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Terry Cowgill
About 90 representatives of South County Democratic Town Committees gathered Saturday (March 11) at Berkshire South Regional Community Center to explore strategies for confronting the Trump Administration's policies on immigrants, women and voting rights.

Berkshire County Dems galvanized, organizing to resist Trump administration

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By Tuesday, Mar 21, 2017 News 21

Great Barrington — South County Democrats packed the conference room at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center on Saturday to organize and deliver a message: We ain’t takin’ the Trump administration lyin’ down. (See list of organizations, links and contact information below.)

Actionable strategies range from “resisting and correcting the applications of wrongheaded national policy” to “electing Democrats and also to help others win their elections outside the county and state,” said Michael Wise, who chairs the Great Barrington Democratic Town Committee, which hosted the Saturday morning event that attracted more than 80 highly motivated people.

“We’re looking for every flippable district to join our revolution,” said Wise, who quickly opened the floor to discussion. “What can we do now? … We’re in a reliably blue state in a deeply blue part of that state.”

There was no shortage of ideas, starting with the unseating of a Republican Congressman John Faso, whose New York district, the 19th, borders Berkshire County. There are no Republican members of congress in Vermont or Connecticut.

One local group targeting Faso is the Green Tea Party of Great Barrington, a group of local progressives initially founded last year to save the town’s historic Searles Middle School from demolition. It’s led by several highly visible South County activists, including Bobby Houston, Beth Carlson and Ron Blumenthal. On its Facebook page, the Green Tea Party echoes the sentiments of many of Faso’s antagonists, branding him “a Breitbart-backed, Ryan/Trump-line voting nightmare of self-interest and constituent betrayal.”

Karen Smith urges vigorous campaigning against New York 19th District Rep. John Faso. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Karen Smith urges vigorous campaigning against New York 19th District Rep. John Faso. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Holly Morse of Great Barrington spoke on behalf of the Great Barrington faction of Swing Left, an online network that helps people find their closest swing district in Congress and connects them with volunteer opportunities to support progressive candidates in that district. GB Swing Left and the Green Tea Party recently held a “House Party” in Alford.

“We need to organize ourselves going forward,” Morse said of the effort to unseat the first-term congressman, former GOP gubernatorial nominee and former minority leader of the New York State Assembly.

“We need to get Faso out of there,” said Karen Smith of Great Barrington. “Go kick his ass!”

Faso’s Kinderhook, N.Y., office has been the target of several protests since he took office at the beginning of the year. He is pro-life on abortion, has supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his law firm agreed to pay a $550,000 fine to the state for ethical violations.

Among the group’s other goals, Wise said, are to support environmental protection, the local immigrant community and “responsible” local media. In addition, Wise urged Democrats to get involved with town government in order “to build our bench.”

Robin Zeamer, right, a representative of the Southern Berkshire Action Group. Photo; Terry Cowgill

Robin Zeamer, right, a representative of the Southern Berkshire Action Group. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Richard Squailia of West Stockbridge is a member of Our Revolution Massachusetts (ORMA), a coalition of Democrats that includes many former supporters of the presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Squailia established the first ORMA chapter in Berkshire County and is actively recruiting more members. He urged participants to make full use of news and social media to get the message out.

“Digital tools are key for us: email, Google Groups,” Squailia said.

Robin Zeamer of Great Barrington pointed to her Google group, Southern Berkshire Action. Participants can only join by invitation. Requests to join should be directed to southberkshireaction@gmail.com.

Others suggested contacting those who represent the Berkshires in Washington but Richard Brown of the Sheffield Democratic Town Committee seemed to throw some cold water on that idea. He said he recently met U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield), who was speaking at a town hall meeting in Chicopee, and asked him to come to the Berkshires and do another town hall.

“He spoke for two hours and said virtually nothing,” Brown recalled. “He does not like town halls but said maybe we could do a breakfast or virtual town hall.” There was a scattering of boos in the room.

Susie Kaufman of Stockbridge added, “We have a congressman, a Democrat, but we haven’t been able to get him to a town hall meeting in the Berkshires … Apply pressure, make him understand we need him.”

Another woman identifying herself as Joanne Rogovin, spoke of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group, which aims to work at the grassroots level to “positively impact our educational, health, environmental, and political systems.”

“After the inauguration, a group of women got around a kitchen table and said, ‘We’ve got to do something’,” Rogovin said, referring to the genesis of the group and the group that organized the Women’s March on Washington. She further identified key areas her organization will be focusing on: immigration, the environment, education and healthcare.

Ben Hillman of the 'mighty and microscopic' Sheffield Town Democratic Committee. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Ben Hillman of the ‘mighty and microscopic’ Sheffield Democratic Town Committee. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Ben Hillman, who said he chairs the “mighty and microscopic” Sheffield Democratic Town Committee, urged attendees to use the media to get the message out. The media-savvy Hillman, a filmmaker and author, added, “Use of media is what we’re really good at.”

Jamie Paxton said she had organized a “huddle group” that has been meeting in Great Barrington and New Marlborough for the last six weeks. She urged those interested to contact her at HuddleGB@gmail.com.

Gwendolyn Hampton Van Sant, executive director of Multicultural Bridge, gave a Powerpoint presentation on Immigration and the Safe Communities Act, pro-immigrant legislation pending on Beacon Hill that would essentially codify many of the principles embodied in so-called “sanctuary city” proclamations such as those established recently in Great Barrington, North Adams and Pittsfield.

Supporters said the entire Berkshires legislative delegation on Beacon Hill favors the legislation, including state Sen. Adam Hinds and Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and William “Smitty” Pignatelli.

Gwendolyn Van Sant, executive director of Multicultural BRIDGE. Photo; Terry Cowgill

Gwendolyn Van Sant, executive director of Multicultural BRIDGE. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Pignatelli (D-Lenox) was unable to attend Saturday’s meeting but in an Edge interview, he said he fully supports the bill but isn’t sure whether it will pass in its current form, as passing legislation is a messy business.

The legislative session has just begun and, because of deficits, the state budget is the top priority, with House Ways and Mean Committee meetings going on across the state.

“We’re in a very fragile time,” Pignatelli said. “People are afraid. The fact that groups are organizing and paying attention is incredible. l like it. All elected officials need to be held accountable.”

Pignatelli added that he does not think local authorities should be compelled to enforce federal immigration law. On the other hand, if there are criminal complaints against undocumented immigrants, then state and municipal police should continue to respond, as they currently do.

There was concern, however, that the resistance movement in Berkshire County was too fragmented.
“Right now, I am so bloody confused,” said an exasperated Smith. “Can somebody please synthesise this? We have a knucklehead running the country.”

From Robin Zeamer in response to Karen Smith’s call for a synthesis of information:

These are the names of the groups that were identified (in most cases, that identified themselves), the name and e-mail of the person who did so, and in some cases a website or other contact:

Berkshire Brigades (county-wide Democratic organization): while awaiting a successor Sheila Murray, contact Lee Harrison (lights.on@twc.comlights.on@verizon.net); berkshirebrigades.com

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21 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Susie Kaufman says:

    In the future, please show my name as Susie Kaufman…not Susan K. Kaufmann as it is written in the article above. Much appreciated.

    1. Terry Cowgill says:

      Will do. It has been changed.

  2. John says:

    America appears to be in a new civil war. Those people paying the bills, against those as government employees living off the taxpayer wallet or those living off the taxpayer wallet.
    If the paper mills were still around, it would be a different story…but wait… those were all run off..

    There are a lot of governments worldwide that would like to radically change the Berkshires…. national security is paramount

    1. Joseph Method says:

      I don’t know what you’re talking about. This liberal is definitely paying the bills for others. Normally I wouldn’t mind but I’d rather not pay for that stupid wall.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        The wall is “stupid” to us because we live in MA, not on our southern border. While I applaud the fact that something is being done to stem the tide of people entering this country illegally at that border, the unfortunate effect of a wall is that it also keeps people in (think Berlin).
        Something needs to be done, but I’m still “on the fence” about this idea 🙂

      2. John says:

        North Korea today sent up another missile, just like under the prior president. The direction was to the east….
        I do hope Democrats see a defense from the North Koreans (and others) as a priority and stand behind the president.

  3. Holly Morse says:

    Terry, Many thanks for a comprehensive article on a very full meeting. So much energy! Could you update my email to: morse.holly@gmail.com? The first part of the address was lost in this piece.

    1. Terry Cowgill says:

      Done. Thanks Holly.

  4. karen Lee says:

    Thank you Terry. On behalf of Our Revolution Massachusetts (ORMA) thank you for a very comprehensive article about the local action taking place across the state. Karen Lee
    regional contact for western Mass The413ORMA@gmail.com
    or visit us on facebook https://www.facebook.com/Our413Revolution/

  5. Patrick Fennell says:

    Find it odd that the democrats are determined to destroy conservative views and ‘big business’ and yet recently former Senator Mo Cowen as a consultant for GE, Hinds and many others have taken money from Mobil Exxon and out of state lobbyists, former state rep Larkin is a lobbyist for GE and if one follows the money almost all of our elected pols have stuffed dirty money in their war chests and yet from liberals crickets, apparently it is alright for democrats to take dirty money but not republicans.

    I would rather know up front who has bought and paid for pols than hear them say one thing and take money from teh other side.

    1. John says:

      Democrats seem to have forgotten that the election is over. They vow to fight.. reminds me of a child that has a tantrum when they don’t get their way.
      It is, time to grow up and think of others, and think of the country as a whole, and as one.

      1. Will says:

        Whose example should they follow John? The sterling example of tolerance and acceptance for Obama displayed by the far right?

      2. Brian says:

        Yes, we are going to prepare for the next election, and this time we’ll make sure it’s not stolen by Russia.

      3. Steve Farina says:

        This election was not stolen by Russia!

        There has been no evidence of vote tampering and no hacking of voting systems. The closest thing that possibly could have been Russia influenced is the release of Podesta’s emails showing Hillary’s true nature. The people saw both major party candidates, and their antics, and chose to elect President Trump.

  6. Robin Zeamer says:

    Hello Terry, In the body of the article please change, if possible, the email contact for South Berkshire Action group invitation to: southberkshireaction@gmail.com. Thank you! It is correct on list. May have been my error originally.

    1. Terry Cowgill says:

      Done. Thank you Robin.

  7. kritterz says:

    Would it be ok with these people if some deplorable from Hillsdale came here and started a movement against one of our liberal selectmen,,,

  8. Joyce Hackett says:

    Hi, Joyce Hackett here, I’m the Western Mass Captain for the nationwide org Code Blue. Couldn’t attend this meeting. But wanted to just note: Code Blue’s a national org that collaborates with local campaign directors to funnel national resources to local contests. We phone bank, canvas, and gather donations and work closely with Flippable. One of the contests we just took on was Philly 197, where the GOP knocked all Dems off the ballot in a district that is 95% Dem. A phone banking campaign helped a write-in candidate win.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Have any of you considered a reason for all this angst and frustration? The 55% of the eligible population who actually voted nationally split their votes about evenly at 46% (R) 48% (D) – skewed by the large population of the Left coast state of CA which provided a 3 million vote margin to the (D).
      Here in MA it was 60% (D) to 32% (R) – and though I haven’t yet taken the time to tally the Berkshire County votes I suspect it is like 70/30 here.
      Essentially, what you fail to realize is that the general population of this area is out of touch with the rest of the country.
      That said, I applaud your effort to bring forth the change you want, but also encourage all of you to take the time to read the 32 page farewell address of our first President – and stop whining about your political loses nationwide!

      1. Joseph Method says:

        A vote in “Left coast” CA or in Berkshire County is worth exactly as much as a vote in rural Kansas or wherever you want to locate the supposed epicenter of Real America. Or at least it should be. Your own numbers demonstrate that the president is out of touch with the plurality of voters and these days with a majority of Americans.

      2. Steve Farina says:

        It would seem that you don’t fully understand the concept of a republican form of democracy.
        It protects us from “mob rule” and gives voice to smaller population areas.
        As for a presidential vote in Berkshire County – in the environment in this state it is worthless. The entire population of Berkshire County eligible to vote could vote for one candidate and it would have no impact on the way the electors are assigned. This state’s Presidential electors are determined from Springfield to points east, which has voted for the Democratic candidate in every election after Reagan’s Presidency.
        As for the President being out of touch with the majority of Americans, where did you hear that, CNN?

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