Norwich, Gales Ferry protesters among thousands on Boston Common in response to 'free speech' rally

As Linda Theodoru marched down Tremont Street near the Boston Common Saturday morning, she watched her daughter hop with ease over a concrete barrier to join the counterprotesters filling the other side of the road.

"Yeah, right," the Norwich woman said with a laugh as she stepped up to the makeshift wall, dozens of marchers flowing past her. But then a man held out his hand. Taking it, Theodoru was quickly up and over, and marching side by side with Gary Dantzler — or Brother Gary as the Pawtucket, R.I., man is know in the Black Lives Matter organization.

By noon, as a planned "Free Speech" rally was just beginning, Theodoru, Dantzler and thousands of counterprotesters had been in the streets for two hours already. They screamed chants, sang songs of peace and, toward the back of the march, danced to the beat of a brass band.

Theodoru, her daughter, Heather Ruley-Gadbois, and friend Sherry Ostrout met Dantzler on the train to Boston that morning. They grabbed a quick breakfast together in the city and then, together, joined the people marching in protest of the rally that many feared would become, like Charlottesville last week, a vehicle for racists to spout hate.

"We just had to come," said Theodoru, her pink floppy hat covered with colorful, silk daisies. "They're a symbol of peace."

One group of protesters, representing the left-wing "antifa" movement, dressed all in black, some of them covering their heads with bandanas or wearing military-style padding over their clothes.

Others brought levity or emotion to the march. One woman tied a sign to her shaggy, white dog that said, "I am here to bark. White violence is silence."

A young man wore an American flag as a cape and carried a frosting-covered dessert that spelled, "Let them eat cake."

A Boston College student carried white roses in honor of St. Alexander of Munich, a medical student killed by Nazis in 1943 after he helped found the resistance group White Rose.

And Theodoru, Ruley-Gadbois and Ostrout wore flowers in their hair.

"My mother's a hippie and I'm a flower child," said Ruley-Gadbois, a crown of white and pink blooms forming a halo around her dyed-red hair.

Ruley-Gadbois, from the Gales Ferry section of Ledyard, who said she is half black and half white, explained that she felt compelled to come to Boston to stand up against the violence that injured dozens of people and left one women dead last week when a car rammed into protesters of a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The next day, Aug. 13, she had joined 100 people in a rally of solidarity in New London.

On Saturday, she joined thousands.

"You forget everything else when you're here. You feel supported," she said. "We're not going to be cowards and silent in the face of their bullying."

Ruley-Gadbois carried a poster with a colorful peace sign, the same symbol on the tie-dyed shirt that Ostrout wore for the occasion.

But the Norwich social worker, who had tucked a couple of pink flowers behind her ear, said she never considered herself an activist.

Still, she was inspired "in the worst way" by the election of President Donald Trump and acts of violence and racism by some of his supporters, she said.

"I'm disappointed in how I wasn't able to see this for so long," she said. "And now I'm awake."

 

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