WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mother Nature was not the only one who may have made revelers at the town's annual Fourth of July celebrations a little uncomfortable.
A group of nine young people turned out at the parade and annual reading of the founding documents with thought-provoking signs that provided a balanced perspective to a day that, for some, is all about patriotism.
Dressed in plain black T-shirts and holding placards with messages like, "End Prison Slavery," and, "No One Is Illegal on Stolen Land," the group stepped onto Spring Street a little ahead of the parade as the American Legion Color Guard made its way around the corner from Main Street.
The protesters, who appeared to be college- age, then walked the parade route as a group before circling back individually with their signs displayed -- making sure their messages were delivered even as parade units ranging from the Williamstown Select Board to the North Adams SteepleCats waved to the crowd in the background.
Later, the same group of protesters filed into Williams College's Sawyer Library just before the traditional reading of the nation's founding documents and held the same signs silently at the front of the audience gathered to hear actors from Williamstown Theatre Festival perched on the walkway above.
The president of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, who organizes the parade, said she was not sure whether the group had asked to be included in that event, but she welcomed its presence.
"Isn't that what America is about?" Victoria Saltzman said. "This is an example. It's quintessentially America that we can celebrate and protest at the same time."
Indeed, the protesters were not the only ones sending political messages.
The contingent from the First Congregational Church marching in the parade held signs calling for environmental and racial justice. And the non-partisan League of Women Voters again reminded spectators that "Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport."
At Sawyer Library, readings from the Declaration and U.S. Constitution once again were juxtaposed against the words of 19th century freed slave and abolitionist icon Frederick Douglass.
"To [the American slave], your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages," Douglas said to a Rochester, N.Y., crowd in 1852.
Before the actors took the stage, Williams College's Chapin librarian pointedly told the crowd that Douglass' words resonate today as they did in the run-up to the Civil War.
After the parade, several of the protesters politely declined to be interviewed about their demonstration.
But one of the signs they carried may have summed up their message as well as any other.
"Whose Independence Are We Celebrating Today?" it asked.
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