Women and allies march in Morristown

| 24 Jan 2018 | 02:43

By Meghan Byers
— New Jersey’s 11th congressional district showed up in full force at the second annual New Jersey Women’s March in Morristown this Saturday, celebrating the anniversary of last year’s historic, nationwide marches by continuing their momentum. This year’s official theme for marches across the United States was “Power to the Polls,” encouraging citizens to exercise their power to vote with a special focus on this November’s primary election. The grassroots political activist group NJ 11th for Change was one of seven event organizers, and its purple hats and badges were scattered liberally through a sea of the knitted pink hats that became a symbol of last year’s marches.
Early guesses at attendance for the march ranged from 3,000 to 10,000. But Saturday’s official crowd estimate, according to Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz, came in at a whopping 15,000 – twice as many people as last year’s official estimate of 7,500.
New Jersey’s new first lady, Tammy Murphy, was a prominent speaker at the event. She praised the #MeToo movement and detailed her own experience with sexual assault, which occurred when she was a sophomore in college. It was the first time she had shared the story publicly.
“I tell this today not for me, but really for all of you,” Murphy told the crowd. “Surely, among us is a woman who has been silent about her own story.”
Participants in the march carried signs supporting the #MeToo movement and women’s rights as well as advocating change on a variety of other issues, including healthcare, immigration, tax reform, and systemic racism. Many signs reflected the discontent that a growing number of 11th district constituents have felt toward Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11), and at one point early in the march, a chant of “Donald Trump has got to go” shifted to “Frelinghuysen’s got to go” – just a few streets down from the congressman’s Morristown office on Schuyler Place.
“We’re very happy to bring this march right past [the congressman’s] office,” said Elizabeth Juviler, co-executive director of NJ 11th for Change, which has held weekly demonstrations outside Frelinghuysen’s Morristown office since January of 2017. Dubbed “Fridays without Frelinghuysen,” the demonstrations began as part of an effort to get the congressman to hold an in-person town hall, which he has not done since 2013.
“It’s one of the most basic requests,” said Juviler. “It’s kind of like Public Service 101.”
When their request went unanswered, the group held its own series of town halls in February of last year. They extended an open invitation to their congressman, to which he did not respond. Since then, Frelinghuysen has held several conference-call style “teletown halls,” which have gotten mixed reviews from constituents. Some callers praised their convenience, while NJ 11th for Change has referred to them as “robocalls” and “propaganda opportunities.”
“We thought it would be important to have our congressman know our concerns and stand up for us,” Juviler said. While they had not intended initially to work toward replacing Frelinghuysen, Juviler believes that most of NJ 11th for Change’s members have lost faith in his ability to adequately represent the district.
“He hasn’t shown any courage in his votes or in his speech. [...] So we’ve decided yes, it’s time for him to go. He’s been given more than a year and I know that our voices have been clear.”
The 11th Congressional District that Frelinghuysen represents includes parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties. In Sussex County, the district includes Byram, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Sparta and Stanhope.
Several candidates hoping to unseat Frelinghuysen have stepped forward over the past year. Saturday’s marchers showed particular support for Democrat Mikie Sherrill, carrying signs sporting the hashtag “#MarchWithMikie.” A former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, Sherrill is one of two female Democratic candidates aiming to challenge Frelinghuysen this November, the second being businesswoman Tamara Harris. As of last month, Sherrill has been endorsed by the Democratic party chairs of all four counties comprising the 11th district. NJ 11th for Change, for its part, has refrained from endorsing congressional candidates at the moment. The group is not affiliated with any party, and counts Republicans and unaffiliated voters among its numbers along with Democrats.
“We most of all want to continue to encourage an electorate that is informed and engaged,” said Juviler.
According to its official website, one of the main goals of the NJ Women’s March was to “bring hope to those who have lost confidence in our government by physically showing them that the power lies with the people.” Echoing that statement, Juviler hoped that Saturday’s march would help provide the motivation for “women of all kinds...to stand together and turn this movement into an electoral power.”
“We are among the many groups across the country this year that have shown that when we come together, we can be seen,” said Juviler. “We can be heard.”