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Hundreds gather in the Black Mountain Town Square to support equal rights

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Unity in the face of increasingly divisive politics nationally was the theme of the Women's March on Black Mountain, an event Jan. 21 that organizer said attracted some 700 people.

Beginning at Town Square, the event was one of hundreds of women's marches held internationally Jan. 21 in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. Estimates are that millions of women, men and children participated in the marches worldwide.

"I had so many people, before and during the march, asking me how they could get involved and do more,” said march organizer and local activist Marrion Ward, vice president of The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Corporation, which sponsored the Women’s March on Black Mountain. “We really wanted to show unity in diversity.”

That unity was visible through the support of businesses and organizations around the Swannanoa Valley, which supported the march in different ways, according to Ward. Dynamite Roasting Co. provided coffee, and the bullhorn that she used came from Owen Middle School.

The march itself traveled west from the town square along State Street to St. James Episcopal Church. Before the march, the gathering crowd listened to comments by 11 people whose voices were amplified by equipment provided by White Horse Black Mountain.

“There were definitely more people there than we anticipated,” Ward said last week, a few days after the march. “We had each speaker up there to share a few sentences about their concerns, and it couldn’t be longer than a minute.”

Speakers had a wide array of concerns about what many view as marginalized groups. Giving voice to those concerns in such a public way can have a powerful impact on a community the size of the Swannanoa Valley, according to Ward.

“It puts faces to real issues,” she said.

Ward said her husband counted 650 people as the march made its way into the parking lot of St. James Episcopal Church. They estimate at least 50 left Black Mountain early to make their way to the Women’s March on Asheville, which attracted 7,000-10,000 people.

Alderman Carlos Showers supported Ward’s efforts to organize the march in Black Mountain, which he classified as “very diverse.”

“Young and old, all nationalities and races came together,” he said. “(They) were peaceful and respectful of each other and of a lone Trump supporter who was present.”

Like many involved with the march, Showers was impressed by the turnout.

“You could not have wanted a better turnout, considering the population of our town,” he said. “Even people driving by honked their horns and yelled in support of the marchers.”

One of those marchers was Doug Hay, who attended with his cousin and 5-week-old daughter, Eliza. Hay’s sign, which read “I march for her, her future is our future,” with an arrow pointing at Eliza, caught the eye of Ward and others.

Hay said he heard about the Washington, D.C. march and felt it was an important event. He found out through a quick internet search that there would be one down the street from his home.

“We have normalized the far-reaching acceptance of speaking down (to) women,” Hay said. “As a male, I don’t think that’s OK. And as a father of a young daughter, I want her to grow up in a world where that’s not acceptable.”

He was both surprised and encouraged by the number of people united

“For me it was a show of unity and support of fellow human beings,” he said. “As a white male, while I may not be the one being marginalized, it’s nice to see everyone come together as a community and say ‘we’re going to lift each other up and support each other.’”

Many of the people attending the march found out about it through the Facebook event page called Women’s March on Black Mountain. The page was hosted by Dianna Ryel, who initially had plans to attend the march in Washington, D.C.

“Marrion had so much energy and kept saying ‘we can do this here, we can do this here,’” Ryel said. “We both have a great sense of community pride and how important it is to be active on the home front. It was then I decided I wasn’t going to (Washington) D.C., I was staying in my hometown.”

Ward and Ryel shared the belief that the overall message of the march should be a peaceful one.

“It was a peaceful demonstration as a opposed to a march,” Ryel said. “When you say 'march,' it takes on more of that protest connotation. Our goal was to be positive in an effort to push forward, instead of being against something.”

Black Mountain police provided traffic control and were a “wonderful, friendly presence," Ward said.

The march was a success, considering that it served its purpose to “energize, not excite,” people from various backgrounds, Ward said. She was most impressed with how the crowd attracted several generations.

She hopes to see the energy generated by the march lead to positive changes in the community.

“I’d love to see discussion groups and other activities will come up from this grassroots effort,” she said. “I don’t think you can get anywhere being just plain old mad. If you develop an undertone of unity you have a greater chance to get something done.”

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