Marblehead’s Grizzly Mom

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich told her story Tuesday night and in telling it, Ehrlich offered a step-by-step playbook describing how women can make a difference in politics and change in the world.

She represents Marblehead, Swampscott, and a corner of Lynn in the state Legislature, but Ehrlich has stood on a world stage and chatted with an ex-president (Clinton) in her pursuit of change. The Marblehead League of Women Voters, Abbot Public Library and 3 Voices deserve praise for picking Ehrlich to lead off a series of discussions focusing on women and mirroring dynamic shaping society, including the #MeToo movement.

Ehrlich’s speech at Abbot included dramatic highpoints, not the least of which was her detailed description of the inspiration that added “activist” to her résumé. Alarmed by wind-driven soot from the former Salem power plant, she asked her daughter, “What are we breathing?” and proceeded to search for an answer to that question and fight for change.

Ehrlich was a mother before she was an activist and an activist before she was elected state representative. She told her Abbot library audience on Tuesday that this succession of roles, layered one on another, transformed her perspective and her approach.

“I was no longer the mild-mannered accountant,” she said, “I was more like the Grizzly Mom from Marblehead …”

That is a pretty scary image for a woman who is usually viewed as a smiling, approachable legislator ready and willing to help her constituents. But appearances aren’t what interested Ehrlich Tuesday night: Her remarks focused on women finding their voices and raising the volume on solving problems. She was joined in Tuesday’s discussion by town resident John Archer who talked about being raised by strong women, and speech professional Betty Lautner, who talked about the mechanics of memorable speaking. Judy Gates talked about Sojourner Truth’s role as a voice for women that has endured through history.

No fewer than a half dozen women running for local office attended the Abbot library discussion. That representation is a true testament to Ehrlich’s influence on democracy in Marblehead and beyond and a tribute to Marblehead. One discussion around the kitchen table, one problem that looks like it is poised to be swept under the rug is spark enough to ignite the flames needed to destroy injustice or inequality or shed light on truth.

The media — social and otherwise — is full of stories about women finding their voices and the power of the #MeToo movement and its lightning-fast assault on previously unassailable bastions of male power.

Ehrlich’s story is different but equally refreshing: She did not stop to doubt her ability or assess her odds when she saw a threat to her children and her community and decided to do something about it. Her story is very American, very powerful and — 21 years later — inspirational to women and men alike.

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