Berkshire Residents Rally in Pittsfield Against Bigotry & Prejudice
It was on Jan. 6, 1941, when FDR delivered what is known as the Four Freedoms address in which he called for a world founded on the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship in his own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Seventy-six years later, James Roosevelt was standing at the podium at First Church of Christ in Pittsfield calling for the same freedoms.
"The challenges we face at the beginning of 2017 have different specifics but the same essences. Today we face unprecedented assaults on each of the four freedoms," Roosevelt said.
"On freedom of speech, we've seen the banning of the Washington Post and Buzzfeed from presidential campaign events. We've seen fake news from Breitbart to Alex Jones to RT, the Russian propaganda television network that is carried on many of our cable systems. On freedom of worship, we've seen attacked, for the first time in 75 years, an attempt to ban people of a particular religion from this country and create a registry of those people. We've seen an attack on the things that protect us from freedom from want. An attack on the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, they all face serious efforts to repeal, privatize, and cut back benefits and shift responsibility to local governments where it was 100 years ago."
"We've seen a serious attack on freedom from fear. From Oklahoma City to chants of 'go back to where you came' from to 'string her up' to Orlando to Fort Lauderdale [referencing recent gun violence]. We are confronted by a culture of weapons and verbal assault. It is essential that all Americans rally, as you are doing today, to defend our democracy."
Roosevelt was addressing an estimated 1,500 people who overflowed the church proper and packed into its second floor, all of whom were taking a stand against those attacks. A Four Freedoms Coalition, formed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Berkshire Central Labor Council, and the Berkshire Brigades, organized the rally in support of those four freedoms and against bigotry and prejudice.
Shortly after noon, people began gathering at St. Joseph's Church on North Street and at 1, carrying signs and banners, the chanting crowd of more than a thousand marched down to Park Square. Among them was U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, who delivered a speech at the church that earned standing ovations and repeated applause.
The Democrat drew a link from the Four Freedoms speech to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I have a Dream speech, saying King had built on the FDR's vision. But now, Markey said, there is a group in America that is trying to destroy those ideals.
"There are others out there who also have a dream. Their dream is that one day our nation will be surrounded by a wall built with bigotry and hate. They have a dream that one day our nation will judge by your race, by your religion, by your country of origin. They have a dream that one day our nation will have no more Muslims or mosques or Planned Parenthood or Social Security. These people do not want the dream of Dr. King, of President Roosevelt to be realized. They want to see it crushed," Markey said.
He said Massachusetts has already fought for universal health care, gay marriage, and the highest minimum wage. Massachusetts is not just any state, he said, but a state that "starts revolutions."
"The Revolution began here in Lexington and the Berkshires. The abolitionist movement started here in the Berkshires, in Massachusetts. The movement for women's suffrage started here in Massachusetts. The movement against the war in Vietnam started here in Massachusetts. That is who we are. We matter. We are not just any state: We are the start the begins these revolutions," Markey said.
There is still more work to be done, he said, and called for those in attendance to fight against the National Rifle Association, work to overturn the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, and march to ensure immigrants don't live in fear and children have the right to education.
"We must now, for the next four years, work together in order to protect this vision of Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Roosevelt said that the true check on our progress as a nation is not whether we do more for those who already have much but whether we do enough for those who have too little," Markey said.
Markey was just one of a dozen speakers Saturday, all of whom echoed similar sentiments about fighting to ensure all people are entitled to those four freedoms. The freedom from fear was a particular focus.
Eleanore Velez, director of Berkshire Community College's multicultural center, told stories of immigrants being verbally assaulted right here in Berkshire County. She said when people hear her accent many often assume she is a criminal. But she reminded the crowd that everyone here descended from immigrants and beneath skin tones and accents, all people are the same.
"We believe the American dream is not dead. It is alive. I see it every year at graduation. Dreams are possible in America," Velez said. "Sometimes dreams turn into nightmares. Many, many of us are afraid our dreams will turn into a nightmare."
City Council President Peter Marchetti is gay and said when a gunman opened fire in Orlando, Fla.'s Pulse Nightclub last June, it "reignited fear in many of us." But, shortly after hundreds rallied in Park Square standing up for "equality and justice for all."
"Today, I stand with all of you to make a statement that hatred, prejudice, and bigotry must be overcome."
Attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud is Muslim, a religion that is "under attack" in the current world. But the religion isn't that far from Christianity or Judaism, she said and encouraged people to be involved with their own religious organization more and to understand others. She called for religious literacy and awareness of others.
"We have to bridge these gaps of lack of awareness," she said. "This is our global community and these are the rights that are owed."
Elizabeth Recko Morrison made no bones about it — she is a union member and an "unapologetic liberal." When it comes to the freedom from want that means providing workers with affordable health care, child care, education, and a living wage. She called for unions to unite to help push for progressive values.
"Everyone needs and deserves a job that pays minimally a living wage," she said, later adding, "nothing is more liberating than knowing you can pay your bills."
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, used his three minutes to make a case to preserve Social Security. He said without it, his family would never have made it. He wants to protect Social Security and Medicare, which he says make America a better place.
But all of those things the speakers and the crowd were calling for cannot come from the federal government alone, said Ethan Zukerman, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Civic Media. He said there are "scary trends" happening not only in America but all over the world. He called on people to be united in the fight to preserve freedoms.
"The way we achieve freedom from fear is through solidarity," Zukerman said.
NAACP branch President Dennis Powell rounded off the afternoon, before the crowd browsed "action tables" at which they could sign up to work with a number of organizations serving the community, and encapsulated the event by citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a 30-article document adopted by the United Nations. He said every single person has the right to work, to have their children educated, to have a standard of living that provides food, housing, and health care.
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. We are endowed with the reasons and ethics and should act for one another in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood," Powell said.
"Everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language, religious, political or other opinions, national or social orders, property, birth or other status. Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
The Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, from First Baptist Church, was the emcee and the Rev. James Lumsden welcomed the crowd into his church as well as leading a brief sing-along, Miss Hall's student Ayla Wallace read a poem she wrote that was fitting for the occasion.
Tags: freedom, prejudice, rally,
Support Local NewsWe show up at hurricanes, budget meetings, high school games, accidents, fires and community events. We show up at celebrations and tragedies and everything in between. We show up so our readers can learn about pivotal events that affect their communities and their lives.
How important is local news to you? You can support independent, unbiased journalism and help iBerkshires grow for as a little as the cost of a cup of coffee a week.
|iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to email@example.com.|