Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Let freedom ring

As I was in town today meeting a friend for lunch and a beer (my day off, as yesterday I was up 'til midnight finishing my final reference assignment and tomorrow I'm be working all day on my last management paper), I decided to wander down to North Station and see if I could take in some of the Democratic National Convention hooplah.  As the police had blocked off many of the main routes in and out of the area, just finding a way through proved to be a challenge.  At first I was about to give up, but then I noticed other people doing more or less what I was, so thus emboldened I followed one or two who seemed to know where they were going and voila - convention madness! 

Just off Canal Street was the infamous "Free Speech Zone," a.k.a. "The Freedom Cage," a stretch of the old elevated Green Line that had been surrounded by barbed wire fences into an oblong enclosure for protest groups.  Not only was it a terribly depressing space, but its position just about guaranteed that no one would have to see the protestors unless they went out of their way to do so.  To the credit of many conventioneers, they did just that;  and to the credit of the protest groups, they didn't just remain in the Freedom Cage but took their message all over the Greater Boston area. 

When I got there, however, the microphone had been taken over by Fred Phelps and his "God Hates Fags" organization, which among other things has picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, announcing to his family and fellow mourners that he was now burning in Hell.  A nice person, that Reverend Phelps.  As his traveling freak show had booked the microphone for a full two hours, spewing a combination of his hate-filled interpretation of Scripture and hymns sung by his venomous flock, I had a choice - leave and catch the early train home, or stay and heckle the evil bastard along with the rest of the crowd that had gathered.  

So I stayed and heckled for the whole two hours.  They sang their hymns;  we sang the Star-Spangled Banner, other patriotic tunes, and the Oscar Meyer Weiner song, which seemed churlishly appropriate given our opponent.  They decried us for our wickedness;  we chanted "God is Love" and gave them the finger.  At one point I kept on shouting for them to sing Freebird.  They wrapped themselves in the flag;  we honored their right to speak but didn't let their speech go unchallenged.  For two hours I felt like a goddamned American.  Why this couldn't have happened on Canal Street - where more people could see free speech in action - is completely beyond me. 

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