SOMERVILLE, NJ - A crowd of 75 protestors clutching hand-painted signs gathered outside the Unitarian Universalist Church on East Cliff Street Wednesday night expressing anger and frustration with current events and a troubled country increasingly polarized by political differences, racism and violence.
The signs read: "Love Has a Home in Somerville," Imagine All the People Living Life in Peace," "Make America Love Again," "America's Got Room, Immigrants Welcome," "No Hate in Our State," "Celebrate Diversity," "Hate Has No Home Here," "We the People."
The protest was organized by Jen Kitchen, Michelle Edger and Donna Volpe, who is the founder of the Somerville branch of Hate Has No Home Here.
On Tuesday, the three women had gathered on the corner of North Bridge Street and Main Street, reviled by the clash of extremists in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend and the reaction of President Donald Trump. Energized by the response of motorists honking their horns and 'thumbs up" gestures, they decided to put word out on social media for a larger demonstration, according to Volpe.
Overnight, Volpe said her HHNHH website received over 300 responses.
"It's amazing what can be done in 24 hours," she said.
They had planned to return to Main Street, but found out a permit was required; they reached out to the church as an alternate location.
"When I first arrived there were some people who had assembled already and they were so thankful they had someplace to go, to stand together and express their misgivings for the times we're finding ourselves in right now," Volpe said.
"We started out by standing along the sidewalk with signs, interacting with cars that went by, but then we gathered together and allowed each other to talk. We had an excellent sharing of thoughts and feelings, a real meaningful dialogue with one another," Volpe said. "There were many expressions of we as a society have gotten lazy, we haven't had our finger on the pulse of where we're going. We can't let history repeat itself. This isn't the kind of world we want for our children and grandchildren," Volpe added.
"We can't be lazy in our desire for peace. Peace doesn't just happen. We have t work to bring it about," said Kay Stephenson.
One Somerville resident had some strong words for Trump.
"In 2017, we have a president who will not denounce Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. Our ancestors fought wars against these ideologies and we won't go back. We have to stand up for equality, peace and justice." said Jean Scalea Bjugstad.
There was some anti-Trump chanting which Volpe tried to discourage.
"There was some chanting, but Hate Has No Home Here is not affiliated with any political organization," she said. "I made that a point, saying this is not a political issue, it's a moral issue, but it's hard to separate that from the current administration," she added.
Empowered by the earnest enthusiasm of the protestors, Volpe said the organizers plan another protest.
"One thing people were asking was 'when can we do this again.' We're looking into what we need to do to gather on Main Street to be more visible and welcome others into the fold.
"People are waking up," Volpe said.
Further information is available online at hhnhhsomerville.wixsite.com/home.