NAACP Berkshire Branch President Dennis Powell is both one of the organizers of the march and one of the speakers to talk at the rally.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It was an "unprecedented" time in 1941 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation and called for a world "founded upon four essential human freedoms."
It's been 76 years since then and the resolve of the Berkshires remains strong toward securing exactly that.
On Saturday, hundreds will be marching down North Street to stand up for those four freedoms President Franklin D. Roosevelt cited: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
"There was interest from several groups to bring the community together to stand up for their freedoms and rights," said Megan Whilden, one of the organizers. "And to really stand up against the resurgence of bigotry and prejudice."
It was just about a month ago when the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Berkshire Central Labor Council, and the Berkshire Brigades started talking about making such a public stand. The idea came up for a march and since then it has taken off. Now some 100 local organizations have pledged their support, including some 20 elected officials, and the group is expecting at least 500 people to join.
The rally kicks off 12:30 on Saturday, starting at St. Joseph's Church on North Street. At 1, the crowd will march down North to First, waving flags and banners, and end at First Church of Christ on Park Square. Inside the church, a lineup of close to a dozen speakers will provide remarks — including U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and James Roosevelt III, grandson of FDR.
"We definitely wanted a wide range of speakers to represent our community," Whilden said.
Beyond Markey and Roosevelt, speakers include attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a member of the state Commission on the Status of Women; Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire NAACP branch; Elizabeth Recko-Morrison, the 2015 labor person of the year; Eleanore Velez of Berkshire Community College's Multicultural Center; Ethan Zukerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Civic Media; and spoken word poets from Miss Hall's School. The Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross of First Baptist Church will be master of ceremonies.
Whilden said the group is trying to limit speakers to three minutes to keep the program under 45 minutes.
Concurrently, the three main organizations have formed a Four Freedoms Coalition. So far, all eyes of that new group have been focused on the march but they hope to move forward after it.
The new "non-partisan" coalition hopes to serve a role in bringing together various organizations and individuals to "reaffirm our true American values as outlined in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's landmark Four Freedoms speech."
Following the march, some 30 "action tables" will be manned by various groups that are involved in projects helping to secure those freedoms. For example, if somebody wanted to help with the Berkshire Immigrant Center, he or she can find out exactly how.
"We don't want to reinvent the wheel. We just want to provide the community a place to come together," Whilden said.
What do they hope to accomplish with the march? A message that this community is against hate and bigotry in all of its forms. That this community is united in its efforts to secure those four freedoms for everybody.
"We want it to be a big tent where everyone feels welcomed ... It shows everybody in the community that they are not alone," Whilden said, later adding, "we're trying to be as broad and inclusive as possible."
The organizers have been working on the project over the holidays and returned Tuesday to find hundreds expressing support and interest. The 100 or so organizations range from private businesses to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the mayors of both North Adams and Pittsfield, to religious organizations to cultural groups. The Brigades, the Berkshire organizing arm of the state Democratic Party, alerted its email list as did the North Adams Chamber of Commerce. Facebook invites were passed along to some 2,600 people.
"It's really been heartwarming to see the positive response," Whilden said.
Saturday may be a little cold for those marching, with temperatures predicted to be in the 20s, but the sun is supposed to be out and no rain is in the forecast.
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