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SO YOU CAME here to protest. Good thing, too, since Boston is the ideal setting for dissent, right? After all, Boston — not New York or Los Angeles — begot revolutionary firebrands like oratory sparkplug Sam Adams and smuggler-turned-famous-signatory John Hancock. And this American city — not the one with the creepy Republican CEO-style mayor — once hosted a raucous tea party so monumental that it launched a nation that grew into the great superpower of monster trucks, Cheetos, and Access Hollywood that it is today. And this state capital — not the one with the hulking Republican action hero, oops, governor — houses Faneuil Hall, a/k/a the Cradle of Liberty, the cavernous assembly room where Sam Adams rallied colonists to fight British rule.
But something strange has happened to Boston’s radical spirit over the last two centuries. It disappeared. Look around: John Hancock and Sam Adams are no longer whos, but whats — commercial brands of life insurance and beer. These days, what’s Faneuil Hall? A cheesy gift shop and a part-time television studio.
And what does dissent mean in Boston? Being corralled in a designated pen three blocks from the event you’re protesting, forbidden by city officials from brandishing placards on poles (all signs inside the protest pen must be handheld) or Super Soakers (likely due to unverified rumors that anarchists will fill water-guns with pee or bleach). And then they wonder what there is to protest.
For whatever reason you’re here — maybe you despise the two-party system, detest capitalism, and/or abhor the supposition that picking the lesser of two evils is a "choice" — you need to know where to find activist-friendly havens from the swinging nightsticks, rubber bullets, and jackbooted thugs. Or, at the very least, a place where you can sip a warm cup of fair-trade coffee or buy a particle respirator in case you’re exposed to tear gas. So here’s a sampling of places where progressive activists can find the tools, or the company, they need.
Last September, when John Ashcroft swooped into town to defend the USA Patriot Act — that Orwellian piece of legislation also approved by the star of this week’s event — the saggy-eyed attorney general attracted throngs of angry demonstrators, including some decked out in Dubya disguises, rainbow clown wigs, and plastic ass cheeks affixed over American flags. It’s safe to assume that there’ll be no small number of costumes on display in Boston this week. And one place to build a crafty outfit is at Jack’s Joke Shop, the oldest gag store in the country, filled with props that could be integrated into guerrilla theater: rubber Bush masks, fake handcuffs, squirting toilets.
Perhaps the most popular street-theater prop is the star-spangled banner. You can fold the grand old flag into symbolic accessories of jingoistic oppression (blindfold or gag) or figurative expulsion (hankie or diaper). Unfortunately, to get your hands on the ol’ red, white, and blue, you might have to enter enemy territory and set foot in the Army Barracks. Yes, you may have some reservations about forking over cash to a Newbury Street business that hawks T-shirts emblazoned with mottos like PEACE THROUGH SUPERIOR FIREPOWER. But then again, the Army/Navy store does sell gas masks — an important apparatus in case the overeager police go all WTO on your ass.
Speaking of which, although no one wants tear gas or pepper spray unleashed on demonstrators, even the Boston Area Liberation Medic (BALM) Squad advises activists to plan for chemical-weapon contact. Particle respirators are the second-best defense against tear gas, after clunky, sweaty gas masks; most hardware stores like Model Hardware and Tags Hardware have them in stock. For less-cumbersome protection against gas-induced temporary blindness, try bandannas or scarves; a wet bandanna placed over exposed eyes helps ease the stinging. Hilton’s Tent City, a four-floor store located less than a block from the FleetCenter, sells bandannas, Nalgene bottles, and first-aid kits. And if you’re planning to participate in the Democracy Uprising! 258-mile DNC2RNC march, the ambitious, month-long trek planned by the Next Step Collective, Hilton’s also carries essentials for your packing list: thick socks, sleeping bags, and insect repellant.
Whatever message you’ve come to disseminate — MEAT IS MURDER; DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC; DECRIMINALIZE POT; STOP ABUSING WORKERS’ RIGHTS; THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE MOTORIZED; END REALITY TV — you obviously want to write it on something, since the television stations will probably drown your chanting with voice-over narration. Cambridge’s Pearl Fine Arts is one of the best art stores in the area, with every kind of marker, paintbrush, and poster-board size imaginable. It also happens to carry spray paint, y’know, just in case you want to refurbish a wicker chair while you’re in town.
While you’re out on the streets shouting into bullhorns and flipping off the cops, you’ll be guaranteed to cross paths with the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, a free-vegetarian-food organization formed in Cambridge 24 years ago by anti-nuclear activists. Staffed by volunteers like former City Council candidate Dan "the Bagel Man" Kontoff (he’s the one with the big buttons all over his hat; you’ll know when you see him), the FNB crew will be lugging around cardboard boxes of bagels and fruit during the DNC and distributing grub to hungry demonstrators.
But if you’re actually looking to sit down while you, say, plan a direct action, there’s Buddha’s Delight in Chinatown, a cheap, vegan-friendly restaurant with Southeast Asian cuisine, faux-meat dishes, and vermicelli bowls. Further from the FleetCenter, at the far end of Newbury Street by the Mass Pike, sits the Other Side Cosmic Café, a chill sidewalk coffee bar and wheatgrass-juice-serving sandwich-and-smoothie joint where the napkin holders have all been sticker-bombed and the Rastafarian waiter won’t bug you once you’re served. Even further out into Allston are Grasshopper, a Vietnamese and Chinese vegetarian restaurant, and the neighboring TJ’s House of Pizza, a pizza-and-calzone place with vegan-friendly dishes like meatless meatballs, spicy Buffalo meatless chicken, and dairy-and-egg-free carrot cake. And if your cash supply has been exhausted on a pal’s bail and you can’t find the Food Not Bombs folks, a certain ubiquitous doughnut chain is known for its overflowing dumpsters of bagged, day-old bagels and hardened munchkins.
One of the few places around where you’ll find anonymous scribblings bemoaning fascist biolabs is in the unisex bathroom at the Harvest Co-op, a community-owned nonprofit market in Cambridge’s Central Square, where progressive avatar Howard Zinn supposedly buys his groceries. Out in front of the market is a mellow café serving hummus-and-tabouleh wraps, tomato-and-mozzarella sandwiches, and fair-trade coffee. It’s also got a communal announcement board featuring hundreds of always-changing activist postings; hawking everything from yoga studios and Reiki therapy to Noam Chomsky readings, this is the paper equivalent of Indymedia. Also on that side of the river are Cambridge Naturals, a health-food store, and Veggie Planet, a vegetarian café serving open-face grilled-cheese pizza, caesar-salad pizza, and an all-white pizza called "Blonde on Blonde."
If you’re more of the revolutionary-minded sort, there’s a radical bookstore snug in Boston’s South End called the Lucy Parsons Center — it’s the sort of anti-authoritarian scene where everyone knows Emma Goldman’s name. Hosting weekly "Radical Movie Nights," the activist-run bookstore and community center screens films like Green with a Vengeance, a documentary about a twentysomething forest-defense activist who burned three SUVs at an Oregon car dealership and landed in prison with a 22-plus-year sentence. A word to the wise: if you go there in khakis or a suit, the folks behind the counter might suspect you’re a cop, so don’t. Another activist community center is Spontaneous Celebrations, a multicultural arts organization and community center offering drum lessons, poetry readings, and open mikes.
Last but not least, two phone numbers you should have: the Massachusetts chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (617-482-3170) and the National Lawyers Guild (617-227-7335), both located in Boston. They just might come in handy.
Camille Dodero can be reached at cdodero[a]phx.com
Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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