Boston Freedom Rally Hearing Testimony
November 14, 2018

My name is Liz Vizza, and I am the Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden. We work in partnership with the City to renew, care, and advocate for the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

The Friends is an essential partner with the City of Boston Parks Department to ensure that these three parks get the resources they need for maintenance and enhancement in order to serve the millions of people who use them every year. Our budget for 2019 includes $2.4 million in parks care and programs, which includes tree, turf, soils and sculpture care as well as capital improvement projects.

I am here to testify today on behalf of the Friends, as well as a larger coalition of voices from around our parks including the Bay Village Neighborhood Association, Beacon Hill Business Association, Beacon Hill Civic Association, Chinatown Residents Association, Downtown Boston Residents Association, Hill House, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, Park Street School, and Spruce Street School. This coalition represents over 55,000 people from all of these communities who consider the Common their neighborhood park, as well as schools and organizations serving Boston’s children and youth who regularly use the Common.

We are here because we oppose the continued use of Boston Common for the Boston Freedom Rally, due to its flagrant violation of the conditions of their permit.

This is not about free speech, which we fully support. This is not about marijuana or its legalization and use.

Free speech, however, does not justify violation of a permit. The permit requires event organizers to keep the site clean throughout the event. Each year this event leaves trash behind, but this year was the worst we have ever seen. There were mountains of trash including paper, cans of cooking oil, cardboard boxes, and plastic bags of trash.

On the first day of the event, cars drove onto the Common from multiple entrances – only one of which is the sanctioned vehicular entrance. The rest are pedestrian entrances, which created unsafe conditions for people walking through the park.

Scores of cars were parked on lawns, also a violation of the permit. 

There were also many tents set up and people sleeping in the park overnight, which is not only a permit violation but a violation of park regulations.

The Boston Common is the most heavily used park in the city by a huge order of magnitude. It sees hundreds of permitted events every year, many with tens of thousands of participants including runs and walks.

All of these are well organized, and none of these events causes the amount of damage and disruption that the Freedom Rally does.

The permit clearly states:

“Any violations of the aforementioned Rules and Regulations will result in the immediate revocation of permit and suspension of permit privileges.”

The Boston Freedom Rally started as a one-day event, and took up a relatively limited amount of space in the park, with no overnight camping. It became a two-day event several years ago, and last year it grew to three days. It is now the second largest marijuana rally in the US.

As this event has grown over the years, both in number of days, number of participants, and coverage of the Common – it was 50% larger in extent this year than last year – it has reached the point where the organizers have failed to be able to manage it. We have heard complaints from community members over the years, but the frustrations and call for action on the part of the City has only grown with the event’s growth and unmanaged activities.

Flouting of the permit, disruption and unacceptable damage to the park, and provoking the frustration of many who do not feel comfortable or safe going to the park during the event has created an unacceptable situation on the City’s central and most intensively used park. Promises have not been kept year after year. These pictures and these comments make it very clear that the Freedom Rally should be relocated to a site that can better handle it.

Below is the selection of photos, including a map of traffic violations that Liz included in her testimony.