Before she raised her microphone to speak, activist Monica Cannon-Grant began to cry tears of joy as a Beyoncé song bounced off the sound chamber of buildings in Boston City Hall Plaza on Sunday afternoon.
“Do you know how important it is that there’s a Brown skin girl in charge of this country?” Cannon-Grant said to a crowd of more than 100 people gathered on the cobblestones. “What we’re saying is, something historic happened, and we can have the joy of that moment and also fight for accountability.”
Cannon-Grant organized Sunday's Black Lives Matter demonstration through her nonprofit, Violence in Boston, as a combination of protest and celebration in the wake of the presidential election.
“I'm going to say the part that's not attractive. I'm going to say the part where Kamala Harris has mass-incarcerated more Black men than anybody in that position. But that means we’ve got to protest against them, it doesn’t mean that the protest stops,” Cannon-Grant continued. “That just means that now she's on the receiving end. We're going to pull up to the table and have a conversation.”
Tanisha Sullivan, the president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, listed the names of Black women working on Democratic tickets around the country, including activist Stacey Abrams, who founded the Georgia Project and garnered votes for President-elect Joe Biden in her state; Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who was reelected to her position representing Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District this week; and Chelsey Cartwright, a political director who has worked on campaigns for Pressley, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and now for Biden.
“I want to celebrate our democracy in this moment, congratulate all of us for participating in it and recognize that it didn't just happen,” Sullivan told the crowd. “A lot of people are talking about, you know, the magic. There's no magic to this. This is hard work, determination, strategic vision, execution and persistence.”
In the crowd, activists like Prema Bangera reflected on the significance of Harris’ representation as a Black woman, while balancing what she said is the work yet to come on a long road ahead.
“Kamala was my grandmother's name, and my grandmother is beloved to me,” the 34-year-old Brighton resident said. “I am grateful for the fact that she represents a change in history for so many young people, and I think it's a great change in general. But the Democratic party is still just holding capitalism and white supremacy in place, so it needs to be a larger shift in terms of the values that we need to set within this country.”
Cannon-Grant led protests throughout the summer in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, while calling for the reopening of local cases. One of those is the case of Terrence Coleman, a mentally ill Black man who was shot and killed by Boston Police in 2016.
“I critiqued Mayor Marty Walsh for 269 days. And then he sat down with me, and we began to work together, even when we don’t agree,” Cannon-Grant told GBH News. “I think all politicians need to do that. Mayor Walsh knows that I'm going to do what I want to do regardless, and he can either agree or disagree, but we have a mutual respect for each other when it comes to protecting and advocating for the people of the city of Boston.”
Cannon-Grant was more critical of Gov. Charlie Baker, who authorized financial bonuses to police officers who choose to undergo sensitivity training in a bill filed last June.
“In regards to Governor Baker, I think he needs to be ousted, quite honestly,” Cannon-Grant told GBH News. “To make a decision to give a police department more money at a time when we're saying give money to organizations and activists who are doing the violence prevention work on the ground, is a clear indicator [of] where he stands and how he feels.”
Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who announced her bid for mayor in September, brought her two young children to the demonstration.
“This is a reminder that the challenges and the crises that communities, particularly Black and Brown communities in Boston and beyond, have been facing were deep and were already at crisis level, way before COVID-19 and way before Donald Trump became president,” Wu told GBH News. “This is about digging in and saying, we're going to use every bit of power that we have at the city level in this moment to rise up to that challenge and finally reimagine and transform systems.”
Tanisha Sullivan encouraged the crowd to pay attention to local issues and systems that have been transformed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a historic voter turnout number across Massachusetts.
“We've got work to do to make sure that the COVID-19 electoral reforms that were put in place do not expire on Dec. 31, 2020. They need to be here to stay,” Sullivan told the crowd. “That is mail-in balloting, extended opportunity for early voting. … We've got work to do to make sure that our democracy continues to work for all of us.”
Though Sunday's crowd was smaller than some of the celebrations from the day prior, following the news of Biden’s election, activist Ashawn Dabney-Small encouraged the group to continue marching and demonstrating.
“If you can come out and support Biden winning his election, then you can come out and support Black and Brown bodies that have been killed every single day,” Dabney-Small said. The 18-year-old activist and City Council candidate began to cry as he shared the story of his cousin, Anthony Smalls, who was shot by unknown assailants in 2014.
“To this day, no one knows who shot him. There was no evidence found, the gun happened to disappear. And his life mattered,” Dabney-Small said. “He had four kids, my cousins. He had a wife, a loving family, and his life was just taken in an instant. When are we going to acknowledge that everybody's life matters? Until we can acknowledge that, we are not going to move forward. It has been 400 years, and Black people are still dying.”
Daunasia Yancey, a 28-year-old organizer from Black Lives Matter Boston, said she arrived late to the protest after a AAA agent told her that her tires had been slashed.
“The war continues, and the sore losers are going to do sore loser s**t, and are going to be sore losers,” Yancey told the crowd. “They’re going to continue to harass and threaten us, and we’re not going anywhere. It doesn’t matter who’s in that house, because we built it, and until it truly belongs to the people, we’re going to continue protesting.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Sunday's protest was in collaboration with Black Lives Matter Boston. Though a speaker from BLM Boston contributed comment, the event itself was held independently by Violence in Boston.