BAR HARBOR — Inspired by a desire to protect women’s rights and vulnerable groups, more than a hundred Mount Desert Island residents plan to participate in a Women’s March on Washington set for Saturday, Jan. 21, the day after President-Elect Donald Trump is to be inaugurated.
When plans for the march were announced a few days after the presidential election in November, Milja Brecher-DeMuro decided she wanted to be part of it.
Then she wondered if some of her friends and neighbors also might be interested and if there were enough of them to charter a bus for the trip. She organized an event page on Facebook, made arrangements with a bus company and created an online registration. Within two days after the registration went live, all 110 seats on two buses were spoken for. An online fundraising page has collected donations to help offset individuals’ costs, and the YWCA of MDI has contributed to the group.
Dozens more area residents are headed to D.C. in personal vehicles and with other groups, while others plan to join Maine events in Portland and Augusta. Several thousand women from Maine are expected to participate. National organizers are predicting a turnout of around 200,000.
“The Women’s March on Washington aims to send a message to all levels of government,” the organizing group’s website says, “that we stand together in solidarity and we expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities.”
Many of those planning to attend gathered Sunday at the YWCA in Bar Harbor to continue preparations for the trip.
“This is a gathering of people who represent the incredible energy we have locally supporting gender equality, women’s rights, peace and unity, and denouncing racism, homophobia and xenophobia,” Brecher-DeMuro said.
At the Jan. 8 gathering, we spoke with three MDI women heading to the march.
Marsha Lyons has been participating in marches like this one for 50 years. When she was a freshman at Skidmore College in 1967, she said, getting involved with the chapter of Students for a Democratic Society “really woke me up to the issues of the day.” She was concerned about the war in Vietnam, where a high school classmate was killed in his first two weeks of deployment.
In 2007, she returned to D.C. for her first big antiwar march in many years. “I felt that strong sense of urgency again,” she said. “There were so many thousands of people, and there’s going to be so many more this time. It’s so uplifting.”
At home in Southwest Harbor, she participated in a weekly peace vigil on Main Street for several years. Her peace group faced off against a counter-protest for some of that time, until one day the groups crossed the street and began talking.
“It’s possible that sometimes you can come together. I hope that in all these years, I’ve learned a few things.”
Susan Murphy is also no stranger to protests; like dozens in this group, she has marched over the years for women’s rights, the right to choose, and other issues.
“I have two 21-year-old daughters,” she said, with whom she plans to meet up at the march. “I cannot imagine them living in a country represented by a man who debases women and has utter contempt for our rights!”
She said she has a hard time understanding people who voted for Donald Trump, that “I know a lot of my friends would be horrified if someone they knew did some of the things he has done.”
Still, she has worked to open dialogues with others in the community who disagree about some of the issues. Last week, after a local restaurant owner posted a photo comparing Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee on Facebook, she went and talked with him.
“I just wanted to enter into some type of dialogue,” she said. “It opened up conversation about hard work, the minimum wage and other issues. I think we made some connection. These times are going to require the best in us.”
Annie Painter, a senior at Mount Desert Island High School, turned 18 this week. When she was just 14, she traveled to the nation’s capital with her father for the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington at which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“It was cool to be around that many people that felt so strongly,” she said. “I thought it was important. You’ve got to have equality, and it’s really upsetting that we don’t.”
She said across the political spectrum, “the worst part is people feel like they don’t have a voice or any power to change things.”
She hopes the large march will help inspire a different feeling. “With all those people, it’s good to see there’s hope and light, working towards positive change instead of just accepting the negativity.”
An accomplished musician, Painter said she might bring a small instrument like a harmonica since the group hopes to sing songs on the bus and on the streets.
The bus riders plan to depart MDI High School on Friday, Jan. 20, at 4 p.m. and ride all evening and night down to the nation’s capital, arriving at RFK stadium by 8 a.m. They’ll spend the day in D.C. and leave for home again at 4 p.m. for the return trip, arriving back in Bar Harbor around 8 a.m. Sunday.