Ray's Light 

Half a century later, the editor and publisher of the Richmond Free Press still searches for justice.

Page 4 of 4

click to enlarge While he downplays the political significance, Boone's front-yard-turned-free-speech-zone has sent a message to his neighbor, Mayor Dwight Jones: "I think the mayor needs to review the First Amendment." - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • While he downplays the political significance, Boone's front-yard-turned-free-speech-zone has sent a message to his neighbor, Mayor Dwight Jones: "I think the mayor needs to review the First Amendment."

Of course, running a newspaper isn't easy, especially when you're 73. Boone still works long nights and most weekends editing each Thursday edition. He readily admits that he works too much, but retirement isn't in the cards for now. So he trudges on.

On Nov. 15, the day he and his wife welcome the Occupy Richmond encampment to their front lawn, Boone also makes time to deliver a speech to the Richmond Crusade for Voters. A week after November's election, the evening's speakers include Shannon Taylor, the underfunded Henrico Democrat who defeated a Republican and an independent endorsed by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, to become the commonwealth's attorney of Henrico County. But tonight Boone's message centers on Occupy Richmond, those heroes and heroines of the 21st century.

Comparing the occupiers to the civil rights movement, however, doesn't go over so well with some of those in attendance. The current protest is disorganized and the young people pitching tents "don't have a damn clue," says Roderyck Bullock, a member of the Crusade. Others in the audience catcall in agreement. Boone, forever the agitator, doesn't back down.

"I disagree with you in terms of intelligence," Boone shoots back. "I met with them and I welcomed them to my home today, and I welcome them as long as necessary. You know, we had the same resistance, Dr. King had the same resistance."

"You can't say that," Bullock retorts.

Bullock isn't the only one who questions Boone's motives. Isn't this more about the mayor and Boone's personal agenda? Boone says it isn't, and dismisses any talk of supporting another mayoral candidate in 2012 as "speculation." He reminds that his paper supported Jones for mayor in 2008, after all.

As for the civil rights connotations, Boone refuses to retract. Sitting in his living room a few days later, he reverts to the old teacher as his students frolic in the front yard.

"Massive resistance — you see this was a real black eye to America because people who understand democracy also know that in order to have a democracy, not only do you have to have voter participation, you have to have informed voter participation," Boone says, peering out the window at the tents in his yard, and the police officer moving in. "We're having the same thing happening today with the decline in education, with the concentration of power within the hands of a few."

The police officer bends over and picks up a football, and begins tossing it to a couple of protesters. It's a balmy Saturday afternoon, sunny and in the mid-60s, the week before Thanksgiving. "Isn't that a great scene, compared to the protesters of the past?" Boone posits, taking a moment to survey his classroom.

"I can tell you that this movement today is more serious or as serious," Boone says, again comparing the occupiers to civil rights protesters. It's no longer about racial segregation, Boone says, but economic segregation. Corporate influence dictates political policy today, which is an even greater threat to democracy. The occupy movement is an attempt to take it back, the corporate takeover of American politics.

"This is what makes this different from the abolitionist movement, from the civil rights movement. They have presence beyond picketing and beyond a rally," Boone says. "In other words, they do not go away, which I think is rather creative because that presence reminds people every day about poverty, about the threat to democracy, about the disregard for the First Amendment. This is what I'm saying."

If the Occupy Wall Street movement, and its spinoff protests across the country, have lacked anything, it's a discernible agenda. The protesters have no concrete set of demands, which often leaves the impression that the movement, as Bullock pointed out during the Crusade meeting, is without direction.

"Where I think the occupiers have fallen short is not making their message clear. They are not as specific as they could be," Edney says. "And that's why the strategy of Ray Boone is so important. Because when you match the occupiers' strategy with the message of Ray Boone, it becomes very clear to me: This is about racial justice. This is about economic justice. This is about we the people. That is because I know that is what he stands for."

The tents in the yard are quintessential Boone, Edney says. While City Hall squirms and tries to downplay the mayor's responsibility of denying the occupiers their encampments in city parks, Boone turns the tables, making the debate one of moral responsibility.

"A lot of our public officials don't recognize it. ... The First Amendment allows them great opportunity to stay in power and people not to take the road of violence to express their discontent against them," Boone says. "So, if we were to stop it right now, a tremendous education has been given Richmond."

He stops, and glances out of his living room window. The officer is still tossing the football with what Boone calls his "special guests," who will be here for a while.

"Isn't that a great scene out there?" S

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