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About 100 people participated in workshop on civic advocacy and government on Saturday.

4 Freedoms Workshops Explore Ways to Advocate, Connect

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Professor Frances Jones-Sneed gives the keynote addressing, urging the workshop participants to stand up against injustice.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Some came to share insights on their political experience, some wanted to know how they could change their communities, others to connect with like-minded people on issues important to them. 
 
"Look at the people we have, these are the lead people in our county doing these things and they're talking to small groups," said Becky Mieir, organizer for the "Step Up: Empowering Ourselves" series of workshops held Saturday at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
 
Nearly 100 area residents spent the day learning about local government, inequality, how to write letters to the editor, canvassing, communicating across political and cultural barriers and how to take action to promote the causes and candidates most important to them.
 
Hugh Guilderson and Arlene Kirsch were looking to connect with people after moving to Williamstown last November from Cape Cod. 
 
"I can see terrific wealth disparities here in the Berkshires as there are in other areas in the country," Guilderson said. "I'm retired and I'm looking for away to make myself useful."
 
Guilderson had attended the workshop on interfaith organizing and then met up with Kirsch for the second half of the two-hour workshop on inequality. 
 
"I learned new things about the area here ... I learned new ways to help people out of poverty," she said. "I learned more about the work being done to help the people in poverty ... the workshop leader was terrific. 
 
"It's a great event and the people who are attending seem to be very dedicated to making the quality of life better for the area for everybody."
 
Workshop leaders included North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and City Councilor Marie T. Harpin talking about local government; state Sen. Adam Hinds in a conversation; state Rep. Paul Mark on the work he'll be doing in redistricting; Kim McMann of the Berkshire Food Project on communications; and Multicultural BRIDGE director Gwendolyn VanSant on equity and justice. Congressional candidate Tahirah Amatul-Wadud discussed issues affecting the Muslim community and Andrea Harrington, running for district attorney, spoke on criminal justice reform. 
 
"Between Shirley [Edgerton], Gwendolyn [VanSant] and Kim [McCann], they had the three largest crowds on registration," said Meier, indicating there was a strong interest in breaking down cultural and social barriers.
 
Megan Whilden said there were at least 20 people at McMann's workshop on "Effectively Communicating Through Barriers."
 
"It was just about our implicit bias about things, about styles of communication that can be very different," she said. "Being aware there can be barriers, really that's the first step."
 
The event was sponsored by the 4 Freedoms Coalition and was the third held in the last year: one was hosted by Berkshire Community College a year ago, and a second last fall at Monument Mountain Regional School. A number of groups, including some with progressive or Democratic roots, also participated. But connecting across a growing political divide was also on workshop leaders' minds. 
 
"If you talk about issues you can ally with people no matter where you come from," said Adelia Moore of New Lebanon, N.Y., discussing her experiences at the workshop on canvassing. "When you're motivated and well intentioned, you have to sort of rise above it."
 
The coalition was founded on the principles articulated by President Franklin Roosevelt (and immortalized on canvas by Norman Rockwell): Freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from want and fear. 
 
Frances Jones-Sneed, professor of history at MCLA, told the participants at the beginning of the event that it was valuable to remind themselves of the dark days of 1941 that prompted Roosevelt's speech. Not everyone in the postwar years had had the benefit of the four freedoms or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that flowed from them. 
 
"If an injustice bothers you don't sit on the sidelines, take action," she said. 
 
"You may discover that you are stronger than you thought you were, more courageous than you believe yourself to be ... make a difference in the world. It's counting on you to make the first step."

Tags: civics,   civil rights,   four freedoms,   workshops,   

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'Joker': Doesn't Kid Around

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
If van Gogh were alive today and dabbling in film, I expect that he might create something as artistically maddening as Todd Phillips' "Joker." But we must tread carefully. The controversy is there for the taking. 
 
Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck, who will ultimately evolve into his alter ego, the Joker, before the closing credits fall on this fantastically directed, acted and produced "Batman" offshoot, is off the hook in every definition of the term. Thus the question is begged: Is it OK to derive entertainment from the criminally insane?
 
Phillips, who co-wrote this magnum opus with Scott Silver, throws all decorum and caution to the wind as he lavishes broad, violently-infused brushstrokes across a canvas hellbent on saying whatever it takes to get across its explosive meditation on the shocking sources and depths of evil. As we follow Arthur's devolution from simply sad Momma's Boy working for a clown rental company to a full-fledged crazy man on the loose in Gotham City, only our variety of cringe changes ... a different one for each new and expanded atrocity.
 
But what we suspect disturbs us most is the horrible, enigmatic truth that swirls at the vortex of the tale. It's something about the human animal either deep in our DNA and attributable to a brutal, prehistoric past, or, much worse, an ignominious, bad person gene we'd like to believe doesn't exist. It's precisely the perversity that has us so freaked out about the current situation in Washington ... the total disconnect from, and abandonment of, propriety and the nobility of truth.
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