Friday, January 5, 2018

songs and sounds of solidarity in the berkshire eagle...

Four Freedoms Coalition to mark year anniversary with concert

Posted Thursday, January 4, 2018 8:12 pm
Berkshire Eagle

By Haven Orecchio-Egresitz, The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD — One year after more than 2,000 people endured the bitter January cold to march down North Street in support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four freedoms, the Four Freedoms Coalition is celebrating its anniversary with a free community concert.

The event, "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity," which will feature local interfaith musicians, a youth step-team and spoken word artists, is an attempt to mimic the 1960's culture of using music and performance arts as a means to keep the spirit of civic engagement alive, according to James Lumsden, the concert's organizer and master of ceremonies. It will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at First Church of Christ, Congregational, on Park Square.

Lumsden stopped short of calling Trump's election a "catalyst" for the founding of the Four Freedoms Coalition last year, but he said that it was a renewed culture of hate speech and threats to the well-being of people of color, women and the LGBTQ community that spurred the movement to support the freedoms outlined by Roosevelt in his Jan. 6, 1941, speech: the freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of religion."I don't think anyone expected the broad-based solidarity," Lumsden said about the rally last January. "We knew that there was concern, but we didn't know how wide and deep it was."

At a town hall event in Pittsfield in October, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said it was the Four Freedoms march that "kicked off" a whole year of demonstrations and marches across the state. Markey, a Democrat, spoke at the rally that followed last year's march.

When organizers saw the overwhelming and unexpected turnout of people who gathered at the rally, "hope, rather than fear" became the driving force for the organization, Lumsden said. Organizers began to realize that there was a need in the Berkshires to train people about the basics and the "nitty-gritty" of civic engagement so the group held three events around the county.

"There was an awareness that there were probably one or two generations in the Berkshires that had not been trained to be civically engaged," he said, referring to millennials and individuals their parents' age. "There were people who really didn't know how to run for office or how to vote... how to participate in a public way." While the compassion to be involved was present from the beginning, the basics of having civil discussions with people with different viewpoints or how to interact in a meaningful way with elected officials was not, he said. It became a goal of the organization to offer training to individuals who wanted to get involved, and it's a mission that will continue into 2018, he said.

But being engaged civically can be tiring, and sometimes even discouraging, so Sunday's concert, the first Four Freedoms event of 2018, is an attempt to keep the spirit among the group. "Gospel, spirituals and folk music have been important tools in American freedom movements," said Shirley Edgerton, a co-founder of the Four Freedoms Coalition, in a statement. "They have uplifted and motivated marchers, giving strength and evoking peace and love where there has been brutality and hate."

The coalition also has been working with the administration at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to organize a civic training some time in April, aimed specifically at North County residents, he said. Today, the Four Freedoms Coalition is made up of more than 140 organizational members, from cultural institutions, to environmental organizations and local businesses, Lumsden said.

Performers at Sunday's event will include the Youth Alive Step Team, the Hoping Machine, the Williams College Gospel Choir, Mary Verdi and the Sacred Heart choir, a gathering of Jewish musicians from synagogues throughout Berkshire County, the Latino Ensemble from St. Mark's Church, Linda Worster, a jazz ensemble, and three spoken word poets. Sheila Sholes-Ross will also serve as the emcee.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter, and 413-770-6977.

If you go ...
What: "Songs and Sounds of Solidarity: An Interfaith Celebration of Compassion, Justice & Respect for All Peoples"
When: 2 p.m. Sunday; doors open at 1 p.m. for an open house with partner organizations
Where: First Church of Christ, Congregational, on Park Square, 27 East St., Pittsfield
Cost: Free

And here's yesterday local Internet News Show clip...

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