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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021

Middlebury residents, students mobilize in support of counting every vote

Students and community members gathered on the Town Green, holding signs and listening attentively to speakers, united by one central message: every vote that was cast must be counted.

Middlebury students joined local residents and community members on Nov. 4 at the Protect the Vote Rally, carrying hand-painted banners that read “Every Vote Counts” and “Our Voices Count.” Roughly 200 participants gathered for one of several Protect the Results rallies around the country advocating for upholding the results of the presidential election.

The event was the brainchild of local residents Fran Putnam and Bethany Barry, who began planning it about seven weeks ago. The two friends have organized together in the past and, as Putnam put it, “go all the way back to the Women’s March in 2017.” Putnam was inspired by a personal message from activist George Lakey, who encouraged local action to prevent a compromised election. Following Lakey’s suggestion, Putnam and Barry formed an affinity group composed of around 20 people, including both community members and Middlebury students.

Putnam, who frequents college Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) meetings, reached out to students and assembled a group of student organizers for the event. This included Divya Gudur ’21, who relayed information about safety and Covid-19 protocol to student participants gathered on McCullough lawn on Nov. 4 prior to proceeding into town.

With Covid-19 cases on the rise, the organizers required that all attendees wear face masks and maintain physical distance. They also discouraged chanting and asked students to walk from campus to the green in groups of ten or fewer.

Students and local residents held signs near the edge of the green facing South Pleasant Street amid honks and waves from passing drivers. (Sophia McDermott-Hughes)

College employees served as traffic monitors, ensuring students made it safely to the Town Green on Wednesday afternoon. 

“We were hoping we wouldn’t even have to do this today,” Putnam said, in an interview with The Campus. “We were hoping that our president wouldn’t announce that he had won an election when all the votes hadn’t been counted.”

Putnam and other organizers stressed that the event was non-partisan in nature. Local artist Sarah Ashe, who worked with Barry and Leicester resident Kate Williams to create some of the signs for the rally, said they had tried to keep the messaging on the signs neutral. Ashe and Williams hoped to emphasize the universal importance of counting every vote.

“It really is not a partisan issue. It’s a democracy issue,” Williams said.

The rally included speeches from Shoreham resident and activist Beatrice Parwatiker, local tenth-grader Vivian Ross and Keith Chatinover ’22.5.

Parwatiker opened her speech with praise for the late Congressman John Lewis, who she described as “a great ambassador of voting.” She then recounted the struggle for suffrage in the U.S. and the challenges faced by those who sought it.

“The vote is sacred because it has been given to me by the blood of my past relatives,” she said.

Ross delivered a message that attested to the fears she and other young people are facing, warning of potential disenfranchisement.

“People complain about how young people don’t vote, but imagine what the next election will look like if people my age have been shown that our votes will not be counted, that our thoughts are not wanted, that the majority of the people who live in this country are not the ones who shape it,” she said.

As the wait for election results drew on, subsequent Nov. 5 and 6 rallies attracted a smaller, though no less determined crowd of 20 to 25 community members. They stood on the side of the Town Green facing North Pleasant Street. Many of those who stayed for all three days were no strangers to activism, and, for some, civil disobedience had shaped the trajectory of their family history.

Tom Nicholson and Mimi Love-Nicholson, longtime residents of Middlebury, stood with their handmade signs at the end of the line of protestors on Nov. 6. Nicholson has been heavily involved in civil disobedience throughout his life. In addition to protesting, he refused the Vietnam War draft and served a 16-month prison sentence.

Though he noted that the vote count appeared to be going smoothly, Nicholson is prepared to keep protesting if Trump refuses to leave office.

“I might go down to D.C. and blockade the White House or something, lay in the street,” he said. 

Though she does not currently have plans for more election-related organizing, Putnam is also ready to coordinate and engage in nonviolent mobilization.

“Until Jan. 20 gets here, we’re going to have to be on alert,” she said. “But if something really goes wrong, we have our people now.”