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This band plans to drown out the Men’s March against abortion with a ruckus

“I’m not sure if playing a tuba will change the world,” said one musician, “but being a second force behind other activists might.”

Kirk Israel, an activist musician and member of the Boston Clown Music Parade, practices with a group in Titus Sparrow Park in Boston. Israel said the group provides rhythms for chants and helps spread activists' messages through song and sound.Nathan Klima For The Boston Globe

On Nov. 4, Shea Bagtaz will don white high heels and a pink wig, pick up a tambourine, and march as an uninvited percussionist alongside the Men’s March to Abolish Abortion and Rally for Personhood, led by a conservative antiabortion group.

Bagtaz, with the Boston Clown Music Parade, is part of a group of activist-musicians who wreak havoc to disrupt the Men’s March. For the second year in a row, Bagtaz will break out a clown costume and play funny music — think circus fare like “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “Enter the Gladiators” and popular tunes like “Imperial March” from Star Wars.

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“Whenever [Men’s March] comes to our city, we clown on them,” Bagtaz said.

The group shadowed its first Men’s March last year, when it faced off with antiabortion protesters marching from Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Avenue to the State House. And it will do the same thing this year — with higher participation and better planning, one organizer said.

The Men’s March did not respond to the Globe’s request for comment.

Dressed in clown couture, the Boston Clown Music Parade moves alongside the Men’s March, drowning out its protests with haphazard brass, percussion, and other instruments. Some members of the march get very upset by the parade, while others seem to laugh it off — the “mixed bag reaction” is part of the fun, Bagtaz said.

“We try to keep it lighthearted, to shed a comical light on things,” he said. “That’s the essence of why we do what we do… to say they’re the real clowns.”

The Boston Clown Music Parade materialized last year after a user on Reddit said it would be funny for counter protesters dressed up as clowns marched alongside the Men’s March Against Abortion, according to one of the group’s organizers. The group formed in a week and a half last year, garnering about 30 participants playing drums, horns, kazoos, and other instruments, according to an organizer. Bagtaz said about 50 people are involved this year and practice sessions are well underway.

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The group is one of many activist-musician groups in Boston, including the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians, The Bahamas Junkanoo Jumpers, Conical Cacophony, Magnificent Danger, and Dirty Water Brass Band. Activist musicians aim to add musical energy to causes they care about — from the Black Lives Matter movement to anti-antiabortion marches, according to Kirk Israel, a tuba player in the Boston Clown Music Parade and Jamaica Plain Honk Band.

“It changes something from people just standing there to getting them enthused about what they’re doing and adding a sense of renewed purpose above the core of what the event actually is about,” Israel said.

Shea Bagtaz (left) and Chris (right), members of the Boston Clown Music Parade, practice in Titus Sparrow Park in Boston.Nathan Klima for The Boston Glob

Israel said the groups typically act as a backbone to activists by providing rhythms for chants, adding people to demonstrations, and helping spread the message through song and sound. Many of the bands have formed relationships with activist groups around Boston, including Extinction Rebellion, City Life / Vida Urbana, and Ocean River Institute, Israel said.

Rob Moir, executive director of the Ocean River Institute, demonstrates alongside Israel and other BABAM members once a month at First Parish Cambridge. Moir rings the church bell once a month for 11 minutes — symbolizing the 11th hour to act on climate change — while parishioners and members of the church’s environmental justice task force hold signs and wave to passersby.

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“The MBTA bus will honk at us, people wave, it’s just camaraderie,” Moir said. “Usually we’re doing environmental policy work. … But this is party time.”

He said the monthly demonstration, which began in February 2022 and has continued since, helps remind participants and observers that although the situation is dire, “we’re all in this trouble together,” he said.

Israel said he’s always happy to contribute to “an attention-grabbing ruckus,” especially for causes important to him.

“I’m not sure if playing a tuba will change the world,” he said, “but being a second force behind other activists might.”


Vivi Smilgius can be reached at vivi.smilgius@globe.com. Follow her @viviraye.