(Last issue’s article about the 1975 summer of struggle against racism in Boston recounted the rulers’ unsuccessful red-baiting campaign against the Committee Against Racism and the PLP, and the cops’ attempt to ban CAR — later known as INCAR, the International Committee Against Racism — from marching on City Hall with an anti-racist petition containing 35,000 signatures.)
Early in the morning of August 18 — the planned march date — INCAR members and their lawyers went to court to enjoin the ban. The judge bent over backwards to help the cops’ lawyers present their own case. But they had no case, even by the lopsided standards of capitalist “justice.”
The cops’ attorney was reduced to arguing that since the commissioner had already canceled the march, it was too late to assign enough police to manage it. This he argued despite the hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes cops stationed along the march’s route at that very moment, waiting to prevent it.
In a public courtroom, the judge faced the alternative between flagrantly denying the right to free speech and assembly, supposedly “guaranteed” by the U.S. Constitution, and restoring the permit for the sake of protecting the system’s democratic façade. This time, the mayor and cops had gone too far, even by their own standards. The judge regretfully revoked the ban, and 300 people marched. It was one of the summer’s highlights. Thousands of workers watched from the street and shouted friendly encouragement to the demonstrators.
One speaker, INCAR’s chairperson at the time, aroused a collective shout of militant anti-racist anger when he said: “We will turn ROAR into a mee-ow!” and then, pointing to Hicks, O’Neill, & Co., who were watching from their City Hall offices, led the demonstrators in collectively giving these fascists the finger.
After that march, most of the volunteers returned home to prepare for school openings. Some decided to remain in Boston to consolidate the gains made over the summer and to build both PLP and the anti-racist movement there. The project’s final action came on September 8, the opening day of the 1975-76 school year. A year earlier, at the start of the busing program, ROAR thugs had thrown rocks at busses carrying young black schoolchildren into South Boston, Charlestown, East Boston, etc., and had otherwise conducted a racist rampage throughout the city, under the benevolent gaze of Boston’s police. Having proven that the ROAR goons didn’t reflect the views of most Bostonian workers, INCAR and PLP were now intent on organizing a demonstration for multi-racial unity outside South Boston High School on opening day.
Two busloads carrying anti-racist black, white and Latino students and workers set out for “Southie” on the morning of the 8th. As the busses were crossing the bridge leading into South Boston, the cops pulled them over. A lieutenant named Bradley boarded and informed the anti-racists that they were all under arrest. “What for?” asked one of them, a final-year law student. “Well,” answered Bradley, “you’re not exactly creating a disturbance, but your presence could tend to create one.” The law student retorted: “There’s no such thing as ‘tending to create a disturbance.’ Your arrest is completely illegal.” “Don’t worry,” chuckled Bradley, “we’ll think of something.”
Before depositing the demonstrators in a South Boston jail, the cops made a point of handcuffing them so tightly that many lost circulation in their wrists. On the way to the jailhouse, the demonstrators were treated to a volley of racist vulgarities from the cops in the front of the vans transporting them. Once the demonstrators were behind bars, a cop at the jailhouse greeted them by saying, “Comes the revolution, we’ll kill every f—— one of you.” No one was intimidated, and spirits remained high.
After spending the day locked up, the demonstrators were transported in police vans back to the Park Street subway station in downtown Boston. The cops’ original plan had been to release them at dusk onto the South Boston streets, where they might have been easy prey for a cop-ROAR trap. At the request of a PLP member, who had spent a good part of the day befriending a public defender from behind bars, the lawyer agreed to accompany several shifts of demonstrators on the ride to Park Street. The thought was that with a public defender in the van as a witness, the cops wouldn’t dare try their usual brutalities. This estimate proved correct. The demonstrators held a short, defiant rally at Park Street.
The public defender’s courageous action had taught a valuable political lesson: sharp situations provide important opportunities to do the “right thing,” and given the proper encouragement, many people can be won to rise to the occasion.
BOSTON 75 proved that under determined communist leadership, a relatively small number of militant anti-racists can put the rulers, their state apparatus and their gutter racist henchmen on the defensive. This was one of the project’s important lessons. In the final installment, we will discuss others, including the crucial ones to learn from its weaknesses.