The past year has seen a rise in acts and expressions of racism, hatred and intolerance across the nation. A response is needed, and a powerful one was offered Saturday in Pittsfield.
An estimated 1,300 people turned out for a march and rally organized by the local Four Freedoms Coalition. Berkshire residents marched from St. Joseph's Church on North Street to the First Church of Christ Congregational Church on East Street, where a number of speakers addressed the packed church (Eagle, January 4.) The size of the turnout was impressive, as was the makeup of the marchers: young and old, men and women, people of different races and ethnic groups. Some groups are more threatened than others in today's political climate, but when anyone's rights are jeopardized, everybody's rights are as well. Saturday's march and rally is a strong indicator that Berkshire residents are aware of what is at stake for all.
The four freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear — were articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union speech in 1941. To FDR, they embodied the ideals that constituted the bedrock of America. The four freedoms were immortalized by the portraits done by Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell that graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post.
James Roosevelt, the grandson of FDR, told the audience at First Congregational that the authoritarianism, economic unfairness, racism and isolationism that imperiled the world in 1941 are with us today, although in different manifestations. Along with the bigotry and hatred infesting America today, there is support for the "strong man" type of government that poisoned Europe on the eve of World War II and threatens basic democratic principles.
Those who think that the November elections gave them license to deprive women, minorities and gays of their hard-won rights must be confronted by those who believe otherwise.
The notion that the elections mean an end to the social programs that benefit the poor, the elderly and blue collar workers and their families must also be resisted. The four freedoms are under assault in 2017 and must be vigorously defended.
One of the many positive aspects of Saturday's march and rally was the absence of anger. We saw more than enough anger and vitriol in the presidential campaign. A lack of anger, however, doesn't mean a lack of resolve. Berkshire County, and ideally the nation, must resolve in the months and years ahead to stand up for our four freedoms in positive and constructive ways and assure that those freedoms are extended to all Americans.