A selectboard member in Great Barrington, Massachusetts is presenting an open letter to a conservative think-tank tonight, rebutting the conclusions of a declaration it released this month named after the Berkshire community. The letter is being heard at tonight’s selectboard meeting, which begins at 6. As WAMC reports, the Great Barrington Declaration has garnered international criticism.
The backlash to the Great Barrington Declaration was swift both abroad and at home. The statement, the result of a private conference on the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic held by the American Institute for Economic Research, called for an end to lockdowns and the embrace of herd immunity – a philosophy often touted by President Donald Trump, himself a victim of the disease. AIER espouses a libertarian, free-market ideology, and is tied to the fossil fuels industry and the Koch Family. The statement was criticized by scientists and health journalists across the globe, and the town of Great Barrington was quick to distance itself.
Town selectboard chair Steve Bannon told WAMC that Great Barrington endorsed neither the statement nor the idea of ending lockdowns.
“We do not think that it’s anything that the town wants to be associated with, and we really hope that all of our citizens and visitors will wear a mask, social distance, and do everything safely to try to get rid of this pandemic,” he said.
Additionally, a press release from Town Manager Mark Pruhenski titled “Great Barrington, Massachusetts is A COVID-Safe New England Town—Not A Herd Immunity Destination” said the declaration actively undermined the community’s efforts. Despite all that, AIER was unfazed by the unhappy reaction from the town when reached by WAMC Monday.
“Well I’m not sure I would call it the town itself," said Jeffrey Tucker. "I mean, something like 200 signers in the area here who have appreciated the spirit of what these three scientists have said – which is just a plain statement of cell biology and public health. Nothing particularly controversial about that.”
Tucker, AIER’s editorial director, spoke with WAMC from the think-tank’s headquarters on Division Street in Great Barrington.
“It did call for the end of lockdowns," Tucker said. "When I look around town, I am so sad at what’s happened to our local merchants and what’s happened to businesses and the working classes and the poor and who don’t have the opportunity to take their work home and type on Twitter and engage in these kind of political activities. People have to work for a living and these lockdowns have been really deadly.”
The new message from the people of Great Barrington also touches on the pains of the pandemic and the lockdowns – but in a sharp contrast to Tucker’s framing of the declaration’s reception.
“It was an affront to the difficult sacrifices that we’ve been making as a town to set precautions against COVID-19, really destroying the economy and really stopping us from moving forward," said Selectboard member Leigh Davis. She is presenting an open letter that she says captures the reaction of the community to the Great Barrington Declaration.
“A lot of work has gone into the precautions and safety precautions around COVID, and they just felt to have this come in was kind of like a sucker punch," said Davis. "It came out of nowhere, and it was representing views that they did not feel that they sanctioned. So they felt that it was necessary to have someone that could stand up and speak, and I’m hoping that as a representative of Great Barrington that my fellow board members will sign onto this.”
Describing the herd immunity approach as inhumane, Davis says the message is solidarity around Great Barrington’s values.
“Great Barrington is a caring community that looks after the most vulnerable," she told WAMC. "We have a wonderful local hospital, Fairview Hospital, that’s one of the top rural hospitals in America. We really respect everyone’s health and respect equality, and they just felt that this just ran completely counter to their beliefs.”