LISTEN LIVE: On Point

Advertisement

 

Too close to home? Protests outside Boston mayor's house spark debate05:36
Download

Play
A group of demonstrators yell outside the home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in on Jan. 25. The group was protesting the vaccine mandate in Boston. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A group of demonstrators yell outside the home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in on Jan. 25. The group was protesting the vaccine mandate in Boston. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

As dawn broke, a half-dozen protesters waited quietly outside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's two-family home in Roslindale, as police officers watched closely.

Then, a little after 7 a.m., the silence was shattered.

"Michelle, wake up," yelled a protester. Others blew whistles and blasted an air horn. "Look what you've done, Michelle," one person shouted.

The noisy wake-up call has taken place each morning since early January as part of a protest against Wu's order that city workers be vaccinated against COVID-19. The demonstrators also object to a requirement that customers prove they are vaccinated to enter restaurants, museums and certain other businesses.

Across the country, protesters on both sides of the political spectrum are taking their grievances directly to the homes of public officials, sparking debate about whether such protests go too far.

"We should all be outraged at what's happening right now," said Dorchester resident Catherine Vitale, a regular presence at the protests outside Wu’s house. "Regular people cannot go into libraries, movie theaters, restaurants. For what? Because we don't consent to a medical procedure?"

Vitale called the vaccine mandates an example of "total government control and over-reach."

Protesters who oppose vaccine mandates show up every morning outside the home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in Roslindale. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Protesters who oppose vaccine mandates show up every morning outside the home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in Roslindale. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

But many of the attacks go beyond disagreements over vaccine policy.

Rob Burke, another regular at the early morning protests, stood in front of a hand-painted sign that evoked the Chinese flag and included the words, "Woke in Wu-ville."

He suggested that Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, is a Marxist.

"Marxists are always racist, and they're always liars," Burke said. "So, Michelle, take a hike. Do what you got to do; leave these guys alone. Leave the police alone — the fire and the teachers alone."

For the record, Wu's office said she is not a Marxist. She's a progressive Democrat.

Rob Burke and Catherine Vitale protest outside of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's home in Roslindale. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Rob Burke and Catherine Vitale protest outside of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's home in Roslindale. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

The demonstrations used to be even louder, but police barred protesters from using bullhorns after neighbors complained. Still, the protests remain a daily nuisance to residents like Robin Chalfin, who was out walking her dog on a recent morning.

“The noise disturbance has been off the charts," said Chalfin, who lives just up the street from the mayor.

Chalfin said she's most upset by the hostility of the loud protests, which have been waking up her children and making her dog anxious.

A number of public officials, including Suffolk Country Sheriff Steven Tompkins, have taken note of the aggressive tone of some of the protesters. Tompkins said the daily vitriol and disrespect goes beyond the bounds of peaceful protest.

"It's something that I have never seen in my lifetime," said Tompkins, one of a number of elected officials of color who signed a letter condemning what they called hateful attacks against Wu, including "racist, anti-Asian and sexist rhetoric."

Tompkins said he appreciates the fact that protesters have First Amendment rights, but thinks they are "taking it to the extreme."

"She's got little kids; she has a mom who has a health issue," Tompkins said.

For her part, Wu has said the daily hostility outside her home is upsetting her two young sons. Recently, she tweeted that protesters chanted “Happy birthday Hitler,” and used megaphones to shout that her kids will grow up without a mom because she'll be in prison.

Advertisement

 

Wu is far from the only public official to be subjected to this. Climate activists chained themselves to a boat in front of the home of Gov. Charlie Baker, and a protester dumped a pile of hypodermic needles on Baker's front lawn. Protesters have also targeted the home of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, since he ordered a statewide mask mandate in 2020. And Black Lives Matter activists clashed with officers outside the home of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The tactics have prompted several cities and states to enact or propose limits on such protests, including Los AngelesVirginia, Florida and Massachusetts.

Rep. Steven Howitt, a Republican from Seekonk, filed legislation that would require protesters to stay at least 100 yards away from an elected official's home and give police new authority to break up crowds in the Bay State.

Howitt argues the protests sometimes threaten officials' spouses, children and other relatives.

"A family of an elected officials should not be subjected to intimidation tactics," Howitt said.

And without any limits, Howitt worries too many good people will decide against running for office.

Boston police officers outside of the Roslindale home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Boston police officers outside of the Roslindale home of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

But Paula Taylor, a Boston middle school teacher who doesn't want to get vaccinated, said it's important to bring her case directly to Wu's home, rather than to City Hall, or some other public space.

“We’re treated like lepers,” Taylor said.

She said the vaccines conflict with her religious faith. She also doesn't believe they're safe, despite major studies to the contrary. And she said the mayor’s policies are causing divisions among workers – even within families.

"She came into our homes," Taylor said. "So this is why I bring it to her home."

So, at least for now, the protesters say they have no plans to stop showing up each morning.

This segment aired on February 16, 2022.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

More…

Advertisement

 

Advertisement

 
Play
Listen Live
/00:00
Close