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Building Bridges: Women’s March in Sussex going strong

Sue Nyden, left, and Pamela Malsch, both of Lewes, guide the steering committee of Women’s March Sussex-Delaware, which advocates for human rights and equality. (Submitted photo)

LEWES — An initiative born in January 2017 that supports human rights and equality remains on the march in Downstate Delaware.

And it has experienced growth.

In 3½ years, Women’s March Sussex-Delaware has gone from the historic march in Washington, D.C., to an active grass roots social justice collective of Sussex County women and allies that continues to collaborate to ensure women’s rights, human rights, civil liberties and social justice for all.

The Women’s March Sussex-Delaware is guided by a steering committee, co-chaired by Sue Nyden and Pamela Malsch, both of Lewes.

“We started with a bus to D.C. and local marches in 2017 because people were upset about Donald Trump being elected president. The march on the beach was in response to the presidential election,” said Ms. Nyden. “Over those 3½ years, we have seen a rise in hate speech. We’ve seen a rise in hate crimes. We’ve seen an attack on human rights. We’ve seen an attack on civil rights, on health care, and of course, we know more recently on voting rights. So, what we did is we committed ourselves as an organization to work on basically saving our democracy.”

Ms. Malsch remembered the group’s beginnings.

“It came about, obviously, because of the Women’s March the day after the inauguration in D.C.,” she said. “On that day here in Sussex County, here in Rehoboth and Lewes, there was a group of people that got together on the beach and walked from Gordons Pond to Rehoboth on the beach. After that, I got involved with the group so that we had postcard events. We were very active that way. I took a hold of the email list and organized that.”

With 2020 an election year, heavy emphasis is on voting.

“We are focused this year 2020 on voting. Getting out to vote,” said Ms. Nyden. “Ensuring that people can vote, helping out any way we can working with and partnering with the League of Women Voters, the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and other organizations.”

The effort includes educating the public through their Delaware Politics 101 and Politics 102 initiatives, and eventually Advocacy 101, which teach “how to advocate for legislation,” Ms. Nyden said.

Like Ms. Nyden and Ms. Malsch, many of the Women’s March Sussex-Delaware members are of retirement age.

Ms. Nyden moved to Lewes from Maryland about 12 years ago. She retired from her job in social work in Montgomery County, Maryland, and now works as a part-time therapist for Jewish Family Services.

A native of Rochester, New York, Ms. Malsch lived a good share of her life in Colorado. There, she taught music, theater and choral orchestra for 30-plus years in a school district north of Denver.

Ms. Malsch landed in coastal Sussex County in 2015 — by chance.

“I came here on a lark to go to the beach, and one day, it was rainy, so we drove around, and as we were driving, my husband says, ‘I think I could do this.’ I said, ‘Do what?” And he said, ‘I could live here,’ ” said Ms. Malsch.

“We drove straight back to Denver, sold our house and came back. By November, we were moving in our condo.”

The steering committee has several subcommittees: education, outreach, legislation/advocacy, election and communication.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the march in Washington, Women’s March Sussex-Delaware opted for another route in 2018.

“All over the country, there were sister marches to the one in D.C., because if you couldn’t get to D.C., you wanted to be involved,” said Ms. Malsch. “We said, ‘We’ve got to do something. We just can’t march.’ ”

That rekindled the motivation and involvement associated with the Equal Rights Amendment and Title IX movements in the 1970s.

“Then, we realized that we could not be all things to all people,” Ms. Malsch said. “We could not address all issues that were coming down the pike. And there are so many, so we put together an event that brought the activist organizations in the area all together to give people a place to funnel their energies and what they want to do based on their interests.”

That idea led to an advocacy gathering in Lewes.

“In 2018, we decided rather than a march on the anniversary of the original march, we decided to have an action and advocacy fair. We brought together over 300 people at the Lewes library, over 50 organizations that we represented,” said Ms. Nyden.

Among those attending were the NAACP, Jewish Family Services, SDARJ and dozens of others.

“A whole lot of organizations that wanted to reach out for members, for volunteers, and it gave our supporters a place where they can put their energies,” said Ms. Nyden.

“We had a very large amount of people and did it like a fair,” said Ms. Malsch. “All of them stuck with us. We have a mailing list of about 727.”
This facilitated a partnership with local churches and organizations, along with several marches and rallies.

In November, Women’s March Sussex-Delaware partnered with the Seaside Jewish Community and SDARJ on a three-part series on racism and anti-Semitism.

“This was our response to the national news about the national women’s march,” said Ms. Nyden. “We wanted to do something about racism, and we wanted to talk about the important history of Jewish people and Black people working together for civil rights and human rights, and really bring people together rather than what was going on in the news, which was more trying to tear people apart.”

Women’s March Sussex-Delaware has collaborated with such initiatives as Moms for Gun Control, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the League of Women Voters. Focus has also addressed water and environmental issues.

More recently, WMSD staged a “Looking Back and Moving Ahead” program, which featured a slideshow highlighting famous women in history augmented by a lineup of speakers.

Last month, in celebration of Juneteenth — a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States — Women’s March Sussex-Delaware teamed with SDARJ and LWV for an event titled “Enough is Enough,” via videoconference.

“It was a presentation to explore the source and consequences of police brutality,” Ms. Nyden said.

Among the three panelists was Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings.
WMSD also recently launched a monthly correspondence/write-up from board members and supporters. The initiative kicked off with Charlotte King, who focused on “America the Dream.”

On July 29, the Delaware Historical Society and the Lewes Public Library will host a live, interactive, online panel discussion tied to the theme, “A Woman’s Work is Never Done.” It will run from 6-8 p.m. and will be moderated by Dr. Emerald Christopher-Byrd, assistant professor of women/gender studies at the University of Delaware.

Panelists will include:
• Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, co-chair and chair of the Community and Social Justice Subcommittee of the Delaware Hispanic Commission, principal of Delaware Transformative Justice and executive director of the Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice.
• Shané Darby, founder of Black Mothers in Power.
• Morgan Keller, communications manager of ACLU Delaware.
• Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, House majority leader for the Delaware General Assembly.
• Pamela Malsch, co-chair, Women’s March Sussex–Delaware.
• Marlene A. Saunders of Women’s March Sussex–Delaware and a member of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice.
• Tara Sheldon, at-large director for CAMP Rehoboth.

The steering committee co-chairs believe the WMSD’s collaborative efforts are making a difference and voices of the alliance are being heard.

“Our work with the alliance and our work with the churches and synagogues and the League of Women Voters, I think we’ve really been successful as a vehicle to bring these organizations to work together,” Ms. Nyden said. “So, I think the answer has definitely got to be ‘yes,’ I see progress in the work we’re doing and in bringing other organizations doing similar types of work to work together.”

“Our thought from the very beginning was, we are not going to reinvent the wheel,” Ms. Malsch said. “There are people out there doing some of this work already. So, let’s bring them together, bring people together so all of us can work together. There is strength in numbers. We’re stronger together.”