LYNN — More than 20 people gathered at the Lynn Museum Wednesday evening to further discuss and plan the upcoming “Defending Democracy” event on Oct. 4. The City Hall’s Lynn Auditorium will host the event commemorating the 160th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Gettysburg Address.
Lynn Museum Executive Director Doneeca Thurston, who will also serve as the event’s moderator, broke down what to expect on that first Wednesday in October.
“(At) 6 p.m. things will open up and I’ll do a brief welcome,” Thurston explained. “Panel one will set the stage historically with a presentation, we’ll have some Q&A, then we’ll go into the reenactment that’s sort of the intermission between the two panels. Then we’ll go into the second panel to just talk about the contemporary issues that we’re facing in the community and how they relate historically.”
Thurston also noted one goal that is still in the works, which is having some youth and student activists attend to pose prepared questions during the Q&A portions.
The origin of “Defending Democracy” stems from when Lynn native Steve Matthews learned about his own background. After doing some research on the family history of his mother, who was adopted, he was surprised to learn that some of his ancestors were slave owners. What Matthews found even more disturbing, however, is that some of his newfound relatives still defended the idea of slavery. This is what motivated him to join forces with the Lynn Museum and the Grand Army of the Republic nearly two years ago to put this project in motion.
“Everyone that is trying to fight back in their own lane is not enough,” Matthews said. “Giving money to politicians that want to stand up to this is not enough. The culture wars that we’re facing in this country mandate that for us to push back, it takes all of us. That’s what this is.”
Participants at Wednesday’s meeting included members from the Essex County Community Organization, New Lynn Coalition, Lynn Teachers Union, and Freedom to Read campaign. All of the planners are using resources and knowledge from their respective organizations to improve “Defending Democracy” in unique ways.
The attendees all explained why they feel this upcoming event is so crucial to them on a personal, organizational, and national level.
Massachusetts Secretary of Education Dr. Patrick Tutwiler, a former superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, is one of three featured speakers slated for the event.
“I’m making a conscious choice to participate because I think this is a very scary context that we’re living in right now,” Tutwiler said. “I see this as an opportunity to be here for my standpoint and for the administrations I represent to show what we stand for, what our values are, and how we intend to protect the right story.”
Darius Woumn also works in the field of education as a history teacher at St. Mary’s High School. He hopes “Defending Democracy” provides young people who want to get involved in social justice with the tools and knowledge to do so.
“We’re seeing more and more young people want to get involved in social justice without understanding what organizations are out there,” Woumn said. “It will allow conversations to be truthful, to not engage in many of the myths that are out there because our students are so engaged with social media, and that’s where they’re getting so much of their information.”
Many planners described the fragility of democracy and perceived threats to it by recent political developments as motivating their involvement in the event. All felt it is important to remind people of the hardships African Americans and other minorities endured throughout the country’s history in order to keep the fight for equality alive in the present.