TOMS RIVER – A pair of songwriters turned activists posed the question “is civility dead?” in a rather unique way. They brought their brand of street theatrics on Aug. 24 to the courtyard of the Ocean County Library in downtown Toms River.
Dressed in black suits and hats and taking the theme of a New Orleans-style jazz funeral as their inspiration, the duo joined 11 others for the 30-minute skit that involved a prop coffin, umbrellas and music.
Brick resident Dave Williams, the co-founder of the group Forward March said the idea was not exactly to mourn the loss of civility but to give it a very strong sendoff.
Co-Founder Jim Tobias of Matawan said civility “should be a two-way street but I don’t think we are seeing that lately in politics. We should be able to have a debate or argument in politics about public policy but too often it gets heated.”
Tobias said that he’d like to see those who disagree on political issues “keep to the norms of mutual respect” and he pointed to Republicans and those of the extreme right as the main cause.
Tobias added that Democrats were being too polite in some of their discourse. “It isn’t even a case of bringing a knife to a gun fight. They bring a covered dish to a gun fight. We’re not trying to be nasty but we do want to be visible, clear and assertive.”
The two men have for some time enjoyed writing song parodies and examining various ways to promote their progressive ideology.
Williams said “I have only been an activist since early 2017 when I joined Indivisible NJ 3rd District at its first meeting. I’m now the group’s leader. I’m also involved with other grassroots groups and I am an elected member of the Ocean County Democratic Committee.”
Tobias has been an activist for a longer time and has been involved with the Working Families Alliance, according to Williams.
“Civility is dead. It is coming from the top down,” Joanie Parks of Waretown said. Parks was one of the participants at the event and helped hold the mock coffin. Parks was critical of President Donald Trump. “He has no regard for humanity, not even his own family.”
Fellow Waretown resident Roseann DePasquale donned a black veil and played a small drum during the activity.
Toms River resident Bob Riehl literally got a front row seat for the event. “I learned about this only an hour ago. I’m an optimist and while I feel civility is dead, I think it will come back. I’m sick of all the hate speech. There is no room for it in this country.”
Williams said that “we first started talking seriously at a “Tax Scam” protest which I believe was in early 2018, whenever the Trump/GOP tax cut came out. We started a kind of chain email with a handful of other people we knew, working on ways to do more fun/theatrical/wacky things than what you find at a typical protest rally or march.”
Williams said this is when the duo got serious about what they wanted to do next. “We met at Jim’s house and talked about ideas. That led to the formation of Forward March, and we created a Facebook group and a logo and all that. The logo is now on a bass drum that I bought used for cheap, after we discussed the idea of having a “drumline” for protest marches as one of our projects.”
The two songwriters started discussing the “death of civility” concept during that meeting.
“R.I.P. Civility” was the group’s second event that they organized. “This is first event though that is in the spirit of what we are trying to do but we’re happy to perform at other protests in order to add our brand of irreverent fun to the proceedings,” Williams said.
“The first event we staged was an impeachment rally in Asbury Park earlier this summer. We had assumed there would be a rally somewhere as there were national coordinated rallies, but when we didn’t find one, we decided to host it,” Williams said.
The duo took part in a Trenton based rally called Empower NJ, a Lights for Liberty event at the ICE detention center in Elizabeth and in June a pro-impeachment protest in Asbury Park. On Aug. 21 they joined students of Toms River High School North who protested Board of Education member Daniel Leonard who posted derogatory comments about U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) on Facebook.
“We aren’t committed to any specific ideology although we’re left of center, obviously. We’re more interested in methodology and tactics and finding ways to make the resistance movement more enjoyable and engaging – partly to attract new people to the movement, and partly to keep up the morale of the people already in it,” Williams said.