WATERVILLE — A handful of central Mainers — many of them of high school age or younger — spoke to a crowd of over 80 people gathered by Waterville’s City Hall to promote the rights of various marginalized groups at the city’s first-ever Equality Rally on Saturday morning.

The Waterville event was coordinated to take place around the anniversary of the national 2017 Women’s March that followed President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Eight other groups in Maine — and many others nationally — held similar social justice-oriented rallies this weekend.

A Facebook group called Central Mainers for Change, led by Stryker Adams and Mary Dunn, organized Waterville’s event and started advertising it about a month ago. It ran from 11:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. On Saturday, Dunn said she “thinks it’s time we all speak up” and hoped the rally would inspire citizens to take action on injustices they observe.

“Something else that inspired me to do this was listening to what’s happening in Skowhegan with the ‘drop the mascot,'” Dunn said, referring to an ongoing debate over the appropriateness of Skowhegan High School’s use of the word “Indians.” “I’m floored by the things that I read, and so that encouraged me to speak out.”

Lisa Savage, one of the leaders calling on the high school to stop using the “Indians” nickname for its sports teams, was the event’s opening speaker.

“The world is changing, yet (Skowhegan Area High School) steadfastly refuses to change with it,” Savage said, quoting a piece of writing drafted by her sister, Hope Savage, who could not attend the rally on Saturday. “It is no longer acceptable to mock minorities by using them for mascots.”

Savage said people must listen to the experiences of those who have been historically oppressed, even though they are unable to change their ancestors’ transgressions.

“I have nothing to offer monetarily that would make up for hundreds of years of abuse and unfair treatment,” Savage said. “I can’t force our government to honor the treaties made with the Native Americans, which are broken whenever the government wants back what they agreed to give. But I listen. Listening is what I have to offer as a descendant of those who murdered, as a descendant of those who raped, of those who stole from the people living here long before we showed up.”

Alongside Savage’s “Retire the Indian Mascot” sign, there was visible support for a variety of causes among the bundled-up audience. Elayne Richard displayed a yellow “Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights” T-shirt on a pole while flaunting a matching hat. The Maine Gun Safety Coalition and Planned Parenthood’s Generation Action program set up informational tables nearby in Castonguay Square.

From the steps of City Hall, Tyler Duval, a transgender man and board member of MaineTransNet, told his story and noted the importance of supporting people who are struggling with their sexual orientation and gender identity. Duval said that he was kicked out of his parents’ home when he was 15 years old, after his mother confronted him about his sexuality.

“If my parents couldn’t even love me as a queer person, who could? Was it even fair for me to expect them to?” Duval recalled thinking.

“As trans people, we see our families as well as our government trying to tear us from our support systems and our greatest chance to survive,” he added, later saying, metaphorically, “I’m here to tell you that our oil tanks are running low and our pilot lights are going out. A little bit of help does go a long way.”

Duval said that attending events like Saturday’s Equality Rally is important.

“Social change and political action happen in real time, face to face,” he said. “Thank you for being here in person today. I know it’s really cold. Thank you for looking at me and listening to me.”

Waterville High School student Amaryllis Charles described challenges she has faced as a person of color living in rural Maine. She said that attending Seeds of Peace, a summer leadership camp focusing on building inclusive spaces, gave her a new perspective.

“During the summer before Seeds, I … didn’t think my voice was valid or my opinions mattered,” she told the audience. “I felt small and closed-in being a person of color in a small Maine town. I had so much anxiety I couldn’t even walk six houses down to my friend’s house because people driving by would stare at me. … At Seeds, I was taught to speak up when something is wrong, and if they don’t listen, speak louder. I can’t say life has gotten easier, but I know how to handle it, from confronting and educating people about using racial slurs to sitting down with a homophobic man and talking about gay rights.”

Thomas College student and Central Maine Pride member Mathew Crane also told the audience how hard it has been for him to feel as though his voice matters.

“I often question my validity and what meaning my story has for people,” he said. “And I’m also aware that part of my story comes from a place of privilege, because I’m a white cisgender man, and that’s allowed me certain opportunities. However, I also realize that in not telling my story, that I’m diminishing myself, and I do that too often. And I diminish myself for fear of making other people uncomfortable. … So the main thing I wanted to share with you today and the main part of my message is that we cannot and should not diminish ourselves for the sake of others. We are each important. We each have a valid and meaningful story to tell. Be yourself, speak your truth and let others do the same. … We listen to others and that’s how we learn.”

Several elementary school students from the Albert S. Hall School Civil Rights Team gave their reflections on active citizenship and today’s political climate.

“The equal rights that all deserve are wroth fighting for,” said Penelope Graham, who is in the fourth grade. “We have built this America to be free, but we have not granted this wish of freedom to all of our growing American family.”

Riviera Hernandez, another fourth-grade student, presented a message of hope for the future.

“When I look out the window into the world, I sometimes see unkindness and cruelty,” Hernandez said. “When I look back into the mirror, I see someone who can change that. When I look into the mirror, my inner voice tells me, ‘Go change the world.’ I listen. I listen to that voice and I change the world. You can too. You can fight for justice — not with violence, but with words.”

Dunn said that incorporating young voices was essential to her.

“I used to be a teacher at the Hall School, so we decided to bring in the voices of the youth because they need to be heard.”

Abi Bloom, another Waterville High School student and member of Beth Israel Synagogue, talked about America’s mass-shooting epidemic, and, in particular, how the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue affected her as a Jewish American. Midway through the speeches, Colby College professor Elizabeth Leonard warmed the audience up by leading the group to sing and stomp along to a folk song called “Somebody’s Hurting My Brother.” The lyrics include repetitions of the line: “Somebody’s hurting my brother and it’s gone on far too long and we won’t be silenced anymore.” Leonard swapped out “brother” with “sister,” “family” and “planet” in successive verses. Leonard represented the Poor People’s Campaign at the rally. Rep. Colleen Madigan also spoke briefly.

The event concluded with a drumming performance by Tracey Tinyhouse Elohi.

Sheila Osborn, a Winslow resident who attended the Equality Rally, said she braved the cold weather Saturday because she finds such events empowering.

“I just like the feeling of community and people who want to do something,” Osborn said. “There’s so much going on in the world today.”

Irene West, also from Winslow, agreed.

“Each time anyone organizes something like this, it’s important to show up because there’s so much happening that’s not of our choice,” she said. “We’re somewhat powerless-feeling.”

Dunn said she was pleased with the turnout.

“I think it went fabulous,” she said. “The kids brought me to tears several times and they inspired many of us, I think. I think it went great for a cold, cold day.”

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

@megrobbins


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