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.”
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, 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.
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:
- Great Barrington Democratic Town Committee: Michael Wise (email@example.com); Facebook page facebook.com/groups/1113291355436911/
- Huddle for Democracy: Great Barrington; Jamie Paxton (HuddleGB@gmail.com); Action Network, private group
- Swing Left (Green Tea Party): Holly Morse (firstname.lastname@example.org); swingleft.org, Facebook page Green Tea Party of Great Barrington
- Swing Left (Berkshire Brigades): Ruth Dinerman (email@example.com)
- Indivisible (Green Tea Party): Bobby Houston (firstname.lastname@example.org); Facebook page, Green Tea Party of Great Barrington
- Berkshire Women’s Action Group (Indivisible Berkshires): Joanne Rogovin (email@example.com) [other contacts on its website: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com); bershirewomensactiongroup.com
- Lift Every Vote [until yesterday, Blue Ivy], a Berkshires political collaborative focused on voting: Joyce Hackett (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jamie Vlcek (email@example.com), Maureen Meier (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Code Blue
- Our Revolution MA: Richard Squailia (email@example.com), Karen Lee (the413ORMA@gmail.com); com
- South Berkshire Action Group: Google group; for invitation to join contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Robin Zeamer (Rzeamer@gmail.com)
- SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice): Lily Swartz (email@example.com), Ari Wolff Cameron (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Sheffield Democratic Town Committee: Ben Hillman (email@example.com)
- 350Mass: betterfutureproject.org
- ACLU People Power: Leslie Garwood (firstname.lastname@example.org) (Jamie Paxton described it at the meeting)
- Otis Democratic Town Committee: Sonia Morrison
- New Marlborough Democratic Town Committee: Louise Yohalem (email@example.com)
- Berkshire Commission on the Status of Women: Susan Olshuff (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Berkshires March On: Maureen Meier (email@example.com) (private group)
- AFS nonviolent resistance workshops: Susie Kaufman (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jeff Napolitano (email@example.com)
- Voter Choice Massachusetts (rank-choice voting): needs south county organization; contact Tom Peake, 413-250-1418. voterchoicema.org. Video: youtube.com/watch?v=q6pC5IJirrY
- 4Freedoms Coalition: org; civic participation workshops, Becky Meier (518-781-4686, firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Multicultural BRIDGE: Gwendolyn Hampton Van Sant (email@example.com)
- Berkshire Immigrant Center: Brooke Meade, Hilary Greene.