About 200 people gathered on The Circle in Georgetown on Sunday, Feb. 12, to participate in a rally and march sponsored by the Progressive Democrats of Sussex County and the Sussex County Democratic Party, with the theme “We Shall Not Be Silenced.”
The rally was in response to the silencing of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during the proceedings leading up to the vote on Jeff Sessions’ nomination for U.S. Attorney General. Warren had begun to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., when she was ordered to stop by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who claimed she was in violation of a Senate rule known as Rule 19, which prohibits senators from “impugning” the integrity of their colleagues on the floor of the Senate.
Joanne Cabry of the Progressive Democrats of Sussex County and Sussex County Democratic Party Chair Jane Hovington led a rally that included the reading of Scott King’s letter, in which she explained why she opposed the nomination of Sessions as a federal judge. Five women took turns reading sections of the 1986 letter, which was prohibited from being read on the Senate floor during those proceedings 30 years ago, as well.
Hovington told the crowd that the rally and march were meant to “put Mitch McConnell on notice that we will not be silenced. We will not be intimidated and we will not be frightened,” she said. “We will remember, and we will resist.”
The only sign of a counter-protest at the rally was one man in a pickup truck with a large Trump/Pence campaign sign in the bed, flying a large American flag off the tailgate, who drove around the circle several times, broadcasting patriotic music and shouting “go home!”
Although reader Liz Nalle had to shout part of her reading because the fire siren was blaring from the nearby Georgetown Fire Department station, Hovington later noted the potential interruption and said, “We will not be silenced.”
“I wish I could say times have changed,” since then-U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) prevented King’s letter from being read in 1986, Cabry told the crowd. “But we can’t. In 2017, [Sessions] is the chief law-enforcement officer in this land. He is our attorney-general,” she said.
“We will be back here in this circle,” voicing resistance as deemed necessary, Cabry said. She also urged those gathered to get involved in issues and political organizations on the local level.
Speaker Mohammad Akhter told the crowd, “It’s time to roll up our sleeves,” just before the crowd began to march from The Circle. Hoisting signs with slogans including “Don’t Tell Women to Sit Down and Shut Up,” “Resist/Persist,” “Hate Won’t Make Us Great,” the dozens of protestors marched from The Circle down Bedford Street, to the Sussex County Democratic Party headquarters on Pine Street.
As they walked, they chanted, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and “No ban, no wall.”
Some marchers said they were reluctant to be quoted in the newspaper because they were afraid of recriminations from family and neighbors. One woman, who said she lives in a “very Trump area,” said she was marching “because I want to fight fascism.”
A man and woman who said they are the only Democrats in a family of Tea Party Republicans and called themselves “the black ducks in the family” said they were afraid of recriminations from their family if they found out they had participated in the march. They said that, although they had also marched last month in the Women’s March on Washington, the Georgetown event was more of a risk for them because it was more likely that family would find out they had participated.
The woman said she was marching Sunday because she fears the medically fragile children she teaches will lose their rights to education because of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ lack of support for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). “Nobody messes with my babies!” she said as she and her husband walked away.
Eric West, past chairman of Sussex County Democrats, said he was pleased with the turnout for the march.
“People seemed to be motivated,” West said. He said he believed the silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor “was kind of provoking” for many people. “There is sort of a compulsion to take some action,” he said. “A lot of people are frustrated and angry” and feeling a need to speak out, West said, adding that he felt that way himself.
West, a resident of Ocean View, said he thinks Democrats in Sussex County are seeing a need to be better organized and more proactive.
“What needs to come next is ‘What are we for?’” he said. “You’ve got to be for something, you’ve got to want to do something,” rather than just fighting against a particular administration or policy, he said.
Cynthia Gooch-Copley, one of the women who read King’s letter during the rally, agreed with West’s observations.
“People are feeling very frustrated, and they want to feel they belong,” she said, adding that she felt honored to be asked to take part in the reading.
Gooch-Copley, also of Ocean View, said that what struck her the most about the passage that she read was Scott King’s assertion that, in Gooch-Copley’s words, “People need to be able to take care of themselves in order to move forward.”
“I don’t want to be silenced,” said Gooch-Copley, who was part of the generation of students who experienced the end of segregated schools in Delaware. She said she was in the ninth grade in Lewes when schools became integrated.
Gooch-Copley said she remembers what it felt like “when I wasn’t allowed to go in and eat at Mr. Mitchell’s place on Second Street.” She said she fears that under the current administration, “We’re going back to that. I thought we were done with that and moving forward.”
Gooch-Copley said she feels that many current residents of the beach areas in Delaware don’t understand what it was like to live under segregation and don’t understand why minority groups fear the current administration.
“They don’t understand the ramifications of what this administration is doing,” she said, adding that she believes many are unlikely to try to understand “if it doesn’t directly affect them.”
Although, Gooch-Copley said, “I never expected, at 65, to be out there marching,” both in Washington, D.C., at the Women’s March on Washington last month and in Georgetown on Sunday, she said she feels compelled to do so.
“It’s my history,” she said, that pushes her to march, and “I feel a responsibility to my nieces and nephews and to their grandchildren. This is my past; this is my future,” she said.
Anne Allen, past president of the Shore Democrats organization, said her career in healthcare made her keenly aware of the challenges of those who are uninsured and underinsured. Allen, a resident of Bethany Beach, said that, as a woman, “I look at our advances, and I say, ‘That’s great,’” but feels that the current administration could undo much of the progress in women’s rights in the past several decades.
“I’m not going back,” she said. “I want to be heard. I’m not going to just quietly accept this.”
Allen said she understands the qualms of those who are afraid to speak their liberal views in the largely conservative and predominantly Republican Sussex County. She said she herself was not so always so vocal, but that, particularly with her concerns about the current administration, “I found my voice.”
Allen said she is encouraged by the surge of interest she has seen in liberal organizations across the county.
“There are so many new people coming to the meetings,” she said.
She added that she does not feel the issues being addressed at events like the rally in Georgetown are particularly limited to one party.
“They’re just basic human rights,” she said.
Gooch-Copley also said she hopes to see the current divisiveness disappear.
“We all need to come together at some point,” she said.