HARWICH ─ Beverly Johnson never thought at the age of 80 she'd be part of a public protest. However, incensed by the election of President Donald Trump and fearful of policies that could potentially compromise quality of life for millions, Johnson joined more than 100 others on Jan. 21 in the Harwich Stand.
Participants gathered shortly after 10 a.m. on the corner of Pleasant Lake Avenue and Main Street, eventually swelling in numbers enough to spill over onto sidewalks adjacent to and across from the central standing spot next to Snow's in Harwich Center.
For several hours, women and men, most wearing something pink, stood in solidarity with those taking part in much larger marches in Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as in hundreds, if not thousands more worldwide. Their motivation? To send a message that while people might be fearful of the possible changes to come under the new administration, they intend to work toward change of their own.
“It's like going back to the '60s for women's rights,” said Johnson. “I'm afraid we may lose what little we've gained. But there's a groundswell now. Sadly it may separate some of us, but we're in it together.”
Alycia Davis, a member of the Women's International League League for Peace and Freedom, has deep concerns for the environment, human rights, and social justice.
“We're in a dangerous spot right now for all categories of human rights, environmental issues, health care, women's rights, and so there's a lot of work to be done,” she said. “We have to stand up.”
“I am concerned about this country's future,” added Jane Teixeira-Henry. “I worked in Congress for 23 years and am now retired. I can compare the way things were when I was in Congress as opposed to now. I am concerned about the Russian involvement. I think some people are blind to that. And I'm here to represent people of color who feel the way that I do. I am so, so scared about the future for my children and grandchildren. People have to understand that this is important.”
As cars passed by the standers, the majority honked horns in support, some even rolling down windows and shouting encouragement. Only a few responded negatively, which bolstered the protesters.
“People are compassionate and caring and that gives me hope,” said Teixeira-Henry.
They were also very passionate about their reasons for joining the fray, which included a number of men as well as women. John Bangert admitted to feeling angry.
“If you saw what I saw yesterday you'd be angry too,” he said, referring to the inaugural address. “We had eight years of progressive developments and a sense of hope in America, and yesterday we saw the eve of our own Democratic destruction.”
Both Bangert and Bob Weiser said it was important for them to support women by taking a stand.
“I'm here in a support role,” said Weiser. “And in my commitment not to see any backsliding in hard-fought progress that's happened in my lifetime for women to have reproductive freedom, for women to get the healthcare they need, to have access to equal pay for equal work, and access to the workplace and not be pushed backward into barefoot and pregnant as some people would like.”
While the smaller crowd sent a powerful local message, many area women boarded buses, planes and trains bound for Boston and the nation's capitol. Among them was Rev. Susan Cartmell of the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Harwich Port, went to Washington with her wife, Peggy O'Connor.
“It was exhilarating. It was empowering. It was affirming in a way that took my breath away,” said Cartmell. “You would look down (the streets) and there were hundreds of thousands of people. It was like nothing I've ever experienced. It felt like there were people from all over there with you.”
Cartmell said she was in awe of the sheer numbers of people marching in Washington.
“When the crowd started to move, we didn't have a choice,” she said. “The chants just rolled through the crowd.”
Cartmell appreciated hearing from Angela Davis, Michael Moore, Gloria Steinem, and the Indigo Girls.
“They spoke their minds. People were so clear about what they believed, yet they were so kind about it,” she said, adding that those assigned the duty of protecting the peace were also supportive. “We passed the National Guard, Metro Police, the D.C. Police, and we all thanked them.”
Cartmell said on her way home she met others on a similar journey.
“It was this amazing groundswell of people,” she said. “I have a lovely feeling about the fact that people from this church sent a delegation to the Boston march, and more than 100 people stood on the corner here in Harwich. It's amazing. I think it's one of the hallmarks of democracy that we have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
Sheila House, Harwich's youth counselor, said what excited her about the Washington march was its hopeful atmosphere.
“It was so amazing. I've never been to a more inspirational event in my entire life,” she said. “I was astounded at how positive and uplifting and passionate the speakers were, as well as all the people that were attending. The public safety people were also amazing. They took such good care of us. They were friendly and had such good senses of humor about the volume of people there. I didn't see one person in a bad mood or looking annoyed.”
House was further inspired by a little girl holding a sign that read “Respect Women” and hopes that as a result of the events more people get involved in politics.
“The march was really for everyone who feels we might be in danger of losing rights, of being disrespected,” House said. “Us getting involved in the political process more than we have is really important. I really want young people to get involved in politics. There were a lot of young people involved in this event. They're the voice of tomorrow and I really want them to know they can make a difference.”
“For me [Washington] was incredibly joyful and inspiring,” said Danielle Tolley, executive director of Pilgrim's Landing in Chatham. “I think this whole last election season, this whole last year, there has been so much anxiety regarding everything coming out of media outlets. [The march] was incredibly peaceful, centering and grounding.”
Tolley said the intimacy of the event and how it sparked insightful conversations between virtual strangers, albeit like-minded, made the march powerful.
“It brought tears to my eyes because it was so much bigger than the organizers had planned,” she said. “To me that spoke a lot about the solidarity that is there, and that people are willing and excited and want to come out and make their voices heard. It's not just about one individual. There is a current stirring in our country and around the world that it's really all about justice and equality and it cannot and will not be ignored. It's not forceful but it's fierce.”
Pilgrim's Landing is hosting a round table for march and stand attendees Saturday evening beginning at 5 p.m. Call 508-945-1304 for more information.