They came to Morristown by the thousands on Saturday, women with pink hats and signs, chants and songs, declaring solidarity with their sisters marching across the country and around the globe for equal rights and social justice.
“Some might say we are in turbulent times, a time when our country seems to have loosened its grip on reality and we are divided,” Elizabeth Meyer said from the steps of town hall, to start the Women’s March on New Jersey.
“I say: It is a mighty 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,” declared Meyer, founder of last year’s march on Trenton, to thunderous cheers.
Mayor Tim Dougherty estimated the crowd at more than 20,000. “It is amazing what you have accomplished here today,” he told the sea of activists, with Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty by his side.
The march, themed “Power to the Polls,” came on a windy, chilly day when a Congressional budget impasse had shut down nonessential federal services.
And it marked exactly one year since the inauguration of President Trump, who, despite organizers’ attempts to label the march nonpartisan, symbolized for many participants everything that needs fixing in America.
“We know we have an unfit, misogynist and racist President who’s made so many of us so angry–so we’re coming together today to fight back for our fundamental rights,” said Liz Abzug, daughter of the late feminist Bella Abzug, exhorting the audience to vote women into office.
The event unfolded peacefully, under the watchful eye of numerous police agencies, without counter-protests or incidents.
Speaker after speaker challenged the country to affirm the rights of women and minorities, immigrants and gays, and to protect the environment.
Gov. Phil Murphy pledged to restore funding for Planned Parenthood and push for equal pay for women statewide, along with “sensible gun safety laws,” a $15 minimum wage, and protection for “Dreamers”–immigrants brought her illegally as children–who face deportation.
The #MeToo movement heard a harrowing story from his wife, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy. In graphic detail, she described fighting off a man who dragged her into the bushes in college, and her failed attempts to prosecute him.
“I know the feeling of shame. I know the feeling of helplessness. And I know the disappointment of justice denied.
“But by speaking out, we can find our strength, and ensure our lives are not defined by this experience–but that we define it,” she told an elbow-to-elbow crowd on the historic Morristown Green.
For women grappling with such stories by themselves, she added: “Look around you now and know this–this is your Jersey family. You will never be alone among this tremendous sisterhood.”
Video: ‘I was sexually assaulted’
Cinthia Osorio, a Dreamer from Mexico, spoke movingly of how she arrived here.
“My grandmother survived domestic violence, escaped it, and crossed the US – Mexican border under horrific conditions. My grandmother struggled to make ends meet, cleaning hotels like the Hyatt here in Morristown, where many of you have stayed. Did you give a thought about the woman who made your bed this morning?” said Osorio, who works for the Wind of the Spirit Immigration Resource Center in Morristown.
She spoke for Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants facing deportation after 20 years here, because their Temporary Protected Status is not being renewed, and for children terrified that their parents will be deported.
Osorio cited immigrant friends too scared to report rapes, and neighbors taking “two trains plus a bus” to menial jobs in the wee hours every morning, to eke out a living for their families.
“Racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, deportation and poverty hurts us all. Like my grandmother says: Keep fighting, warriors!” Osorio said, leading a chant of “Women together for immigrant rights!”
Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) and Rep. Bonnie Coleman Watson (D-12th Dist.) sent voice messages from Washington, where they said they were dealing with the budget standoff.
Marchers seemed unfazed by the brisk wind.
“I have to be here… We have to change what’s going on, I can’t accept this. I will not accept this,” said Jo Lockett of Middletown.
Dorothy Stradford of Hillside said the march inspired her to become more involved in the movement.
“I’m here to support all the women, no matter black, white, doesn’t matter…It seems like with everything that’s going on in the White House, people are being divided rather than being brought together,” Stradford said.
“You have to vote. Every time, every election, educate yourself on the candidates. It’s your responsibility,” said West Orange resident Amanda Fleissner, who came to spread “good energy” and support the issues dear to the marchers.
Geri Lane of Morristown said she came “because I’m outraged about the current administration, their tactics, and their lack of respect for women, their lack of respect for all Americans, their lack of respect for immigrants, for the earth.”
Her friend Laureen Winfield of Roxbury brandished a sign updating the 3 R’s: RESIST, REMOVE, REPLACE: Vote 2018.
“I’m here for my granddaughter, so that she can grow up in a world where she doesn’t have to be out here like her grandma is,” Winfield said.
For Lisa Salberg of Rockaway, the march felt like a matter of life and death. She had a heart transplant last year.
“I need access to healthcare for the rest of my life, or I’ll die without my anti-rejection medicine,” she said. Salberg also fears for her husband and daughter, who both have pre-existing conditions. “Our lives are being threatened, and that’s not trying to be dramatic.”
Washington has become a hateful place, she said. Yet it could be turned around, with healthcare and reproductive rights preserved, by the marchers around her.
“My takeaway is, if they’d actually show up on election days we would change this country,” Salberg said.
Summer Harrison, a professor of English and environmental studies at Drew University, thinks that is achievable. She sported a pink pussycat hat and a sign that read: THEY TRIED TO BURY US. THEY DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE SEEDS.
“I’m here today to fight against injustice of all kinds. It’s rampant in this administration, and we have to do something about it,” Harrison said.
Pat Russo of Stanhope has disliked Donald Trump “immensely” for decades.
“All you had to do was listen to one Howard Stern interview and that said it all,” she said. Saturday’s march gave her hope. “This is America. And this is what our country’s about: Defending the Bill of Rights.”
In November, everybody should bring another person to the polls, Russo said.
“If everyone got someone who doesn’t vote, and we all know who they are, and brought them to vote, I think we could win this thing.”
Neha and Julia, high school seniors from Bridgewater, said they can’t wait to vote for the first time this fall.
“It’s super exciting,” said Julia. Hate Won’t Make Us Great, asserted her sign.
Correspondent Sarah Yamashita contributed to this report.
Video: Signs of the times…