You don’t need a honk band in order to protest, but it definitely helps. For one thing, the bands attract media attention. For another, they increase turnout. Add a 20-piece marching band to a small gathering of striking workers and you’ve doubled the size of the demonstration. But most importantly, honk bands are loud. “It draws attention from the neighborhood,” says Marie Ghitman, who plays trombone in several Boston-area brass bands. A few weeks ago Ghitman joined some fellow musicians at a vigil for tenants facing eviction in East Boston. As the protesters wound their way through the streets, the band struck up a tune. “People came pouring out of their houses to find out what was going on,” Ghitman recalls.
Ghitman finds herself at many such protests thanks to the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians, or BABAM. The group was conceived in 2016 by Reebee Garofalo, a drummer in Second Line and a member of the HONK! organizing committee. Garofalo wanted to create an easy way for musicians to mobilize for protests when a full band wasn’t available. He imagined something akin to an emergency fire brigade — a ragtag collection of activist musicians ready to answer the call at a moment’s notice. Some fellow players took up the project, and BABAM was born. After the election, the group was flooded with gig requests. “We could’ve played four times a week this year,” Garofalo says. “You could feel the temperature rising.” BABAM membership increased from a dozen or so musicians to nearly 200.
This weekend, BABAM will be one of a number of bands to participate in political actions coordinated by HONK! and local activist organizations. The HONK! committee began including elements of protest to the festival only a few years ago. “As the festival grew, we thought, well, if we’re calling this a festival of activist street bands there should be some kind of activism and political statements within the festival itself,” Garofalo says. This year, HONK! bands will perform at a protest against rooming house evictions in Revere on Friday and a rally at the ICE detention center in Boston on Sunday.
“It’s a particularly moving demonstration,” Garofalo says of the ICE protest. A highway overpass brings pedestrians level with the rooms where detained immigrants are held in the looming Suffolk County House of Corrections. “Once the bands start playing, you can see the lights going on and off in the cells to the beat of the music,” Garofalo says. “It’s really quite amazing.”
BOSTON, MA (2/26/2017) – More than sixty musicians, activists, and supporters convened today at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Suffolk County Immigration Detention Justice Center in a display of solidarity with immigrants detained at the County Jail. Following executive orders from the Trump administration, ICE raids have occurred across the United States for all undocumented individuals, overturning the Obama administration’s focus on violent criminals. The rally was organized by Resist the Raids, a grassroots coalition challenging U.S. immigration law and its dehumanizing impact on immigrants. Musicians of all ages and talents were represented in the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (BABAM!), the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, School of HONK, the Jamaica Plain Honk Bank, and the Leftist Marching Band, making the trip from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Activists blared horns, woodwinds, and drumlines in harmony onto the pedestrian overpass bridge, facing the Suffolk Immigration Detention Justice Center. Located on the outskirts of South Boston where the New Market industrial park meets Interstate 93, the Center is a drab, multi-story building and could be easily missed if not for its distinguishing feature: barred windows. The ICE has an agreement with the the Suffolk County Jail, which houses as many 1,900 detainees. Approximately 250 are immigration detainees who are in removal proceedings or are awaiting deportation…