Determined demonstrators brave the cold

'This isn't a rally against anything. This is in support of the ideals of the United States.'

PITTSFIELD — The best way to negotiate Saturday afternoon's Four Freedoms Coalition March and Rally was to stay near the middle of the pack. Neither too far left nor too far right. That way, human body heat was most effective.

But despite the 18 degree temperature, and gray skies, more than 1,300 people from throughout Berkshire County trod the 4 1/2 blocks from St. Joseph's Church on North Street to the First Church of Christ Congregational on East Street to participate in the event.

The walk and subsequent rally at the First Congregational Church was organized by The Four Freedoms Coalition in response to the increase of racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric, attacks on the press and plans to dismantle national social service safety nets that started during the campaign and have increased since the election of Donald Trump. The effort earned the support of more than 150 local nonprofits, businesses and elected officials.

The Four Freedoms for which the march was named refers to two inter-related concepts. The first are the four freedoms outlined in the 1941 State of the Union address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These are the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The concepts, said Roosevelt, embodied the American ideals for a successful future.

But the march also referenced the portraits painted by famed local illustrator Norman Rockwell. The paintings are literal illustrations of those four freedoms. They were created in 1943 and adorned the covers of the Saturday Evening Post.

"We're doing this because we need to show unified solidarity against those that may diminish the rights of humans," said Dennis Powell, President of the Berkshire County Chapter of the NAACP. "We're really looking to make sure that people have access to basic rights."

In addition to being multi-racial, the crowd was also multi-generational.

"I think it's because I'm young," said Tajzna Holiday, 17. "It's good to see people not of my race trying to prevent racism."

Kathy Anker, who works at Goodwill, came because "everyone deserves to be judged by who they are."

Weather-wise, it was a typical early January day in Berkshire County.

"The weather was not too bad," said marcher Eugene Michalenko of Adams. "A little icy, but the wind was OK."

Police reported no incidents and overall, the walk was almost festive, despite the conditions.

Participants were working at St. Joseph's Church as early as 10 a.m. on Saturday for a 1 p.m. march. By about 11:30, musicians had gathered on the lawn in front of the church. There was a table for refreshments, including coffee and hot chocolate. A total of 250 cups of coffee were served, according to Jason Verchot, president of the Berkshire Stonewall Coalition and the guy in charge of the drinks.. He also served 200 cups of hot chocolate.

Besides people, there were a lot of signs. For those who neglected to make or bring a sign, there was a committee of sign-makers working studiously for several hours before the march.

"I'm just the sign-maker," said Mary Dickson of Pittsfield, who, with her husband John, was punching holes in large cardboard squares and running string through the holes. The point, her husband explained, was to give the marchers a blank sign and allow them to create their own own saying.

"This will allow people to create their own slogans," said John Dickson. "We just ask them to be civil."

There were signs referencing the four freedoms and signs urging readers to support unity, tolerance and acceptance.

Pittsfield police kept traffic moving on North Street and people on the march route. It was cold, so there was a tendency to move faster than usual. But overall, walkers tried to help those with less mobility.

The crowd was upbeat and affable, chanting slogans such as "Four Freedoms for all!"

"This isn't a rally against anything," said one walker, Timothy Mahon, a professor at Williams College. "This is in support of the ideals of the United States."

Reach staffer Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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