Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The Massachusetts State House sits atop Beacon Hill, bordered by the Boston Common, Suffolk University, and hundreds of aging brownstones containing thousands of apartments and condominiums. When a hot-button issue hits the legislature, protestors gather by the hundreds before the marble steps with banners and placards to make their case known. One determined gentleman can be found on the opposite street corner daily, American flag in hand, shouting at anyone who’ll listen about whatever the topic of the day is. If the legislature isn’t in session, he’ll be out there shouting anyway.
Beacon Hill residents are used to these frequent and often raucous protests. In a neighborhood as densely packed as this one is, the demonstrators are easily dismissed as just one more inconvenience. In fact, they often provide as much amusement as annoyance. Whether its teachers demanding more pay, policemen demanding contracts, Roxbury residents demanding better bus service, or any of the various groups who appear to have no agenda at all, most Bostonians can view the crowds as the product of freedom of speech at work in all its glory. While whatever crowds normally gather along Beacon Street are generally spirited, they are without fail polite and respectful of the needs of pedestrians and commuters to make their way through one of the city’s central thoroughfares.
Not so with the gay marriage protestors who have sprung like termites from woodwork. With the controversy in full swing this month, the usual crowd has swelled to a throng that many days has spilled off of the State House steps, into the street, into the park, and around the side streets and alleys. Advocates from both sides, during the past month, have apparently decided that they own not just the small assembly area before the building, but the surrounding neighborhood as well. They feel free to harass passersby and drivers alike.
Both myself and my wife walk to and from work each day from our apartment on the Hill. This 10-minute stroll, normally pleasant and refreshing, especially now that we’re out of winter and on the cusp of spring, has become a nightmare of late. Just to get through the crowd without being jostled, shoved, screamed at, and even pushed to the ground is a struggle. I’m six feet tall and large enough that I can hold my own. My wife is not. There’s no way for her to go around the protestors because they are everywhere. I’ve actually advised her to try taking a cab home in the evenings when the mass of bodies is the thickest, but even that is no assurance of safety. A huge contingent of Boston’s finest has been at hand to direct traffic, but the numbers are absolutely against them.
I can appreciate the Democratic process in action on my very doorstep. I can respect these people’s right to assemble. I just wish they would respect my family’s right to walk home in peace.