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Local residents join Montpelier crowd: Women, backers flood state capital to show solidarity

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Posted on January 26, 2017 |
By Emma Cotton



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EAST MIDDLEBURY TEENAGER Greta Hardy-Mittell reads her poem "Don't Tell Me I Can't Cry" to thousands gathered at the Statehouse during Saturday's March on Montpelier, which attracted people warning national political leaders to respect the rights of women, minorities and others. Photo by Holly Stadtler

MONTPELIER — Greta Hardy-Mittell, a junior at Middlebury Union High School, stood on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse last Saturday afternoon counting the speakers left until it was her turn. Clutching a folded paper copy of a self-authored poem, the nerves she had quieted that morning began to resurface.

The sign-waving, pussy-hat-wearing crowd before her — expected to be only a few thousand — was estimated at 15,000-20,000 by Vermont State Police, making it the largest protest ever held in Vermont, according to organizers.

Hardy-Mittell was the 10th speaker at the Women’s March on Montpelier — an event organized in the wake of last November’s election, and in conjunction with the Women’s March in Washington, to ensure that the voices of women are heard during the era of President Trump.

The 15-year-old East Middlebury resident took the stage after Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, after leaders of nonprofits like Planned Parenthood, after the sainted Sen. Bernie Sanders, and roused a laugh from the crowd by comparing the marchers to “Dumbledore’s Army” from the Harry Potter series. Then she delivered the first line of her poem with gusto.

“Don’t tell me I can’t cry because I care,” she read.

Her poem addressed a student in her class who, the day after the election, had said crying about the results was “ridiculous.”

“Don’t tell me I can’t cry, because America has told the world — has told our children — that the hard-working, brilliant, courageous woman can be beaten by the lazy class bully who doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself.”

Her words echoed off the Statehouse and from speakers smattered across the epic crowd, which included many Addison County residents who didn’t or couldn’t go to the huge march in D.C.

The poem earned much applause — and some laughter when Hardy-Mittell closed with a smile, saying, “Do not tell me that I can’t cry, because I will anyway.” After a graceful exit, her mom, standing on the side of the stage, swallowed her in a bear hug. (To read the full text of the poem, go to the end of this article.)

“It was so incredible to see so many people who were coming out to support the same causes that I was,” she said. “One of the things that struck me was how many different causes everyone was there for.”

This horde of Vermonters had paraded from Montpelier High School to the seat of Vermont government, where they gathered to rally for the Women’s March on Montpelier. In mid-November, a group of about 80 volunteers assembled to coordinate the Montpelier march. They were motivated by various reasons, but among the most common: a sense that the incoming Trump administration would threaten the rights of women, minorities and groups looking to promote social justice.

Though the worldwide event was branded as a “women’s” march, organizers of Montpelier’s gathering, including Katy McCarty, director of development at Rights and Democracy Vermont, hoped that the energy would disperse across the many movements working toward social justice.

“We were marching in solidarity with the march that was happening in D.C.,” she said. “But we also wanted to bring together other groups that are under increased threat under the incoming administration: LGBTQ communities, migrant workers, people of different abilities, people of color, immigrants of all statuses.”

McCarty believes the energy of the march will continue. While organizing the march, volunteers reached out to over 180 non-profits and social groups, creating a coalition of individuals and organizations.

“We even had conversations about this while we were planning,” McCarty said. “We were like, ‘Whoa, what’s happening is very real.’ We are building a network — a constellation of people across this state who are already doing this work and have a vision for what that looks like for our state. To have that network already existing (gives us) an incredible platform to work toward inclusivity and social justice in the state of Vermont.”

And thousands who were not directly involved in organizing the march mobilized to express various messages, many of which were plastered on signs that undulated across the mostly pink crowd. “Stronger Together,” one sign read. “Stop Hate,” read another. Others directed comments directly at the new president of the United States: “POTUS, it takes more courage to help others than it does to hurt them. You are working for us now.”

FROM ADDISON COUNTY

Reid, a Middlebury resident and singer/songwriter who goes by a single name, performed while marchers arrived, singing “Rise Up” by Andra Day, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” by Nina Simone, along with two originals.  She appreciated the symbolism of singing at a rally designed to move people to action.

“You have to actually be a physical presence in order to make your voice properly heard, similar to voting,” Reid said.

Matt Harrison, also a Middlebury resident, said it didn’t make sense for him to stay home.

“I don’t usually go to marches,” he said. “This was different in a lot of ways. I think people needed to react against Trump’s election. I certainly felt that way, and going definitely made me feel better.”

Harrison, 26, said he want to see the movement keep going.

“I’m hoping that it’s the sign or the beginning of a sustained effort,” he said. “I don’t know if that will pan out, because there were so many different people going, and they all potentially have different standpoints. But I don’t think it’s a stretch that this will be the beginning of some sort of movement. That’s what I’m hoping, that the energy continues.”

For Hardy-Mittell, the march was a starting point.

“During the last stanza in my poem, I say, ‘I don’t know how to act, but I know that I have to, and I know that I can,’” she said. “As a writer and as a teenager — I think the best thing I can do to act is to share my voice and to let other people know how I feel. I don’t have influence on policy, I can’t vote, but I can tell other people why they should care and why I care.”

 

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