John Seven | Commentary: The new activism in America

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Some in the Berkshires are taking the lead in expressions of dissent in response to the turn our country has recently taken. The organizers of the Four Freedoms Rally in Pittsfield this Saturday have chosen to commemorate the speech of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

An irony here: FDR actually scared some people as much as our current president-elect does, but with an important difference. He alarmed the special interests of wealth and business, and inspired opponents of his New Deal to paint him with the same brush as Mussolini or even Hitler and proclaim him a fascist, a dictator.

Sound familiar?

Now is not then, and dictators don't always look the same as they did, as Putin shows. But the four freedoms that Roosevelt laid out in his speech remain, whoever runs our country: Freedom from fear, Freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These are particularly cherished in the Berkshires thanks to Norman Rockwell's oil paintings of them, which are on display at the museum that holds his name in Stockbridge. In commemoration, citizens of the Berkshires are planning to take to the streets of Pittsfield in Saturday's rally and march for the rights of humans in direct opposition to any form of bigotry.

That first notion, "freedom from fear," is an aspect of the upcoming administration that some in the North Adams City Council certainly took seriously when they proposed resolution affirming the inclusivity, followed by some dismay at a couple councilors who took issue for officious reasons. In response, the community gathered to explain why "freedom from fear" is a real and tangible concern to citizens, especially in the current America. The resolution was sent to committee and its ultimate fate awaits further discussion.

What played out was that the old politics is dead and the new politics demand that elected officials understand the symbolism of their stances. Casting doubt on safety and inclusiveness looks a lot more sinister now than it did even a year ago.

The march in Washington on Jan. 21 is another way that a number of Berkshires residents responding to the new politics, with a live stream of the action in the Colonial Theatre for those who want to be there, but who are unable to make the trip.

These are all important, but with the new politics comes the new activism. It's unclear that what worked before will work now. There will need to be new and clever ways to express opposition, to articulate the illegitimacy of the current government. In the spirit of the Occupy movement, it would serve us well to dispense partisan embraces and the canonization of Hillary Clinton. This is not about parties or candidates, this is about America.

Part of the new activism should be a huge effort to replace the current body of political figures. We need an electoral insurgency that especially involves millennials descending upon our government and seizing power through the processes of our democracy. That means you need to run for office, again and again, until you win. Don't give up until you win.

Artists have to step up, too. As the inauguration woes have shown, as well well as the future first lady's designer rebellion, one amazing power the creative have is to refuse their services. Absence can speak volumes. But with that we need to be present where we formally have not been, stepping outside of the galleries and museums and cabarets and dance parties and poetry readings and bring the work to people who might not normally encounter it, the people who need it the most.

Everyone needs to get outside their comfort zones and live in that unknown territory. As they say, freedom is not free, and four freedoms are dependent on numerous sacrifices.

John Seven lives in North Adams. Contact John Seven at mister.j.seven@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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