Bl(A)ck Tea Society attracted people angry with the war, the media and the two-party system.

"We live in a country that's home of the free and home of the brave but we have to choose between candidates with very similar views," said Emma Lang, a 19-year-old student from Cambridge trained as a street medic to deal with general injuries as well as rubber bullet wounds and tear gas. A few minutes later, she grabbed a megaphone and encouraged participants to put on sunscreen.

Other large efforts included hundreds of anti-war protesters who said they hoped to influence Kerry to pull American troops out of Iraq, Palestinian and Israeli advocacy groups also looking to have an effect on Kerry and other Democrats in town for the week, and soft-spoken, earnest Falun Gong practitioners who brought to Boston their nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the Chinese government's human rights violations against their followers.

Then there were the individual efforts: Anti-abortion activists from California and Kansas drove past South Station in trucks bearing graphic images of aborted fetuses, shouting, "Kerry is scary!" A woman on the subway toted a small plant and passed out fliers declaring, "Shrubs against Bush."

Protesters of all stripes found common ground in opposing the restrictions on demonstrations during the convention week.

Nicole Agusti, 24, a Boston University graduate student, said the low-level of demonstrations reflects a desire to avoid activities that might hurt the Democratic ticket.

"First we get John Kerry elected, then we start protesting," she said.

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