The Braille Monitor                                                                              October 2005


A Crowd, a Mob! There Is a Difference

by Al Evans

From the Editor: the following article is reprinted from the Winter 2005 issue of the Town Crier, the publication of the NFB of Massachusetts. Al Evans is a longtime leader of the Massachusetts affiliate and currently serves as editor of the Town Crier. Here is his story:

After reading Seville Allen's fine article, “The Blind Witness History Too,” in the November 2004, Braille Monitor, I found myself remembering an incident that occurred many years ago. It also involved contact with literally thousands of people. Unlike Ms. Allen's experience, for the most part this was a mob, not a crowd.

At the time I was working with the Veterans Administration as a veterans benefits counselor (VBC), and my office was in the JFK Federal Building, Government Center, Boston. It was also during the Vietnam Era, and Boston was a hotbed of anti-war protest. In those days Government Center was the virtual seat of city and state government; City Hall, the state office building, and the State House were all within walking distance of each other.

The experience I recall occurred on May 1, 1970, May Day. Anti-war protesters had targeted this May first as a day for a massive demonstration designed to shut down the JFK Building and, if possible, the entire city. Picketers, mostly college students, were stationed at subway exits across the city, and the work-a-day folks trying to reach their places of employment or attend to other business that day in Boston were subjected to screaming sign carriers shouting in our faces, blocking our egress at almost every point.
Of course the local TV and radio stations had blared the demonstrators’ intentions for four or five days beforehand, so my division chief, always a man of colorful language, had come to my desk the previous day to advise me not to come to work the following day. "... damn it, Al," he said, not so tenderly, "you are blind! How the ... are you going to get through that mob? For ... ... sake, you will get hurt!"

I had joined the NFB in January of 1969, and while I was still learning the ropes of our philosophy, I had known that I had a right to go anywhere, any time, especially to work. I knew the area. I knew the various entrances to the office, and I was convinced that no one was about to prevent me from independently, safely traversing the streets.

Filled with the can-do attitude that is an integral aspect of NFB belief, I started for work thirty minutes early. Even though my boss had said that I could "take the … damn day off without charge," I was not going to permit anyone to think that I had not showed up because of my blindness.

Accompanied by Tuffy, my ninety-pound Seeing Eye German shepherd, I climbed out of the Bowdoin Square station, forced a path through several loud kids milling about the exit, and began the short walk to my office. The JFK Federal Building is fronted by an expanse of seventy to ninety feet of flat, slightly sloping, grayish-white stone leading out to Cambridge Street. Cambridge Street is divided by a narrow island that separates traffic east-to-west. New Sudbury Street flanks one side of the building. Upon crossing it, I headed along the building toward the side entrance, but faced more demonstrators, who told me that the door was blocked, locked, and manned by the cops.

As Tuffy and I turned toward the front of the building, we were hemmed in and brought to a virtual halt by the mob. Someone yelled in my ear, "Where are you going?"

"In there," I bellowed, "I work there." Innumerable police lined each side of the front entrance in order to maintain the access, but the demonstrators surged toward the glass doors there.

Suddenly, someone screamed, "Look out," as the police charged the protesters to clear the way again. I heard the rush of feet, the shouts and swearing, and felt the fear of uncertainty, as I was swept backward. Tightly holding Tuffy's harness, I then found myself being shoved and pushed all the way across Cambridge Street, where I was knocked to the ground by the fleeing mob. I hauled myself to my feet, gathered Tuffy close, and stood dumbfounded. "What to do now?" I thought. Then a big man hollered in my ear, "Can I help you, sir? I'm a tactical patrol officer."

"I want to get into the building. I work there." He asked me for identification, and I showed my 4505 authority, which established who I was and what I did for a living.

"Okay, pal," he shouted, "Hang on, and I will get you to the door." He did. He was a very tall, burly man with an arm like a tree trunk.
After entering my office and enduring the profane outburst of my beloved division chief, I discovered I was one of just three people in the office; my division chief admitted sheepishly that he had stayed in the Parker House Hotel up the street overnight.

In her article Ms. Allen mentioned a "little voice" questioning whether or not she should be going alone to witness the Reagan funeral. I, too, heard a little voice asking myself, "Should I go alone to work?" After all, I had been granted the day off without penalty.

However, although our experiences were more than thirty-four years apart, Ms. Allen and I shared a common view: Each of us was convinced that it could be done. Neither of us would permit our blindness to be an excuse for avoiding something or for missing an opportunity. Ms. Allen got to witness the Reagan funeral cortege, and I got to work.