ELLSWORTH — Esther Kempthorne and her daughter packed signs and drove from their home in Milbridge on Saturday to join the Mid- and Northern Maine Women’s March for a simple reason: “To let everybody know that our voices count.”
The second annual event was smaller this year than last year. Several dozen supporters gathered in Ellsworth, down from the crowds of more than 1,000 seen in Bangor last year.
Despite the smaller turnout and relatively short route, marchers were in high spirits on Saturday, carrying signs reading: “We are not ovary-reacting” and “Holding signs since 1969 (my arms are tired).”
Marchers wound their way from City Hall up and down Main Street on a warm, bright day, chanting and beating drums as they went. They then filed into the former J&B Atlantic building to hear poets and activists speak on topics ranging from indigenous rights to domestic violence and climate change.
“Women are rising at every turn,” Belfast-based poet Kathryn Robyn told the audience.
“Women were the change-makers at the ballot box in 2018,” said Isobel Golden, a former Lewiston city councilor and law student who is married to U.S. Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine).
“For the first time in history,” Golden added, “women will now outnumber men in the Governor’s cabinet.”
Several speakers described in detail their experiences with domestic violence and sexual assault. Organizer Stacy Leafsong described her childhood with an abusive father and her more recent experiences living in a tent with her two children, homeless because of domestic violence.
Donna Brown, a citizen of the Penobscot Nation, spoke about the rights of indigenous peoples and high rates of murder, domestic and sexual violence in many indigenous communities.
“Fifty-one percent [of Native women] have experienced sexual violence,” Brown said. “I am one of the women included in these statistics.”
Brown continued: “It took me 30 years before I could share this and no longer suffer in silence.” But, she added, “These events do not define me as a woman.”
Other speakers, including local activist Mary Harney, touched on climate science and immigration.
“To watch children in cages and do nothing is a crime against humanity,” said Harney, who was taken from her unwed mother in Ireland as a child.
The theme of the Ellsworth march was “unity for women in our largely rural district.” But nationally the Women’s March has been fractured in recent months over accusations of anti-Semitism. Two competing rallies were held in New York City this year and many local chapters have declared their independence from the national group.
Numbers at marches around the country, many of which were held in January, were down from the record numbers seen after the 2017 presidential inauguration.
“Powerful things happen when we organize and we leave the lab for the streets,” remarked climate scientist Katherine Glover on Saturday.
“The movement has indeed just begun.”