Women finding their voices in Marblehead

If Rep. Lori Ehrlich has her way, Massachusetts would take big steps to combat climate change. (File Photo | Owen O'Rourke)

MARBLEHEAD — State Representative Lori Ehrlich has set out to help women find their voices by telling them how she found her own.

In a room packed with women — and a few men — at the Abbot Public Library, Ehrlich encouraged women to have a voice, whether speaking up for a cause, running for office, or in a domestic or workplace situation.

“When I speak, I try to speak with purpose,” said Ehrlich. “Finding my voice comes in handy in the state legislature.”

“In this community, there’s such thoughtful, smart people,” she said. “I think it’s really important we’re all comfortable enough to say what we’re thinking.”

Ehrlich described herself as a mild-mannered accountant faced with the realization that her deck, and the air surrounding her home, was covered in soot from a nearby power plant.

The year was 1997 and Ehrlich, a mother of two young children, was told by the power plant that, if she signed documents stating that she released the company from any liability, they would pay to have her deck power washed.

“I looked at my daughters and I said ‘they missed the point,'” said Ehrlich. “What are we breathing? What are your feet covered in? What are we being exposed to?”

She wrote letters to the editors of several local newspapers and heard from dozens of neighbors and nearby boat owners who had a similar experience.

She learned the power plant wasn’t using scrubbers, which had been made a requirement for removing toxins from emissions, because the facility was in existence before the law was created.

She and a group of other environmental advocates learned that 159 people surrounding the plant were expected to die from illnesses related to breathing in the ash, and they made life-size cutouts and used them in protests to illustrate that they were talking about people, not statistics.

Through the process, Ehrlich found her voice.

“I was no longer the mild-mannered accountant,” she said. “I was more like the Grizzly Mom from Marblehead, or an East Coast Erin Brockovich.”

She encouraged a half-dozen women in the audience who were running for local office to find their voices as well.

Resident John Archer read a speech by actor Ed Asner about the importance of men supporting women, and performed “Sister Suffragette” from Mary Poppins, a movie he said was very important to him.

“I was raised by very strong women,” said Archer. “My mother and father were both in the Marine Corps. My mother outranked my father.”

Betty Lautner, a speech and voice professional, offered ideas on how to present ideas with conviction. She advised the women in the room to always feel that they have command of themselves and to use their voices to be noticed.

“Speak from your core,” she said.

The idea for this series came from conversations with residents about issues women face today, and including learning to say no in the #MeToo movement.

In future programs, experts will help women learn how to claim their voices in business, the community, and in domestic situations, how to speak with authority, and how to overcome shyness, fear, and much more.

The series is presented by 3 Voices and co-sponsored by The Marblehead League of Women Voters and Abbot Public Library. Each session is free and open to the public.                                                  

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