L’Italien hosts activist forum with 150+ attendees from across Merrimack Valley

LAWRENCE, MA: Over 150 people attended a political engagement in Lawrence this morning, hosted by State Senator Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover. Titled “Let’s Get Organized! Building a Grassroots Coalition of Activists in the Merrimack Valley,” the forum for local activists drew people from across the Merrimack Valley, from Westford to Georgetown, to New Hampshire, to the Relief’s In to learn how to become better involved in issue activism in their area.

The event featured breakout sessions on nine hot-button issues, moderated by statewide organizations whose work involves advocacy in those areas. Moderatorsemphasized ways that attendees could take concrete actions to organize their own communities and volunteer in the Merrimack Valley to help further these causes, and local organizations provided more information about the work they do in the area.

“Today was a great, big step for the Merrimack Valley. To convene all of these folks, from my Senate district and far beyond, looking to make a genuine positive difference in the community, was a joy,” said Senator L’Italien. “Fundamentally, this is about building a coalition. We’re seeing a lot of organizations looking to do similar work, but not talking to each other, and a lot of people who, particularly since the election, are eager to get involved in activism and political engagement but don’t quite know how best to do it. We wanted to provide an outlet for this energy and to channel it into having an impact locally and across the state.”

L’Italien continued, “A big thank-you to all the local and state-wide groups who participated in bringing information and energy to local activists across the Merrimack Valley. This change and organizing is happening organically, at the grassroots – which is everything we were hoping for. The energy was amazing –the Merrimack Valley is a force to be reckoned with. I look forward to holding more of these type of events in the near future.”

The event began with appearances from Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford, who spoke about the recent wave of Democratic activism seen across the country, and former Governor Deval Patrick administration official Jay Gonzalez, currently running for Governor, who spoke on the importance of activism beginning with the grassroots.

During the breakout sessions – three breakout sessions of three groups each –Jordan Berg Powers of Mass Alliance moderated a session on running for office, Liza Ryan of the MIRA Coalition moderated a session on immigration, members of the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project moderated a session on combating the opioid epidemic, Pablo Ruiz of Raise Up Massachusetts moderated a session on labor and economic justice, Vashti Selix of Freedom Massachusetts moderated a session on transgender and other LGBTQ issues, Joe O’Brien of the Environmental League of Massachusetts moderated a session on environment, MTA President Barbara Madeloni moderated a session on education, Leda Anderson of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and Sarah McCarthy Welsh of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus moderated a session on women’s empowerment and reproductive justice, and Darrin Howell of 1199SEIU Massachusetts moderated a session on criminal justice reform. Local organizations included the Merrimack Valley Clean River Project and Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project. Spanish-only speakers participated thanks to translation equipment.