With Jan. 7 rally in Pittsfield, countywide coalition unifies around Four Freedoms

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PITTSFIELD — Republican or democrat, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, the preservation of freedom is worth marching for — at least that's the hope of the organizers of the upcoming Four Freedoms March & Rally.

This stance of solidarity will be staged in downtown Pittsfield on Saturday, Jan. 7, a day after the 75th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's landmark 1941 "Four Freedoms" speech to the 77th Congress. Roosevelt, with the nation on the brink of World War II, outlined a democracy looking forward to "a world founded upon four essential human freedoms": "freedom of speech and expression," "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world," "freedom from want," and "freedom from fear."

The statement of purpose for the newly convened Four Freedoms Coalition, a grassroots group of concerned citizens which is organizing the Jan. 7 march and rally, declares, "Our purpose is to defend and reclaim the Four Freedoms for all peoples."

Participants are invited to gather at 12:30 p.m. in front of St. Joseph's Parish on North Street. The march will commence at 1, and will finish inside the First Church of Christ at Park Square, with various speakers, including James Roosevelt III, the paternal grandson of FDR.

The Four Freedoms Coalition defines itself and its partners as "a diverse, non-partisan, Berkshires-based coalition," united by the Four Freedoms and through rejecting acts of "bigotry and prejudice."

This, however, does not mean that participants in the Four Freedoms March & Rally all have to agree on every issue.

"Participants will have different issues they're going to pursue and may very well have different views, but regardless on any views on particular issues, we can't unite if we can't talk [about an issue]," said Sherwood Guernsey.

A co-leader within the coalition, Guernsey is a local attorney, a co-founder of Berkshire Brigades democratic group, a former state representative, and a team leader at the First Congregational Church of Williamstown.

He recently visited The Eagle with other coalition leaders — Shirley Edgerton, Brian Morrison, Dennis Powell and Megan Whilden — to talk about the development of this group and its inaugural event.

"We're really looking at the power being with the people, despite the outcome of the election," said Powell, president of the Berkshire County Branch of the NAACP and member of the Pittsfield Million Father March. Powell said he hopes young people in particular will find in the event more motivation to get involved in community conversations and decision-making.

"We see the Four Freedoms as the common ground," said Guernsey. "They're truly American values that everyone should support. Everybody is talking about the need to do something to change our country. We want people to walk the talk. So, we're going to march."

Both North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer are lending their support to the event.

Roberta McCulloch-Dews, Pittsfield's director of administrative services, earlier this month attended a planning meeting for the march on behalf of Mayor Tyer.

"The mayor felt this was an important event for the city to support because it reflects the very best that we aspire to as a community. In the wake of the national election, Mayor Tyer affirmed her commitment to leadership that fostered unity, compassion, and respect for one another," McCulloch-Dews said.

McCulloch-Dews said the mayor favored the initiative, which builds upon the work of multiple organizations to better communications and strengthen relationships between people in the community.

The intention of the rally isn't to be just a one-day event; rather, the goal is to provide an opportunity for people to get involved. Many of the community organizations and groups that will be marching will also be distributing information on ways people can participate and support ongoing work," she said.

Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless said that as an elected official, it only makes sense for him to be a partner of this cause, "to indicate to people if there are any instances where there are civil rights violations that we're fully prepared to see that the law is enforced."

In addition to locally based state delegates, coalition members say state Auditor Suzanne Bump and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who is being eyed as a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, have also endorsed the event and group's work.

Whilden, who is joining the executive committee of the Berkshire NAACP branch and is also representing Berkshire Brigades, characterized the Jan. 7 event as "a big tent of solidarity" where everyone should feel safe to speak their minds and be heard. She said this is why the coalition has reached out to multiple political and non-partisan, community and faith organizations, from the local Republican and Green-Rainbow Party groups, to theater and labor groups.

As it stands, the current list of partners include a number of democratic committees, but the coalition members say that whether groups or individuals identify themselves, the turnout will be balanced.

"All you can do is appeal to others, if not to march to at least be there to hear the speeches or be a part of the tables of information offered there," said Edgerton, who also sits on the local NAACP executive committee and Women of Color Giving Circle leadership group.

Morrison, president of the Berkshire Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and member of the Pittsfield Democratic Committee, agreed. "You should just show up and listen to learn."

Reporter Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.


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