Politics & Policy

Evacuation Day

The siege is lifted.

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

Or, as they say in these parts, it’s ovah, they’re outta heah.

As the Democratic National Convention neared its finale Thursday, the mood among the Bostonians I spoke with was overwhelmingly one of relief and anticipation. In fact, the prevailing state of mind was akin to that of school kids about to be released from confinement for summer vacation. Signs of normal life were already starting to emerge, as the locals began reclaiming sovereignty over their fair city from the occupying force of 35,000 conventioneers, along with nearly 4,000 local, state, and federal law-enforcement officials.

As compared with Monday, when the city seemed practically deserted, foot traffic downtown had picked up noticeably, though remaining well below normal levels. Visible security measures had also been relaxed. For example, mixed squads of transit cops and Army MPs outside subway stations were equipped only with sidearms and billy clubs, not automatic rifles. And there was none of Monday’s edginess, when no one (including the authorities) knew quite what to expect. Police I spoke with–several of them suburban cops drafted in for duty–expressed quiet confidence that matters were well in hand, and undisguised relief that their daily twelve-hour shifts were winding down.

For all their grumbling over the past week’s undeniable inconveniences, many Bostonians betrayed perverse pleasure at having this shared ordeal as conversational fodder, especially between strangers. Nearly everyone of a certain age compared the past few days with the legendary Blizzard of ‘78, which also immobilized the region for a week. That’s a time best remembered for spontaneous conversations between strangers about the hardships endured collectively. But these sentiments were not shared by small-business owners (especially restaurateurs) whose livelihoods depend on the custom of office workers. Yesterday’s front-page headline in the Boston Herald aptly sums up their view: “IT’S A BUST/Verdict’s In On Business-Killing DNC/Miserable Hub Merchants Wonder Where Windfall Went.”

It was nonetheless striking that casual conversation focused almost entirely on the convention’s spillover effects rather than the proceedings themselves (dismissed for the most part as inside baseball). Determined efforts to elicit some predictions or comments in advance of Sen. John Kerry’s acceptance speech last night came to naught. Just getting from point A to point B was of far greater interest than the unlikelihood that Kerry would–as locals define rhetorical excellence–”talk a hungry dog down offa meat wagon.”

Today’s exodus brings to mind Evacuation Day, Boston’s unique local holiday that commemorates both the evacuation of British occupying forces in 1776 and the feast of St. Patrick, patron of Ireland (and of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston). This holiday is in itself a compromise, struck in 1941 between native Yankees and immigrant Irish, whereby St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) is celebrated on the proper date, but in the name of the British evacuation (which actually occurred on March 26).

Boston is small place with a long history. As its best–and best-loved–poet inspired an earlier piece on the DNC, so Henry Wadsworth Longfellow best expresses the mood of the moment and deserves the last word:

And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares, that infest the day,

Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,

And as silently steal away.

And not a moment too soon.

John F. Cullinan, a native Bostonian and sometime Washingtonian, usually writes for NRO on foreign affairs.


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