Group sets 50,000 pennies fundraising goal based on tragic “witch” history

MIDDLEBURY — Leading up to their production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” Nov. 2-5, at Town Hall Theater, the Middlebury Community Players are raising money for WomenSafe, Inc., and raising awareness about violence against women, not only in our own communities, but throughout history.
The Salem witch hysteria of 1692 (which is the subject of “The Crucible”) ranks as one of the greatest mysteries — and tragedies — of early American history. Nineteen people were hanged for being “witches” and others died refusing to confess, or while waiting in prison. What is often forgotten, however, is that this brief, violent outbreak of small-town vengeance — neighbor against neighbor — has a long and ugly precedent in European history. Over the three centuries preceding the Salem Witch Trials, approximately 50,000 women were executed in Europe for being “witches.” Contrary to the popular images of today, witches were not identified by wearing pointy hats or flying on brooms, but by various forms of independence, power, and possession.
The modest goal of MCP’s campaign is to collect one penny for every woman who lost her life for practicing “witchcraft.” Its greater ambition is to ask hard questions: what do we mean by the word “witch” and who is a witch today? What did women living in fear of violence in the 17th century share in common with women living in fear of violence today — in America, as well as in other parts of the world? What still needs to be done to make our communities free of gender-related sexual, domestic, and other violence?
Though we think of witch hunts of the kind perpetrated at Salem and during the Inquisition as a thing of the past, persecution and violence against women persist, both here and worldwide. Global estimates published by the WHO indicate that about one in three women worldwide have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and women are still frequently condemned and even killed for stepping outside society’s gender-based restrictions. In Addison County, WomenSafe exists to serve those who experience sexual and domestic violence, as it also works to change the multi-system barriers that perpetuate violence against women.
From Oct. 1 through the final show of “The Crucible” on Nov 5, a collection vessel for the 50,000 pennies will be set up in the Town Hall Theater lobby, at 68 South Pleasant Street in Middlebury. Local businesses, schools, and other organizations are invited to participate by displaying penny collection boxes throughout the month of October and engaging in conversations about what makes a witch. Donations will also be accepted at the crowdfunding site YouCaring, youcaring.com/middleburycommunityplayers-964275. Schools and businesses are invited to contact “The Crucible” production team at 50Kwitches@gmail.com to participate.
This collaboration between two longstanding local nonprofits allows both organizations to raise awareness about their work, with all funds raised going to WomenSafe.

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