Boston meeting

The Boston meeting (the 10th in North America) was in Encuentro 5 in Chinatown on Saturday. The perennial problems of Saturday night meetings emerged, another event on at the same time so the audience was smaller than what the organizers hoped for (I think just over 30 people). A good number of these were part of the North Eastern Anarchist Network.

The space is impressive, its a vast open plan hall with offices on the 5th floor of a building shared by 11 organizations who cover the rent between them. I did some audio interviews in Boston as well as another blog entry I wrote while I was there and that talkes about Irish racism in Boston, a Boston Workers Alliance function I attended and NEFAC involvement in anti-eviction struggles.

Boston was the center for the talks I did in New England, I basically flew there from Buffalo and then was driven or took the train to the other cities I spoke at it in New England, sometimes staying overnight.  The flight was interesting as somehow the airline managed to lost my bag on what was a very short direct flight.  That was irritating for multiple reasons not least it meant the loss of not only all my clothes and my sleeping bag but the rucksack itself was of some sentimental value as I had travelled with it to Chiapas and Egypt among other places.  Plus I had spent the week before crossing the border painstakingly printing out and assembling over 100 PDF pamphlets that I intended to have on a stall at the meetings.  A group of Boston NEFACers met me at the airport and once I'd given up on the bag arriving and we were driving off one of them suggested that maybe there was more to my bag getting 'lost' then met the eye.  Anyway if it was the FBI or whoever that had ran off with it I hope they were educated by reading about my disputes with primitivism etc!

I'd had a delayed bag in much worse circumstances years before when arriving at the 2nd Zapatista encounter in the Spanish state.  There was snow on the ground in Boston but in Madrid that summer it was 35c and climbing and we were sleeping in a school hall in one of the suburbs.  The bag arrived 48 hours later by which time the clothes I had been living and sleeping in were in definite need of a change.  With the Boston loss we simply headed to Target (low cost department store) where I replaced all the clothes, got a cheap 'burner' (disposable mobile phone) and a cheap zip bag that I still have somewhere.  I'd also lost my computer microphone so I got a replacement in the Best Buys across the lot.  At some point we went to a camping store in the city centre where I picked up a replacement ultra small sleeping bag.

I talk about some of the events I went to in the Discussions in Boston blog I wrote at the time.  Under time pressure I left out a lot of stuff including the social stuff, we went to an Irish pub in the city center on the first night which I think was almost the only point I was in the downtown core - I was rather poor at sight seeing.  Either that night or the following one we went to a pretty cool traditional bare bones pizza place ran by a couple of famously grumpy old guys in what had been the old anarchist district. There I met one of the released members of the United Freedom Front / Ohio 7, an organisation name I could only vaguly recall from some British anarchist magazine from years back.  Towards the end of my time in Boston I visited another member of that group, Jaan Laman, in Walpole Supermax security prison where he is still being held some 25 years after his arrest!

The visit was more or less spontaneous and arose because one of the NEFAC members I was staying with visited him on a regular basis and I happened to be there on the day of a scheduled visit.  He asked me if I wanted to go along and although I was slightly concerned this might cause trouble for me when I needed to cross back into the US for the final leg of the tour I figured it was worth that slight risk.  We arrived as the screws were changing shift and I was relived to see that the visitor admittance forms were old style paper things without a computer in sight and further relieved that my Canadian drivers license was acceptable as ID. Admittance, once the forms were filled in, was through heavy metal electric doors that open with guards behind them, a reasonably thorough search, another set of heavy doors opening onto the courtyard behind the prison wall, and after the short walk across the yard another set of doors into the visitor area.  It was a cold overcast grey day in February but I suspect the walk across the yard would have felt bleak even on a sunny day.

Laman was sentenced to 53 years in prison for five bombings, one attempted bombing, and criminal conspiracy, no one was killed in the bombings.  Coming from Ireland where those convicted of much more serious political charges never serve such long sentences (and indeed may now be part of local or national government) 25 years seems an incredible amount of time to have served.  In the visitor center we were directed to a stall in the middle of the right hand side where he waited, seated behind glass that was obviously several centemeters thick.  We bumped fists through the glass and sat down.  Communication was via a telephone, one that from the sound quality seemed to have been in the prison for longer than he was.

We talked a bit about the situation in Ireland, he'd obviously been following the 'peace process' with some interest.  Curiously it emerged that a previous visitor from Ireland was a member of the very odd British and Irish Communist Organisation!  We also talked a bit about conditions in the prison and in particular about a recent ban that had been introduced on films that had anything other that children certs.  From this he talked about an exploitative flick that had been made about the Ohio 7 and which he had seen in prison which very unfortunately and falsely implied one of his fellow defendants had been an informer and necessated the word being out around that this was a lie (this person was still in prison at the time).

Over the years I've met many political prisoners, most of them from Ireland but a scattering of people from other countries including the US.  Jaan struck me as someone that the long years in prison had not beaten down.  Indeed from behind bars he edits 4strugglemag, the most recent issue contains an article by him on 'Afghanistan, Obama and Imperialism.'  There was one humorous note after we had said our goodbyes and were leaving through the reception center.  We picked up an issue of the prison officers magazine which included a big article on their 'mutual aid' relationship with the local police.  At the time I was more than a little surprized at the usage of this anarchist term, I've since discovered that Mutual Aid is a term also used in a related fashion by US emergency services.

I spent my first few days in Boston in the mostly Irish suburb of Quincy, the first morning we took a walk down to the beach there where I saw the Atlantic for the first time in 9 months, my last glimpse of it having been in Rossport the previous June.  I didn't see much else of Quincy apart from the walk to the subway and a visit to a local bar that afternoon although I also took part in a meeting of the Boston local of NEFAC there.  The day of the shopping trip to Target we walked into and across Boston afterwards taking in the sights including the massive headquarters of the Christian Scientists and the long running anarchist bookshop named after Lucy Parsons.  Later we crossed the bridge to Cambridge and popped into the Plough & the Stars for a couple of pints and some speculation about who might own a pub with that sort of name and what connection there might be back home.

The route took us past MIT, Harvard and the Maoist bookshop before we headed to Red Bones BBQ for some dinner and then the Somerville Theater.   We were going to see 'There will be Blood' but this cinema had two other advantages, it served beer and it was the site of a moderately successful, NEFAC led organising drive a couple of years earlier.  The film itself is intensely unsettling, and mostly consists of a vehicle for Daniel Day Lewis to show off his acting talents.

At this remove my timeline for Boston is a little hazy but I think it was the following day that we took a trip up to Salem which has built a pretty tacky tourist industry around the horrific witch trials that took place there in the 1690's during which at least 25 people, most of them women, we killed and over 150 arrested.  As well as sight seeing we were meeting a NEFAC member who lived up there.  We had a clam chowder and a couple of pints in a harbor restaurant before wandering through the town and popping into a bar for another couple of pints.  This ended up with us heading back into Boston for some more drinking, our Salem friends came along meaning he missed his work shift and we almost missed the last subway back to Quincy.  In fact we did miss it but luckly caught one that terminated early but which had a connecting bus.

Boston involved a lot of socialising, I mentioned some of the more formal ones in the blog written at the time but another day we headed out to another suburb for a fund raising brunch at the house of another NEFAC member, a concept I had not come across before.  Sometime around then we drove out to Worcester to the first public meeting of that stage of the tour at the Stone Soup.  At that point I switched from staying in Quincy to East Boston, a mostly Latino area where I had an excellent Salvadoran dish of chopped heart and rice, following my standard rule of going for anything that I haven't had before.  

From East Boston we did an overnight trip to Portland, Maine and I did a second overnight trip on the train to Providence, Rhode Island.  One of the notable things about driving in and out of East Boston is that we passed what I think was the HQ of the carpenters union on the freeway and at night they had a giant neon sign on the roof that alternated between the Irish tricolour and an add for a Wolfe Tones concert!  Some cliches are obviously true.

As I wrote at the time the turnout for the Boston public meeting was a little less than expected but I did get to meet a few new faces that I would run into again at other points in the trip including James Herod who gave me a copy of his book Getting Free which I'm afraid I've still to get around to reviewing.  The meeting was unusual in that pop corn was provided, the first and only time I've seen this at a political meeting.

Just before leaving Boston we had one final meeting which was the second private discussion about the specifics of organisation that I gave in many of the places I visited.  This one was unusual in that it sort of took place in a church.  It was mostly comprised of NEFAC members, I have a souviner photo taken afterwards of them all posing in front of a liquor store.  It was just before this meeting that I recorded the interview below.

Audio: An interview with four members of the Boston union of the North Eastern Anarchist Communist Federation (NEFAC) that touches on NEFAC, the Boston Irish, housing organization around the foreclosure crisis, unemployed workers organising and political prisoner support in the USA today. And of course the US elections.

You'll find blog enteries for all 44 stops of my North American speaking tour on the site, I'm slowly returning to them and fleshing these out, you'll find the ones I have done this with at the Extending the accounts of my North American speaking tour page.

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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