An estimated 2.6 million people across the globe protested Saturday in the Women’s March, including 500,000 in Washington, DC, 400,000 in New York City — and 50 in Mentone, Alabama.
Mentone is a small town of 360 people in Northeast Alabama with an industry based primarily on summer camps and an average income of $44,000 per household, according to the 2010 census. It is a part of DeKalb County, which voted for Trump by a margin of 83.5 percent to 14.1 percent, according to Politico. Statewide, 63 percent of Alabamians supported Trump, per NPR.
Cathey Haven Howard, the event’s organizer, said at the march: “In the year 2000, when I first moved here, I had a vision where I saw a group of women marching down the main street of Mentone with their hands on their hearts, and they were saying, ‘We are marching with one heart for the healing of the Earth.’ And I thought to myself, ‘When would that ever happen?’”
Upon hearing of the sister marches across the country, Howard said she was inspired to finally actualize her vision. Protesters marched through the rain down Alabama State Route 117, the town’s main throughway. Afterward, protesters were given a chance to speak their minds underneath a pavilion at the Mentone Inn. One woman took the opportunity to sing, while another performed a Native American dance. Because of the intimacy afforded by the small event, each person was able to share where they were from and what they were marching for. They traveled from other parts of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee to join the locals for reasons including equality, safety, the constitution, the grandmothers, the grandchildren, “my wife,” “my voice,” healthcare, the betterment of mankind, and the planet.
June Murphy came with her friends from New Orleans for their annual ski trip to Mentone. A photo taken by her went semi-viral, accumulating 12,000 retweets and 55,000 likes on Twitter, as of publishing. Although she told The Outline she wasn’t too surprised to find a march in town before traveling to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for an even larger one, Murphy was blown away by the reception to her tweet. “News from that neck of the woods doesn’t get out a lot,” she said. “The South gets misunderstood a lot. Those women are just as Southern as anyone else.”
At the forefront of the photo is Susan Cherones, 53, a self-described “tough, old broad” who goes by Cousin Sugar and has lived on the mountain for 23 years. She was late to the march because her four-wheeler got stuck in the mud. Working with what she had, she painted a foam shield from her truck with the two words she thought would fit: “Grab this.”
Cherones told The Outline: “It’s not normal to make fun of other people. It’s not American to limit the rights of gay people, transgender people, Muslim people, brown people, black people, or women people. We the people have rights that are being compromised by attitudes and actions. We have to keep our eyes open and remain vigilant in this atmosphere of deception and delusion.”
As a child growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Cherones went to camp in Mentone and says the town never left her mind. She lived in Los Angeles for seven years, thinking of Mentone every time she was stuck in traffic. Eventually, she moved back to her home state and became part of a small community that boasts writing groups, tai chi classes, and the Lookout Mountain Wholistic Center, which donates 10 laptops and printers every year to seniors graduating from Moon Lake School.
Cherones hopes the march in Mentone will inspire other progressives in less-than-progressive regions to speak out. “Hang on to each other, no matter what’s around you,” she said. “We know what’s right. It doesn’t matter if the entire state of Alabama bled red on Election Day. We can see, we have eyes, and we will say that to each other.”