Anti-mask and vaccine rally draws crowd at State House


James Bartlett

Ernest Jean-Jaques, center, clashes with protesters at anti-mandate rally on Friday.

Unmasked crowds spread across Beacon Street outside of the Massachusetts State House Friday as protestors against mask mandates in K-12 schools in the state assembled at the State House.

The crowd, which Vincent Delaney, of Peabody, estimated to be just under 2,000 mostly unmasked demonstrators, blocked off portions of Beacon and Park Streets while listening to speakers and live music on the steps of the State House.

Delaney’s group, the Family Freedom Endeavor, organized the event. It had estimated a larger crowd outside of the state house for the event, which was organized using social media, specifically Facebook. Delaney said the event had been a long time in the making.

“We started to set up this event about two months ago,” Delaney said. “You know, with the mandatory vaccines and mandatory masks. We got the organization together to fight the government on that. It should be our choice, not theirs.”

Delaney said that the group’s main focus was opposition to vaccine mandates, but that many of the attendees were attracted to the event because of opposition to government overreach in general.

“It’s about the overreach of the government and do they have the authority to tell any parent or any employee that they have to take a vaccine to keep their job or send their kids to school,” Delaney said.

Ryan McLane, the Family Freedom Endeavor’s lawyer, explained that he recommended Delaney create the group as a way to spread information and file lawsuits.

“[Delaney] does a lot of this public impact litigation, so I said, ‘why don’t we form a nonprofit, so that’s what he did,’” McLane said. “The nonprofit is really geared toward litigation, but also education on these public impact issues dealing with parental choice and familial rights.” 

McLane said he and Delaney filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education mask mandate on Sept. 16.

Suffolk student and Student Government Association (SGA) Senator Gerardo Saenz attended the protest. Saenz, who serves as the Massachusetts State Chair of the Young Americans for Liberty, attended the event on behalf of the organization.

Saenz commented on Suffolk University’s mask policy, which currently requires students and employees to wear masks in all campus facilities where social distancing cannot be maintained. Unvaccinated individuals must wear masks at all times while on campus.

“A bunch of people say ‘take it up with the city of Boston,’ but the fact is, the health order ended on [May 29],” Saenz said.

Suffolk senior and Student Government Association Senator Gerardo Saenz attends the protest. (James Bartlett)

The state rescinded its mask mandate in all public places on May 29, however, the state instituted a mask advisory on July 30.  The City of Boston issued its own mandate on Aug. 27. 

Saenz said he feels the mask mandate is unnecessary due to the university’s vaccination policy, which he will continue to fight. As of Sept 21, 91.62% of students and 97.35% of employees are vaccinated, according to Suffolk University.

“In SGA, I will still be very vocal about this,” he said. 

When asked about his vaccination status by The Suffolk Journal, Saenz answered that he was vaccinated.

Though the event was mostly peaceful, tense moments arose when a counter-protester clashed with several of the anti-mandate protesters. Ernest Jean-Jacques, of Haverhill, was appalled by the rally when he learned about it on Instagram and showed up to protest its message. 

“People are still crazy over this,” Jean-Jaques said. “If you look at this crowd, you see a lot of signs and you see a lot of flags that don’t have any significance to the whole pandemic and vaccines and masks. I see a thin blue line flag. I see a straight pride flag. What the hell is that about!”

Jean-Jacques, who was dressed in a “JOHN LEWIS GOOD TROUBLE” shirt and wearing a “FREEDOM FIGHTERS COALITION” mask was approached by several of the anti-mandate protesters.

Several people at the rally showed up wearing scrubs and holding signs opposing vaccine and mask mandates for healthcare workers.

More protests were planned in and around Boston in the week after this protest, prompting the postponement of the Student Involvement Fair. The fair, which was supposed to take place on Sept. 21, was rescheduled to Sept. 23 due to a protest planned for the same date and location. 

Associate Director of the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement Casey Mulcare explained that the Student Involvement Fair was moved out of an abundance of caution.

“Safety is our number one priority when it comes to events of this scale, and we made the decision with that in mind,” Mulcare said. “While we would have loved to have the event [on Tuesday], we’re excited for a great event to showcase our clubs and involvement offerings Thursday.”

Though there was a group of six protesters outside of the McCormack Building at 9 a.m., the protest was largely uneventful.

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