Protesters talk addiction, recovery amid local "Protect the Vote" demonstrations

A march Wednesday snaked straight through the Mass and Cass area at the center of Boston's addiction crisis

Protect the Vote protesters briefly block an MBTA bus during a march down Washington St, through the South End and, eventually, to Copley Square on Wednesday. (Photo by Dakota Antelman)

Several hundred anti-Trump “Protect the Vote” protesters snaked through Boston Mass and Cass area, Wednesday, in a moment that brought national progressive angst through the Boston’s most long simmering addiction hotspot.

For Samiel Pierce, a city council candidate canvassing the protest crowd, the place of addiction and recovery communities in progressive conversations could not go understated. 

“The reality is that people who don’t have much have more in common with one another than they do with the people pointing their fingers from the glass buildings,” he said. 

Though former vice president Joe Biden has since emerged as the presumptive president elect, the election remained unsettled as of Wednesday night. That had demonstrators from across Boston turning out to rally at Nubian Square in Roxbury. 

Under watchful eye of police and helicopters buzzing low overhead, protesters blocked traffic then moved quickly up Washington St, past Melnea Cass Blvd. and across Mass Ave. Those are spots that area residents have all recently pointed to as failures in national, state and local legislating on addiction. 

“They’ve done an abominable job,” Pierce said of the Boston City Council in particular. “I think they can do much better.” 

Protests link addiction to gentrification, systemic racism

Though their protest didn’t necesarily focus on addiction, demonstrators zeroed in on gentrification and economic urban colonialism that some blame for exacerbating addiction issues. 

“Black people used to live here,” they chanted near the Worcester Square area. 

“Fire, fire, gentrifier,” they yelled while passing a cluster of outdoor diners, also in the South End. 

Experts almost unilaterally argue that gentrification particularly over the last 20 years has cut down on affordable housing across Boston. That, Pierce noted, has exacerbated struggles with poverty, pushing more people onto the street and fanning the flames of the addiction crisis.

“If people don’t have a place to live, they can often turn to drugs or alcohol,” Pierce said. 

Protests impact people experiencing homelessness

As people living on the streets, often simultaneously battling addiction, had allies in Wednesday’s Protect the Vote crowd, many experts and advocates warn protests like these can actually have a negative impact. 

“Remember for those who live outside, we are in their living room,” Boston reverend Laura Everett tweeted on Election Day. “It adds trauma upon trauma to be displaced and disrupted, especially with increased policing and COVID.”

The loud protest crowd in the South End, Wednesday, indeed came upon a number of individuals sleeping near parks and benches. A handful of those individuals visibly startled and eventually relocating away from the protests. 

Moving forward

Come Saturday morning, the election has been settled. 

Joe Biden has been declared the presumptive president elect and attention is now turning toward his new administration. 

Here in Boston, progressives are celebrating with some reservations all while advocates and leaders allied with addiction and recovery causes are getting set to push for drug policy reform. 

Even in a moment of triumph, little remains certain about the future of Boston and its addiction communities which have struggled under both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations.

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