As a resident of (or rather near) Boston, how do I feel about the cage that has been reserved for free speech near the Democratic convention? If you haven’t heard about this cage or seen the pictures, check the web. It is a small area underneath an abandoned elevated roadway which has been walled in with concrete highway barriers, two parallel rows of cyclone fencing, and topped by razor wire. It is located next to a parking area where some of the convention goers will be disembarking from their buses on their way to the Fleet Center where the convention will be held. A judge who ruled that this “free speech zone” did not appear to be unconstitutional expressed horror at how it appeared to be a maximum security pen of sorts, and indeed, it looks more like something you’d find erected in the lawless Camp X-Ray for prisoners of war than in America as a place for peaceful protestors to voice their opinion. This maximum security pen will be where people are allowed to hold signs and engage in other behavior that most believe is what a free and active population is supposed to do.
So how do I feel about it? My disgust level is extremely high, and I am a little surprised because even though Boston is a smalltime city, it does try to sometimes give the impression that it is more liberal than it actually is (and be assured, it isn’t). I must say I don’t buy for a single minute the propaganda that the pen was erected due to the by-now-proverbial “outside agitators” which each and every local government has always, for time immemorial, claimed are “coming to disrupt the convention” (an appeal to xenophobia which seems to work more on old timers than on people who’ve actually traveled around the country and noticed that people from “outside” are actually the same as people “inside”).
My search for a redeeming quality about this pen comes up with only one saving grace: This pen might – but as easily may not – protect the protestors from being attacked by the police, which as everyone knows from watching decades of political conventions, is what police like to do when police gather in large numbers. Will it serve that one good purpose? I’m going to lay down $20 that it will not; by the end of the convention, I predict the police will have attacked the pen. And since the razor wire and fences prevent the protestors from dispersing, there may be casulties that simply would not be a problem if the pen had been simply a painted line on the ground.
My advice to the protestors: The only way to beat this game is to play it. So I suggest that everyone who is going to be imprisoned in this pen should wear orange jumpsuits. Make it clear that America now sees fit to treat Americans exercising their responsibility as if they were Afghanistans caught on a battlefield.