Women’s Rights Activists Take a Stand in Millersburg
Hidden on the outskirts of Appalachian Ohio, the predominately red Holmes County is home to a small group of liberal citizens attempting to find their place. Greta Monter, a resident of Millersburg and member of the local Democratic party, never thought she would be politically involved.
“I’m incredibly introverted,” she says. “I have never been actively engaged in politics. If someone had said a year ago ‘you’re going to organize a rally and talk to your congressman,’ I would not have believed them.”
Following the presidential election of Donald Trump in November, Monter says she became rather disheartened about the state of the nation, especially in regards to women’s rights. Her daughter, Emma, convinced her to go to the Women’s March in Washington D.C.
“It kind of gave us the inspiration to do this rally,” Monter says. “It gave me a lot of hope. Instead of being angry, we’re going to be proactive and just try to resist.”
Monter says her activism stemmed from her concern in the current policies being released from the White House and from the sexism she sees in her own community, even on women’s health issues like abortion.
According to city statistics, Millersburg is almost 70 percent Republican, making it one of the more conservative towns in the state, and voted overwhelmingly in support of Trump. Much of Monter’s drive came from her mother whom she called a “very progressive feminist” and who praised her willingness to stand out in such a conservative community.
Other women who helped organize the February 25th rally at the Holmes County Courthouse felt similarly. Denice Hazlett, a resident of Millersburg and member of Holmes County Democrats, said she helped with the rally because of how divisive politics have become.
“During the past year, I’ve witnessed such a disheartening spread of misinformation, anger, mockery and outright hatred,” Hazlett says. “I’ve seen people choose politics over people more than I’ve experienced in my lifetime. So, for me, I wanted to send the message that I love my neighbors.”
Holmes county has a large Amish population whose religious culture is part of Millersburg’s society. Monter doesn’t think her two daughters, 22 and 20, will return to the area, partially because of the “blatant sexism” she sees in the community.
Because of this, Monter and the local Democratic party decided to organize a rally in late February. Monter says the party usually has less than a dozen members at its meetings, but since January it has grown to nearly 50 people.
The rally was specifically designed to not be antagonistic to local Trump supporters, and according to Hazlett around 120 people from various professions came together from Holmes County, District 7 and neighboring counties.
Even though only “positive signs” were present at the rally and no mention of Trump was used, some people decided to protest the rally anyway.
“One kid had a video online of him screaming out of his car saying ‘I’m a proud, white, racist American.’ But he took it down,” Monter says. “It wasn’t a lot of people protesting against us, just really a couple of loud young kids.”
Hazlett confirmed that the event was not welcomed by all members of the community, and related a story of one man who brought a Trump/Pence campaign sign and aggressively approached the activists, but eventually allowed his photo to be taken by Hazlett.
Hazlett was surprised by the amount of pushback from the community, calling it “eye-opening,” and she relayed stories of a passing driver who accused her daughter of killing millions of women (she guessed it to be an anti-abortion argument). One man who posted a photo on Facebook of her 14-year-old daughter holding a sign that said “Protect Trans Kids” called it a “sad day” for America.
Beyond the rally, Monter has been an advocate for women’s rights for a long time. Four generations of women in her family were represented at the event she helped organize. Monter’s 89-year-old grandmother, mother, daughter and aunt all made an appearance and supported women’s rights among other causes.
“In a sense, there were actually five generations,” Monter says. “(My grandmother) was wrapped in a blanket made by my great-grandmother, so she was there in spirit.”
Hazlett says the rally was largely driven by women, and she went with all three of her daughters, as well as her husband. “We were inspired by women who are leading the charge in other counties and districts,” she says.
Monter remembers, while making signs for the rally with her mom, aunt and grandmother, asking her grandmother what her husband, a WWII vet, would have thought about Millersburg residents rallying around these issues.
“She just said ‘well, that’s what he fought for,’” Monter says.