Still clutched by a pandemic in a nation bruised by endless political fights and violence, Berkshire County residents appear to be gearing up for a quiet and safe inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Most local action groups haven’t organized any plans for celebration or demonstration for Jan. 20.
In North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington, municipal permits for protests or gatherings have not been pulled.
“It’s too risky, given the level of violence we have seen lately,” said Drew Herzig, of political advocacy group Indivisible Pittsfield. “We’re just hunkering down.”
Many are simply hoping for calm. And local and state police say that, while they are not aware of threats, they are prepared and are constantly monitoring intelligence in concert with state and federal agencies.
One Great Barrington resident wants to soothe a combustible landscape with #illuminatedemocracy, a movement for a moment of peace on Jan. 19, the eve of the inauguration.
“People are desperate for something that they can do,” said Andrew Blechman, an independent journalist who came up with the idea with a friend, Lisa Kahn. “Especially during COVID and at a time when it’s too dangerous to go to D.C.”
The idea is to honor democracy, Blechman added.
“It’s a system of government akin to grace, a precious inheritance,” he said.
It also can be messy, as Americans have long found.
That was on full display on Jan. 6 during the presidential election certification at the U.S. Capitol, when a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem.
The house moved swiftly to impeach Trump last week for his incitement of the siege as he continued to contest election results. A Senate trial could start as soon as this week.
Peace and police presence
Federal authorities have since warned of an increase in extremist activity in Washington and other state capitols leading up to and on Jan. 20.
But, Massachusetts does not appear to be a target, according to David Procopio, director of media communications for the state police.
Yet all local and state law enforcement say they are watchful.
“We are cognizant that situations can change quickly and we will be prepared … and will deploy additional assets if necessary,” Procopio said in an email.
In Pittsfield, police also are on alert and communicating with state and federal officials.
“Disclosure of any strategies at this juncture would not be prudent,” wrote Pittsfield Police Lt. Gary Traversa in an email. “Our PPD crime analyst/intel personnel continue to maintain situational awareness.”
Police in Great Barrington also are vigilant.
“We don’t expect any issues, but we are putting together an action plan just to be prepared,” said town Police Chief Paul Storti, adding that the department will protect and respect the right to protest peacefully.
Peace, and a light, is what journalist Blechman has in mind, “just like the Statue of Liberty.”
“It’s just two friends and a laptop, an idea and a love for democracy,” he said of the idea for the bipartisan, nonecumenical 15 minutes of reflection. “At 9 p.m. on the eve of the inauguration, people can be at their front door, on the sidewalk, light a candle, or their cellphone.”
He’s heard from hundreds of people about it, even from Australia.
Blechman quotes Abraham Lincoln: “The whole world is watching,” and adds that, “so are children.”
Some groups will simply celebrate the end of Trump’s presidency with heightened vigilance and work toward issues like fair wages, affordable housing and a Green New Deal.
“Standing in solidarity and support of communities of color and upholding our fragile democracy,” said Amillie Coster, communications coordinator for Berkshires Democratic Socialists.
Andrew Moro, a member of the Great Barrington Town Republican Committee, said the group has zero plans.
“Obviously nobody wants any violence, that’s for darn sure,” he said, recalling with horror the Capitol riots. “It was very disheartening to see. I want them all to go to jail. It hurt everything we thought we were working for. I’m a little burned out.”
Lucien Stone, a Pittsfield business owner, said he went to the Trump rally as a counter protester, yet said that most people there did not intend violence. He stood stock still, holding up a huge sign.
“I had my life threatened more times than you could shake a stick at,” he said. “Fortunately, someone in the crowd said ‘Not here, not now.’” Many times people told him it was his right to protest, he added.
Stone had planned to return for the inauguration, but decided against it when the city’s mayor asked people to stay away.
Like most Americans who still have jobs, he’ll be doing that, and will find a way to watch the ceremony.
“I’ll probably be at work,” he said.
Eagle staff writer Francesca Paris contributed to this report.