"Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, you must become its soul." Coretta Scott King
"This time we'll go beyond our state capital to amplify our voices to people across New Jersey. We seek to encourage them to use their power to vote instead of relying on the elected officials we have." Elizabeth Meyer, Branchburg activist and an organizer of last year's March in Trenton and the 2018 Women's March in Morristown
A group of eight women of East Millstone: Patti Sofran, Kate Cahill, Jennifer Combs, Barbara Kissell, Elizabeth Graf, Martha March, Denise McFadden and Robin Scudder were instrumental in hiring a charter bus to join the Women's March in Morristown. This did not come as a surprise, as the town's progressive residents already organize the annual CanalFest in support of the Franklin Food Bank and preserve their local history through the East Millstone Historical Society.
"The bus idea was generated at a New Year's Day gathering at Martha & Peter March's home. While discussing our individual interest in attending the march it evolved into organizing a bus, and within a week the "march organizing committee" had a meeting to map out a strategy. This talented and committed group of women got to work and within 18 days we had successfully organized a bus trip to the 2018 Women's March in Morristown. I joined the movement last January when I participated in the Women's March in D.C. (along with Robin, Martha & her husband, and my husband, John).
There is a very long list of reasons why I marched, however, the bottom-line is that what is happening in the White House is absolutely unacceptable. These marches are sending a strong message that change is on the horizon, and we are all empowered to drive change by going to the polls on Nov. 6th. #powertothepolls "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Meade Quote Patti Sofran, East Millstone, NJ
With sunny skies and temperatures expected to reach the low 50's, the day could not have started better. As everyone gathered in front of the bus at 8 a.m., the atmosphere was exhilarating with neighbors greeting each other, making new friends with those who came from out of town, sharing jokes and just enjoying each other's company. Besides East Millstone, women and men hailed from Bordentown, Hazlet, Hillsborough, Lambertville, Middlebush, Somerset and several other towns. Most participants found out about the bus by the promotional efforts of the eight organizers using social media, reaching out to their personal contacts, and local organizations. Several people brought creative signs which they showed off to each other with pride and a deep sense of solidarity. A few ran across the street to the family owned Sunrise Creek Deli to pick up some last minute coffee and breakfast prior to departure. Once on the bus, everyone felt as though they were in a flashback from a freedom ride in the civil rights era: hopeful, brave, patriotic and passionate. This year's "Power to the Polls" themed march falls on the anniversary of the March on Washington D.C. in the wake of President Trump's inauguration and hopes to influence the midterm elections. Joanne Wood of Hazlet, NJ, a woman sitting in front of me on the bus, expressed her thoughts: "I am going to the march to make sure that my children and grandchildren have all the rights they should have and are able to choose what they want to do and to get equal pay. I was a single mother and I told my kids you can do anything you want. I have two girls, one is a chef, and one is in the army. My daughter has been serving this country since 2004."
After a relatively short ride, our bus was the first to arrive in Morristown. As soon as we took a symbolic group photograph, everyone walked over to the Town Hall, awaiting the first speeches. As another wave of people gathered, we were asked to move to make space for the newcomers. The number of marchers grew by the minute and the crowd expanded greatly. According to the local police, there were 15,000 participants. Everyone was connecting, sharing stories and dancing to the music played on the loud speakers. People were distributing buttons: "Women's March on NJ, Power to the Polls" and "Facts Matter." From time to time, crowd chanted: '"Donald Trump has to go, hey hey, ho ho." Many held handcrafted signs: "Respect existence or expect resistance", "Empire strikes back". "Keep left, we persisted", "Building bridges not wars", "Cancel the patriarchy", "May This Force Be With You", "We affirm the autonomy & dignity of women", "We love our neighbors", "I've seen smarter cabinets at IKEA", "Learn the truth, vote!" and "Dissent is patriotic" among others.
Elizabeth Meyer shared a powerful and inspiring message to the vigorous cheers of the fired up crowd: "We are from New Jersey and we are not going anywhere! Good to be together with a few thousand of my closest friends. We have to head to the polls together, then sit at a table, where everyone is welcome and where the conversation includes all voices. "Sit; you belong; your story matters; we want to hear and learn from you". Let's listen. Listening is the pathway to understanding. Understanding is the pathway to forgiveness. Forgiveness is the pathway to healing. And if we listen, understand, forgive and heal, we progress. My little girls are beside me today: "Girls take a look at the women gathered here! My dream for you is to be like them, to know that you have a voice, that what you say, matters! And when you see something unfair, you stand up for yourself, for others, not for money or to be famous, but do it because it is right!" "Some might say that we are in turbulent times, that we are divided. It is my time to be a woman, a moment we were built for, a moment where we labor long and hard for the rebirth of dignity in this country. It is a time to bring forth the roar of all the women of this state. Our shared goals will not fail if we allow others to be held down. We must pick each other up and take our message of equality, justice, acceptance and love to reach this nation's highest office. Not one group can claim patriotism as its own. We love this country, we have hope for this country. Let us move forward in unity!"
"Take a look around you, look at these signs, everyone of them is different, fierce, clever! How many of you are here to: Protect women's access to healthcare? Protect the environment? Protect disability rights? Protect LGBT rights? Support Black Lives Matter? Love is simply love, and we are here because it is the right thing to do!"
Morristown Mayor, Timothy Dougherty, thanked all of the organizers, sponsors and the police department for providing security. He also addressed his wife of 28 years, Mary, for playing a pivotal role in his being reelected to the office.
An outspoken NYU undergraduate student, Essma Bengabsia, spoke about combating Islamophobia, protesting the Muslim ban, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and freeing Palestine. "Why we march? Why wouldn't we? The power is in our hands. We are the most financially powerful generation and New Jersey is the most politically powerful state. We are the revolution of today!"
Nancy Hedinger, the President of The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization supporting and encouraging women to vote, reflected: "Sixty percent of the New Jersey registered voters did not go to the polls in the last election. We must do better." She spoke about the need to modernize the state election voting mechanism through automatic and an online voter registration, same day voter registration and the extended in person registration. Hedinger addressed restoring the right to vote for people with criminal convictions and changing the way the voting maps are drawn up in New Jersey. She ended with a loud cheer: "Power to the Polls! Power to the Polls!"
Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, addressed the crowd from their Washington offices: "When women march, when women lead, New Jersey wins." "Hello New Jersey! We are with you in spirit. Power of the people is greater than the people in power! Your activism is waking up Washington and waking up the entire nation. We have to keep this fight up! People united can not be defeated!"
Prompted by the organizers, the crowd began marching through the center of town, a little over a mile, toward the Morristown Green. Everyone was represented, women and men of all ages, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds, those with disabilities and children with their proud parents. Marchers were smiling, sharing their ideas and the excitement of the occasion, taking photographs and greeting friends, yet everyone sensed how significant this moment is in the eyes of history.
As we were approaching the Morristown Green, First Lady, Tammy Murphy, joining the #MeToo movement, revealed a disturbing sexual attack, which took place while she was in college. Governor Phil Murphy addressed the activists: "By speaking out, we can find our strength and ensure our lives are not defined by this experience. We define it."
"Hello Ladies!! Hello Gentlemen!!" with her powerful voice, Lizzette Delgado-Polanco shared her story of a first generation, proud Latina immigrant, who is now a labor activist and a political director at the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters (NRCC), which protects workers rights. Delgado-Polanco described the arduous journey undertaken by her mother and grandmother, victims of domestic abuse, escaping the Dominican Republic and "seeking freedom and safety in the USA." She addressed compensation issues for cleaning personnel and people in domestic service. "Income inequality is real and it is getting worse in the state of New Jersey."
Cinthia Osoria with the Wind of the Spirit and a DACA recipient, described her hardships related to her immigration status, constant fear of deportation and having an accent. Her grandmother's words "Keep fighting warrior!" held up her spirit and hope. Currently an undergraduate major in social work, she plans to open her own practice addressing the trauma of migration.
"Alright New Jersey Women!" cheered Christine Sadovy, Director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund NJ. She pointed out that for over 100 years, her organization fought for all people to have access to health care, regardless of immigration status, race and income. "And for the last year, we have had to fight even harder to protect that belief, because the Trump administration has constantly attacked the right for women to have access to health care. Women who relied on Medicaid for their insurance, can not come to Planned Parenthood for their reproductive healthcare." "Because of people like you, we fought and won, when the Trump administration tried to defund Planned Parenthood. Because of people like you, we elected a governor who stands with women and stands with Planned Parenthood." "If we fight together, we will win."
Brett Sabo of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, a bipartisan organization, addressed the crucial issue of safety.
Kim Gaddy, the environmental justice organizer with Clean Water Action spoke next. "Environmental justice calls for the fair treatment and dutiful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, origin or income. Environmental justice is our current day civil rights fight. Clean air to breathe, lead free water and quality food is a basic right that should be guaranteed to all of us. My zip code or the color of my skin should not prevent my family from living in an environment jeopardizing the health of my children and all of your children as well. One out of four children in the city of Newark has asthma, one out of ten children had asthma in Verona. Why? Environmental racism is thousands of trucks driving down residential streets emitting diesel pollution in the air. Children playing in parks, walking to school and inhaling these cancer causing chemicals which I call the diesel death zone. We can't breathe, we can't escape, it's everywhere. Why? As a mother of three asthmatic children, I know how it feels to watch your child gasping for air and you are helpless. Why? as mothers we must fight for clean air, safe and affordable drinking water for all the children in the state of New Jersey. We need to elect local leaders who will be champions of our environment. Climate change is here and we demand change now!"
Some of the attendees expressing their thoughts:
"It was amazing and energizing to come together with so many women and men as far as the eye could see. United, we can bring change to Washington. Power to the Polls in 2018!" Elayne Glick, Somerset, NJ
"The fact that the town of Morristown drastically underestimated the attendance at the Women's March is indicative of how this movement has grown and will continue to grow. As we all saw yesterday, there are so many different issues facing women in the US today. The issues are for the most part being ignored by those in power either intentionally, or simply because of ignorance. Women make up over 50% of the population of the US and we are vastly underrepresented at all levels of government. My hope is that all of this effort results in more women running for office and being elected at the polls in November 2018. A more representative mix of people in our government is key to shaping this country into a more just nation." Martha March, East Millstone, NJ
"I found the march to be powerful...and with a broad depth of issues which are important to women..and with the means to bring about change, which is to get out and vote.... to be the change we want to see! The issue most important to me is being a woman! I see the conceptual framework of "women" as an issue, which includes equal rights, respect for women, fair treatment, supporting women's reproductive/health needs, and bringing women to the ranks of equality as a gender. I have learned that force in numbers is powerful and can be the impetus to positive change! When voices come together, voices are heard! What I liked most about the march was the concept of UNITY; for a common goal, for the improvement of a sector of our population which will have positive impact now and on generations to follow. What I liked least about the march were some displays of anger, name calling, blaming, etc. If women want to be respected, we need to take the negatives that have been imposed and work towards positive change. If women do not want to be name-called and treated lesser than, then we should ensure that our communication and message is always positive. I was humbled by the support of politicians and organizations in our state at all levels...it gives confidence to women that we are not unity only unto ourselves, but that this is a movement...and with all parties on the same page, change will come about!" Janet Tracy, East Millstone, NJ
"I came here today just to learn more, to become educated on what is it all about and to be with women." Susan Hasner, Middlebush, NJ