Community Members Bring Awareness to Human Rights

Community members of New Paltz will not stop in their quest to progressively bring awareness to the importance of fundamental rights.

On Sunday, Sept. 24 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. residents of New Paltz filed into Hasbrouck Park in order to enjoy the New Paltz Community Action Festival.

The event was presented by March On! New Paltz, an organization dedicated to getting people involved with various issues within the community. 

The group was founded after the Women’s March which took place this past January. March On! New Paltz has produced various other projects in order to recruit community members to be active in the community. Along with helping patrons at the Open Air Market register to vote and formulate letters to their legislators, the group encouraged residents of New Paltz to attend the Planet March at the Walkway Over the Hudson, the sister march to the March for Science. 

Organizations involved in the festival were De Facto Community Center Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, La Voz cultura y noticias del Valle de Hudson, Move Forward New York, Creative Artsy Outlets, Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, Resisterhood, Hudson Valley Earth First!, Hudson Valley Anarchist Network, Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley, Democracy Matters Citizens Climate Lobby, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, New Paltz Tenant Union, New Paltz Democratic Committee, Cruise Planners, Roost Studios and Art Gallery, Indivisible Ulster / Indivisible NY19, Enjoy A Ball, Nadine Lewis, Grok Foods, U-Act WI, NPCAC, Citizen Action and U-Act Women’s Issues. 

The festival was complete with many musical groups including Maiko, Yard Sale, The Trapps, NCM, La Familia, Revolution #9 and STAU.

The day provided entertainment for all ages, including an obstacle course and crafts pertaining to each organization’s specific topic of discussion.

Active member of March On! New Paltz Lauren Ardman explained that the importance of New Paltz getting together in order to discuss fundamental rights lay in one abstract of life: love.

“It’s important to remember that even though we are keeping positive and doing things in love that we aren’t turning a blind eye on what’s going wrong in the world; it’s the exact opposite,” she said. “Love is the fiercest action we can take part in.”

Ardman believes that this type of social activism begins at home.

“As a parent, I want to do everything in love because it is so important to start that early; it is important to fight for the things we care about, not with violence and hatred but with caring and understanding,” she said.

Held in tandem with the New Paltz Community Action Festival was the second annual Slutwalk. 

The walk is an event primarily focused on bringing awareness to rape culture and kicked off at 12 p.m., where participants made their way from New Paltz Middle School to Hasbrouck Park to join the rest of the festivities. 

Fourth year communications major Ailise Schendorf commended the march in its entirety for going up against societal norms.

“I think it’s great to make it such a blatant point that it is wrong to sexualize a person’s body without consent,” she said.

Amongst the participants were select women dressed in red capes and white bonnets, likening themselves to the handmaids from Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

In Atwood’s novel the women designated as handmaids were required to wear red in order to denote their fertility and their place in society as childbearers. The treatment of this particular social class has sparked worldwide conversation in various media outlets such as The New York Times.

The Handmaid Demonstration, organized by New Paltz resident Maura McMahon O’Meara, was inspired by the recent popularity the novel has gained after current affairs regarding the newly implemented presidential administration and the award-winning Hulu television show adaptation of the same title.

O’Meara, the New Paltz coordinator for the Women’s March, had been inspired a few months prior to the festival when she stumbled upon and saw that if she typed in her zip code, she could order the costumes for free as a means of making a public statement.

“After the Women’s March in January, I had met so many activists that I invited them all to come and be a part of this walk but the funny thing is that I didn’t even know how many activists I didn’t know,” she said. “We had people drive from over an hour away to participate; some I knew, some I didn’t.”

The most difficult part of the walk for O’Meara and the other handmaids was remaining silent when everyone else was getting so excited about the issues at hand.

“In a place like New Paltz where people are so adamant in having a choice in their self expression, it was weird to be the exact opposite,” she said. “It forces people to think: do we really want to take away a person’s ability to present themselves how they please?”

O’Meara believes the novel has continued to become even more relevant.

“My daughter is reading the novel in her AP Literature class and I think that the topics discussed are even scarier to women now than they were when I read it back in college,” O’Meara said. “With this administration, you just need to wait a few days before you have something to think about; we will be doing this again in the very near future.”

New Paltz Village Trustee KT Tobin, having participated in the walk, was eager to speak out about the importance of bringing awareness to rape culture in this context.

“Atwood’s dystopian novel is a depiction of what would happen if people do not take part in the resistance of rape culture,” Tobin said. “This demonstration is timely and makes a statement that we need to keep spreading awareness.”

The “handmaids” did not stop at just adorning the costume, participants stayed in character throughout the event, acting similarly to the behavior expected of women in the novel.

“We did not engage with anybody during our walk and the women who stood around at the festival continued with this,” she said. “I think the public really enjoyed it; we got a lot of thumbs up.”

Onlookers experienced confusion and excitement, according to O’Meara.

“People would pass us, then slow down, then walk back and take photos when they understood what we were trying to get across,” she said. “Some women even bowed towards us in thanks and that was pretty cool.”

Tobin admits that she hadn’t planned on participating in the demonstration but when she arrived on the scene O’Meara had asked her if she wanted to.

“I wasn’t expecting to be a part of it, but I’m glad I did,” she said. “I commend the women who stood out in the sun in character even a few hours after the fact the walk finished; I think it sent a clear message.”

Regarding progress, Tobin expresses that there is always more to be done.

“Last year when we first did the Slutwalk, the minute we stepped out onto Main Street we were met with a few men who yelled ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ in our direction; it did not deter us and it didn’t stop this year when a passerby thanked us for the ‘clown show,’” she said.

Tobin explained that the walk did not primarily consist of women participants. 

“Both the Village Mayor Tim Rogers and Town Supervisor Neil Bettez took part in the walk; we had a few little boys walking with us as well,” she recounts.

Tobin went on to explain the importance in having male allies in a walk against rape culture.

“Gender equality is not just an issue for women, men can be feminists, in fact we need them; we need allies in men,” she said.

Much like the Black Lives Matter movement, Tobin believes that support doesn’t come strictly from the oppressed.

“I go to Elting whenever the Black Lives Matter movement is out; they need white allies,” she said. “This is a lot like that because we need help from everybody.”

In terms of getting more support, Ardman states that March On! New Paltz is constantly looking to bring more people to take part.

“We have open meetings all of the time,” she said. “Our next meeting is being held Oct. 15 at 3:30 p.m.”