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Protest in a Time of Great Danger

Across the U.S., groups like Indivisible are countering the horrific actions of the neofascists in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

This past Saturday, a rally took place in Pittsfield, MA, that was organized in reaction to the murders in Portland, Oregon. “Say NO! to Islamophobia” was its theme, as demonstrators stood at Park Square in the city, the traditional gathering place for protest. Pittsfield is much like many other communities around the U.S., with a consistent response of protest to Trump’s policies.

Pittsfield is the major population center (about 42,000 people) in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. When General Electric closed shop, with it went a major employer in the area and a substantial contamination of PCBs was left behind from its manufacturing operation. Military contractors like GE found inland geographical locations like Pittsfield ideal for doing business during World War II because they were largely protected against potential attacks from sea, land, and air. The area is the most liberal geographical part of the state and votes overwhelmingly in favor of progressive candidates. Judging from passersby, both on foot and in cars and trucks, the thumbs up and automobile horns were an indication of the kind of support that is a given here. A few from the right made their sentiments freely known with a raised middle finger and one shouted “Fuck you, bitches!” One man on a bike tried to provoke protesters in a no-win debate, hollering at protesters with ludicrous statements about North Korea, Islam, and women’s rights. Another passerby made a prophetic statement about war and peace: “You go into their country to kill them, and they’re going to kill you.” Most interesting, and somewhat unexpected, was the police officer who passed by twice in his patrol car and sounded several supportive siren blasts with each pass.

In nearby upstate New York, the group Indivisible Chatham has generated many protests focusing in part on the newly elected Congressman from New York’s 19th Congressional District, John Faso, who slavishly supports Trump’s reactionary agenda in Congress, attacking women’s rights and healthcare. I know this Congressional district intimately because I worked there in Zephyr Teachout’s campaign, the Democrat who vied for the open seat against Faso. The group in New York has also focused on canvassing neighborhoods in the district to engage voters for the 2018 election (“A political storm brewing in New York’s 19th District,” Berkshire Edge, June 2, 2017).

But all of this has to be measured against the growth of neo-Nazis and fascistic fellow-traveler groups across the country. In “Is there a neo-Nazi storm brewing in Trump country?” (Guardian, June 2017), the investigative reporting takes an in-depth look at a recent rally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Pike County in eastern Kentucky (in the town of Whitesburg), an area that is 98% white and gave Trump 80% of its vote in November 2016. The late April rally was planned by the Traditionalist Workers Party.

One of the rally’s organizers, Matthew Heimbach said, “Our motto is faith, family and folk.” Heimbach is known for “shoving and shouting at a young black protester at a Donald Trump campaign rally,” in March 2016. Among Heimbach’s beliefs is that the Holocaust is a Jewish conspiracy.

A local resident said of the gathered rally leaders, “They have a lot of really good ideas. It’s really sad that they just bring this racism.” And this from another resident, “That’s taking us a hundred years back,” referring to the rally’s agenda of hate. That person identified herself as gay. According to the article, “The locals in Pikeville (one of the towns in the area) greeted the influx with outrage and shock.”

The tipping point of a move toward fascism in the U.S. could come at any time during the Trump administration. A real or contrived crisis could precipitate what was once thought of as the unthinkable. But the silver lining, if indeed that is the appropriate term at this point of this political and social disaster in the U.S., is that there are still people who will take to the streets to protest.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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