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Indivisible won’t divide Washington

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Oct. 19, 2017) Members of Indivisible Worcester MD reiterated during a meeting Tuesday night they would not bring a planned Halloween night demonstration to Washington Street in Berlin, where trick-or-treating is expected to draw upwards of 2,000 children. Just over a dozen people attended the meeting at a South Point home, and some members were baffled as to how that rumor got started and by some of the comments they received on social media following news of the Halloween Jazz Funeral March and Die-in. The group, a local offshoot of the indivisible movement formed in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as a sort of counter balance to the conservative Tea Party, was largely made up of older, retired residents of the Berlin and Ocean Pines areas. They talked about letter-to-the-editor campaigns targeting social issues, planned mixers with like-minded groups and wondered how they could diversify their membership. When Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, a member of Indivisible Worcester came up with the idea to host a die-in for the environment. That occurred on Aug. 19 on the Ocean City Boardwalk. About 25 people attended, according to co-organizer Susan Buyer, and the group picked up several additional stragglers along the way from the inlet to Caroline Street. During the “die-in,” demonstrators wore costumes, carried mock tombstones and lied on the Boardwalk in protest. “We had a grim reaper pulling a coffin and we had costumes and music, and generally had a pretty good time and maybe raised awareness a little bit to the importance of climate change and environmental issues,” Buyer said. “At the end of the event … people said, ‘we’ve got the costumes, we’ve gotten the speeches all together. We really ought to do this [again] on Halloween in Berlin,’” Buyer added. She created a placeholder for the event on Facebook, before an exact location and time had been set. What resulted, she said, were negative comments and “a whole lot of spam.” “People were concerned that we would be interrupting trick-or-treating for the kids in Berlin, and I think people were also very unhappy at the idea that we were doing something political,” she said. Co-organizer Toby Perkins, Buyer’s husband, said the original plan specifically stated the event would not interfere with trick-or-treating. “Look at us — most of us around the table have children in our lives,” Buyer said. “The last thing in the world we want to do is ruin someone’s Halloween, but that is the reaction we got. And we got some nastiness.” Several posts on the event page included images and gifs mocking Hillary Clinton, as well as links to sites like Fox News and BrandonLang.com. “The comments I got were ’this is not the time and place, please reconsider, you’re going to ruin Halloween,’” Buyer said. One woman posted, “Don’t you think flirting with death is a little risky at your ripe age?” “Toby’s reaction immediately was this is a death threat, my reaction was this is a really stupid, obnoxious, offensive comment,” Buyer said. “I know on Facebook and Twitter people get outrageous and even the president is setting a bad example, but why you would write a note to stranger saying ’you’re flirting with death?’” Perkins asked. Buyer sent the woman a private message saying the comment was “disconcerting.” The woman responded by publishing the private message on her Facebook feed, mockingly, with the caption, “I made a comment and got a pm that almost made ME die from laughter.” “And then her friends got into it and really, thoroughly trashed me,” Buyer said. “I think everyone needs to know that we did get that amount of hostility.” Despite the pushback they received on social media, Buyer and Perkins met with town officials last week to discuss specifics for the demonstration. “They were really very supportive. I don’t mean that they expressed support for our political point of view, necessarily, but they were supportive of our expression— of our opinions in a constitutional and peaceful way,” Buyer said. “They understood that that’s all we wanted to do, to have a peaceful march and that we did not want to interfere with trick-or-treating or pose a threat to public safety.” Based on suggestions from town officials, including Mayor Gee Williams, Town Administrator Laura Allen, Town Attorney David Gaskill and Councilman Thom Gulyas, Indivisible Worcester plans to start at 7 p.m. at the intersection of West and Main streets, near the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum, and march down Main Street to the Atlantic Hotel and back. Rather than lie in the street, which they decided might not be the safest or most comfortable action in late October, demonstrators will carry tombstones and signs, and a short, interactive speech will occur in front of the Atlantic Hotel. Berlin Police will provide an escort, according to Buyer. She added, “We will not go anywhere near Washington Street.” Perkins said they did a test run of the route and it took about 15 minutes to walk “at old people’s pace.” He said the route was brightly lit enough for people nearby to be able to read the signs. Buyer said she would reach out again to Williams with the finalized plans. Towards the end of the roughly two-hour meeting, talk again turned to the negative feedback from some on social media. One member of Indivisible Worcester argued their message was positive. “Our message is negative — we’re opposed to Trump’s racist, authoritarian and corrupt agenda,” Perkins said. “But, we want to save the world,” Joan Roache said, later adding, “We’re doing this for the children so there will still be a world.”