BOSTON—Daevon Walker-Jones and Bia Mazhar stood deep inside a throng of protesters here on Wednesday night united in anger over climate change, racial injustice, a botched pandemic response and the newest flash point in a long year of spontaneous demonstration: a looming threat to the counting of ballots in Tuesday’s election.
The two friends had hopped into Mazhar’s Nissan Sentra for the hour drive from Nashua, New Hampshire Wednesday afternoon, soon after they heard that the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement that helped birth the Green New Deal, and other activist organizations had called a March for Liberation rally in Roxbury, a predominantly African-American, low-income neighborhood in Boston.
They were among thousands of protesters who gathered from Boston to Los Angeles after President Trump claimed to have won reelection, despite officials continued counting of ballots in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada and other states without either the president or former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, having amassed the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
“He’s trying to take away our right to vote,” Mazhar said of Trump’s false claim of victory and subsequent efforts to stop ballot counting in key swing states. “Not counting every American vote is devastatingly wrong and that’s why I’m here.”
The protests erupted across the country, as it happened, on the day America officially left the Paris climate accord under a process Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, set in motion early in his administration. One unintended consequence has been the growing prominence of climate activist groups which, like Sunrise, now find themselves banding together with other organizations pursuing racial and economic justice, and electoral reform, as evident at the Boston protest.
Holding signs that read “Jews Against Fascism” and “Stop Trump’s Racist Voter Suppression,” hundreds of demonstrators gathered on an unseasonably warm, moonlit night in Roxbury’s Nubian Square, a commercial district recently renamed after the Nubian Empire, one of the earliest civilizations in Africa.
For Walker-Jones, 22, an African American and self-described introvert who works at a retail store and has remained employed throughout the pandemic, it was his first public protest—and the experience left him energized.
“Black lives matter, it’s very simple,” said Walker-Jones, a tall, imposing man in a black hoodie and light fall jacket who alternated between applauding and holding his fist in the air in a sign of Black-power. “I wanted to be part of the movement.”
Mazhar, 24, a Boston native and Pakistani-American, said she chanted slogans at so many demonstrations over the summer, she lost her voice for a month. Unable to finish college because of growing student loan debt, Mazhar was working as a manager at an acupuncture clinic until Covid-19 shut down much of the country in late winter and the clinic was forced to close.
She went back to work briefly in May when the clinic reopened but said she wasn’t comfortable with the clinic’s safety protocols related to the coronavirus. At the same time, Black Lives Matter protests were just beginning following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes.
“I was going to Black Lives Matter protests at night and work in the day,” Mazhar said, a nose ring protruding slightly from the side of her cloth mask, adding that her job “wasn’t where my heart was.”
She said the president’s mishandling of Covid-19 and his suggestion that pandemic will soon end is similar to his handling of climate change, calling it a “hoax” while sea levels continue to rise.
The rally came after President Trump falsely claimed to have won the election during a White House appearance in the early hours of Wednesday morning. His campaign later filed lawsuits alleging problems with vote-counting in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Naim Ball, 25, of nearby Dorchester, another low-income, largely Black Boston neighborhood, said he is worried that Trump is trying to steal the election. Ball worked as a security officer at a casino and as a bouncer at a nightclub in Boston until Covid-19 left him unemployed.
“I lost my job,” Ball said. “I lost people I love.”
“As a Black man in America, I am exhausted,” he added.
Becky Pierce, 76, an organizer with Dorchester People for Peace, said she was encouraged that there hadn’t been violence at the polls and that most mail-in-ballots had been counted without incident.
Pierce, a racial justice advocate who rode a city bus four miles to attend the demonstration, said she was horrified that Trump “has normalized white supremacy and racism.”
“‘Very fine people on both sides?’ It’s outrageous,” she said, quoting a statement Trump made after a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one racial justice activist dead in 2017.
When speeches on universal health care, policing and the Green New Deal ended on Wednesday night, Walker-Jones and Mazhar walked hand in hand alongside hundreds of other demonstrators, chanting, “The people, united, will never be defeated.”