By Sid Salter
BOSTON – One of my more vivid memories of covering the 2004 Democratic National Convention in this city was the furor generated over the so-called “free speech zones” or protest zones erected near the convention site at the TD Garden (then called the Fleet Center).
With the country still nervous about terrorism, the decision was made to create a protest zone beneath an abandoned elevated train track that contained protesters inside a chain-link fenced area bolstered with concrete barriers on the bottom and razor wire on top.
In 2004, most protesters at the Democratic convention were advocating an end to the wars on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the convention venue, protesters were relegated to the “free speech” zone, but protests spilled out across the city at Boston Common, Copley Square and in small numbers near the historic Old State House and Faneuil Hall – the site where John Kerry would eventually deliver his 2004 presidential campaign concession speech.
It was from that frame of reference – those 2004 images of young liberal anti-war protesters on the streets of Boston I witnessed in 2004 – that I greeted the sight last Saturday of a crowd of around 100 conservative senior citizens lining Congress Street from Haymarket to Faneuil Hall. They were protesting the Obama health care reform vote that was pending the next day on Capitol Hill.
Of course, not all the anti-war protesters I saw in 2004 were young and not all the anti-health care reform protesters I saw March 20 in Boston were senior citizens – but the demographics leaned heavily in those directions in both instances.
Back in 2004, Obama was an Illinois state senator campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat. The nation met Obama in a prime-time televised keynote speech to the Democratic Party convention delegates in Boston. Times have changed. Now, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being prosecuted on Obama’s watch. Now, as George W. Bush was in 2004, it is Obama who is blamed for not bringing the troops home.
Last week, Obama was the focal point of the ire of the health care reform protesters outside Faneuil Hall. The protest was organized by the Greater Boston Tea Party group.
In a town and state that embraces politics with much the same fervor as Mississippians, I wasn’t surprised to see health care reform protesters on the streets of Boston one day prior to the historic vote on Capitol Hill. But I was surprised at the fact that in a state that already has embraced many of the health care reforms now confronting the nation, there is much skepticism about the Obama health care reforms. Even in this historically most liberal state in the union, there are doubts about the impact, costs and scope of service of the legislation.
Republican Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s upset of Democratic nominee Martha Coakley for the seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy seems far less of an upset after talking with some of the voters there. As there is in Mississippi, voters are growing increasingly wary of the fiscal viability of an expansion of federal entitlement programs.
One thing that a trip to Boston does is remind us that American citizenship isn’t always neat, tidy or orderly. Protests might be uncomfortable at times, but they are and have been a peculiarly important right to which Americans should continue to cling and exercise when necessary.
Contact columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, where he is Perspective editor.