Our Voices

Below are the opinions and perspectives from an array of members of our diverse community.  If you’d like to add your voice of compassion please send us an email to togetherwerisect@gmail.com

Nurtured by the Strength of Simple Community

The event in honor of International Human Rights day was inspiring.  In addition to the reading of titles of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there were short presentations by an advocate for juvenile prisoners rights, a transgendered person and a Muslim woman.  There was also poetry and song.  We intended to stay for no more than an hour but had a hard time dragging ourselves away.  About 70 people showed up.  We stood with candles in front of the grange hall for the reading of excerpts of the Human Rights Declaration and then went inside for hot drinks and the presentations.  We signed cards to be sent the New Haven mosque that has recently received hateful verbal attacks.  I felt nurtured by the strength of simple community.

 -Claire Matthews

I Believe in East Haddam

I believe in East Haddam.

I believe in the enormous capacity of its residents to choose love over hate every day.  I believe that, at times, the path may seem unclear.  I believe that there is always a way.  I believe that we have the ability and desire to create a healthy environment for all people, especially those from marginalized groups.  I believe that we all want to teach our children how to be decent human beings.  I believe that our children deserve that much.  I believe that we are a strong enough people to choose to have difficult conversations that aim at better understanding our neighbors.  I believe that all of our neighbors deserve respect.  I believe that it is our very differences that make life more exciting and full of wonder.  I believe that fear of the unknown disguises itself as hate.  I believe that loving someone who hates you is the best kind of medicine.  I believe that we could all use a little love right now.  I believe that change is possible.  I believe that whomever our leaders are, that we all have work to do.  I believe that it is worth putting in the effort.

I believe in East Haddam.

Angel Francia Mackinnon

Question, Learn, and Open our Hearts and Minds

It would be sad indeed if it were true that, as a resident recently wrote, “The sign posted in front of the Two Wrasslin’ Cats restaurant certainly does not represent the views and opinions of the majority of East Haddam/Moodus residents.” While there are some residents who are intentionally misinterpreting the sign (and others who are just mistaken), I believe that most of us understand and support the important message on this sign. Human rights, and the history of rights in America, is a complex issue and I hope that we all continue to question, learn, and open our hearts and minds. I am grateful for the opportunity we are experiencing because of “Together We Rise” and I hope our community continues to come together to learn and grow, and to show our support for these basic rights.

Maureen Gillis

You Cannot Ignore It & Hope that it Goes Away

I’ve had cancer twice. Both times I was supported by the caring of my friends and family: the cards, the casseroles, the friend who drove three hours just to sit with me during chemo. In giving me extra attention, they weren’t excluding others from their love. They were simply focusing on a person who really needed them.

The people spoken of in the sign need us right now. That’s a fact. Some say that we should be quiet because Donald Trump won the election. I accept that he is the victor. But repeatedly in his campaign he spoke of registering Muslims, turning our backs on refugees, and mass deportations. I do not have to accept any of that. As an American, I have the right and the duty to speak up when I believe my government is pursuing a bad policy.

Discrimination is bad policy. You could say it’s a cancer. My experience with cancer is that you cannot ignore it and hope that it goes away.

-Colleen Shaddox

A Community That Cares

We moved to Moodus eleven years ago, but it is not until recently that we feel we have found true community. The sign that was put up on Route 149 on November 9th, and is now permanently set up outside Two Wrasslin’ Cats, is about love, is about caring for our neighbors, caring for those who are threatened, those who need support and help in a time when it often seems that being different in any way is not acceptable. A man passing the sign a few weeks ago yelled “Everyone on that sign should go back where they came from,” which shows not only ignorance but a desire to hurt others. Mostly, however, the response to the sign has been one of support, with people honking, smiling, and waving during the Saturday morning vigils that began a month ago. We are heartened by that response and again feel a deep joy that a community of caring people in East Haddam outnumbers those who feel the need to threaten those who are not like themselves. Let us all continue to love and support each other in these dark times.

Greg Coleman and Edwina Trentham

There is Work to be Done 

There has been some conversation in town about how the sign starting with “Dear Muslims” is not inclusive of all people.  It was never meant to be, but this doesn’t mean we don’t care about you.  A fundraiser and awareness event about Breast Cancer doesn’t mean they don’t care about other cancers or diseases. It means they are focused on one cause. We, as a community, understand that sometimes there is a need to focus on certain causes and groups of people.

We cannot ignore the facts.  The sign draws attention to groups who, to varying extents, are experiencing various types of hate crimes, violence and/or discrimination in our country.  For example, this last year, the F.B.I. reported that attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims increased 67% from 2014.  The CDC reports that nearly 1 in 5 U.S. women (18.3%) have been raped at some time in their lives. That Americans with disabilities are more likely to be poor than any other demographic group.  The facts are that “minority children enter Connecticut’s juvenile justice system at a higher rate than their white peers and are treated more harshly there. Research shows that these differences aren’t because of how these kids behave.” Currently, in 28 states it is legal to fire someone for being part of the LGBTQ+ community.  It is for these reasons, and many others, that the sign was created.

We believe that most people in our incredible town can agree that there is work that needs to be done to make the US and our town a more fair, just and safe place for all of us.

Theresa Govert

I am So Proud of My Town,

A sign of love, peace, understanding, support, acceptance, safety, and solidarity was erected in Moodus one day after election day.  Yes, the election, lit a fire under us. No, this is not all about a candidate or sour grapes, as some believe.  No, this message is nothing new. Yes, the public support for justice may be new for our town.

Less than 24 hours later, the sign was defaced. A community conversation was organized for that Sunday.  A group was formed, which now has nearly 250 members.  We come together every Saturday morning for our Still We Rise Vigils.  We organized an International Human Rights Day event.  We meet bi-weekly to map the way forward.  We have plans and events and we are not going away.

Below are some of my responses when discussing the sign, our group, and our message….

“After hearing from people in this town at the community conversation, I know the fear is real. I know the stories are real. This is all the proof I need. My heart breaks for the children bullied, the couples fearing for their marriages, the misconceptions of various religions, the angry black man who believes he is going to die an angry black man, the survivors of sexual assault and rape, and so many more.”

“I attended the community conversation, the mapping the way forward meeting, and today’s vigil. I have heard story after story and truly believe there is a need for our group in town.”

“United we all stand. I do believe there are those of us who feel we are not truly part of that unification. I do not want anyone to live in fear.”

“Live and let live is a wonderful sentiment, and I truly wish I could live each day that way. I have very personal reasons why it’s just too simple for me. I see too many hurting and scared. I’ve been hurt and scared. Crimes have been committed against me. I am empowered and want to share that with others.”

“I know that our town is great. I know our people are great. Those that speak about fear, and so much more, have also expressed love for this town. That being said, there is still some work to be done.”

“Love, peace, acceptance, solidarity.”

This is such a wonderful and caring community! I am so proud of my town, and even prouder to stand in unity with those in my town, state, and country, who may feel hurt, scared, and alone. Let’s spread that East Haddam Community spirit and unity around!

-Stephanie Armstrong

The Values of our Community and of a Diverse Nation

As a teacher in the East Haddam school district for thirty years I am proud to say all kids were welcome and treated equally in my classroom;  special needs, gay, transgender, and straight … Black, Hispanic, Asian, White…religious affiliation, agnostic or atheist were never an issue. Bullying and discrimination were not tolerated in my classroom and on the rare occasion that it did occur, the incident was immediately addressed and corrected.

I am also proud to say that the teaching staff and administration at Nathan Hale Ray High School always upheld the principles of fair and equitable treatment of all students, tolerance of differences, and the dignity of the individual. These are the values of our community and of a diverse nation and I personally resist and reject any form of racial, religious, sexual, or gender discrimination.

-Jackie Fastaia, Retired Art Teacher, Nathan Hale-Ray High School  

This sign gives them Hope.

East Haddam and the sign in front of Two Wrassling Cats does represent me and my viewpoints. I support the sign because the sign supports people I know and love. People who I am close to who have shared their stories of harassment on their persons or culture. This sign gives them Hope, a light which defeats the darkness of fear. This sign shows them that there are others willing to support their battle against such darkness. This sign gives them a voice. This sign gives me a voice. This sign reminds me of our 1st amendment rights, and that they can be used to comfort those who find it difficult to see through the darkness in which the harassment and fear has enveloped them in. This sign gives them Hope.

Samantha T

We are All One; We are Interdependent

I would like to commend the people of Together We Rise CT. for the dedication to our town, our state, our country and humankind. I am currently out of town, so I have not been able to be present for the meetings and activities. However, I am following closely until my return in April, at which time I hope to be more active.

We are in a time of transition, when we must face the fact that in reality we are all one; we are interdependent. Mahatma Gandhi told us to be the change we want to see in the world. You are doing just that.

I just finished watching Dicken’s Christmas Carol. In it, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come tells Scrooge, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” Ignorance can be changed. Which is why we stand firmly and speak our truth, with love and respect. Yet there is something else we are dealing with now: Ignore-ance, ignoring or refusal to seek or accept truth, or factual data.

I urge you with every fiber of my being to stay strong, keep showing up, standing up and speaking up.

-Rev. Alicia-Leslie

A Nation Built on Signs 

Another sign was erected some years ago that also caused some people to be upset.  That sign said:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

I support our sign as well as this sign.

-Pete Govert

Advocating with Those Who are Marginalized 

With the fairly recent turn of events, sadly, there is now a stamp of approval for racism,


and hatred. The wave of intolerance has been unleashed and those who are marginalized have now become increasingly more vulnerable and targeted. I recognize my responsibility as an American to rededicate myself to stand up for and speak out against anything or anyone that persists in marginalizing women, people of color, LGBTQ, Muslims, disabled, economically disadvantaged and immigrants in our society. I am ready and more than willing to use my voice, time and energy to face forward and recognize the multitude of challenges that lie ahead.

-Diane  Kaemmer

Maybe, just Maybe, by Talking and Listening to One Another we Can Learn

East Haddam is such a beautiful town and there are so many caring and amazing people that live here.  We like it so much that 20 years ago we built a home and settled here with our then 1-year-old.  We later grew to a family of four and raised 2 amazing and caring girls that I can only hope to one day be more like.  We’ve had so many people come and go in our lives over the years but all played a role in the upbringing of our girls.  They were raised in a community that cares deeply about its youth and never once did any of us feel unsafe.  Sadly, some members of our community have recently shared with us that not all people feel that way.  I attended the community gathering at First Church a few weeks ago and heard some of our youth share with the community that they don’t always feel safe in school.  I’ve read posts on Facebook and letters to the editor in the paper that have been concerning and less than accepting of what the sign outside of Two Wrasslin’ Cats truly represents.  The letters were concerning to me because they make assumptions that could be cleared up with a simple conversation rather than people assuming and writing other’s stories, stories that couldn’t be any further from the truth.  For some reason some chose to publicly share these opinions before even having a conversation with the people they seem to have a problem with.  People within our community who are represented by that sign, and most recently specifically those that are Muslim, have been made painfully aware of how some of our community members feel.  When coupled with what has been happening in our state and across the U.S., it is no wonder that many are worried and in some cases, frightened or feeling unsafe. I stand behind that sign, literally and figuratively, because those that I know and care deeply for, including members of our own community and those outside of it that I may not even know, deserve the same basic freedoms that I have.  I want them to know that I am here for them – that I am a safe place for them should they need it.  That I support them regardless of who they are, who they love, what religion they follow, or the color of their skin. It does not mean that I do not support you, our police officers, or anyone else that isn’t represented on that sign.  It’s about standing up for the fact that everyone deserves a safe, fair, and just life.  Contrary to the letters to the editor that have been shared in recent editions of the local paper, this sign has less to do with who won an election and more to do with how select people are being treated in this community and across the country every single day, and it’s escalating.  Quietly supporting all of those that I mentioned just through daily interaction and conversation is no longer good enough. You may not always personally see it, but people that I know have – both inside this community and those that live outside of it.  Working where I do I regularly meet people from outside of our community almost every day. When they enter town they cannot help but see the sign.  I have received comments such as “what a beautiful sign” it is or “what a wonderful community you have here”.  If people outside of our community can see it for what it is, I’m hopeful that through conversation within our own community that those against it will also one day see it for what it is.  It’s about basic humanity.  We might even find something out about someone we didn’t know…that maybe our perceptions were way off…that maybe, just maybe, by talking and listening to one another we can learn the truth and work together to make our country a safer and equal place for all.

-Nancy Fall

Human Equality as its Inspirational  Goal

A while back, some people publicly displayed a sign supporting targeted minority groups in the neighboring town of East Haddam. It was entirely benign and attacked no one.

Somebody who obviously disliked its message painted over it. That simple act of vandalism attracted people from around the Connecticut River valley to gather together and voice their support for equality. The sign was repaired and events were held, including weekly vigils and a march from Chester to Deep River.

Lynne and I attended the parade, and took our places at their vigil last Saturday. We met some wonderful people at a corner in East Haddam where many held signs and waved at passing vehicles. Most drivers waved back. Some honked their horns in support and received cheers in return. A few were less kind, but their small number proved the point that those who do not respect the American ideal of equality are not as many as they seem.

The United States, from its founding, recognized human equality as its inspirational goal, and has struggled toward achieving that goal ever since. The closer we get, the more vocal some antagonists become, but they are a clear minority. America, despite its many challenges and setbacks, is growing toward a more perfect union. We might not see it on the media, where bigotry still sells, or in politics, where extremists still push ugly agendas with impunity… but among everyday people, the drive still powerfully exists and will not be put down. We may not see this at work or when we go shopping, but when people unite against the wrongdoing of public injustice, it becomes clear.

The ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and unalienable rights continue. Never doubt it. It lives in those of us who believe in America. In the end, that will be more powerful and steadfast than all the setbacks we see around us now. Each setback eventually reveals its true nature. Once that happens, the majority of the American people, of all races, ethnic backgrounds and religions, reject them. And with each step we make in that direction, something new and better than what we had is born.

Our hope for the future lies in this. Leaders cannot do what we must do ourselves for our nation and our world.

-Dean J

Letter to the Editor – East Haddam News December 10, 2016

I am writing in support of the welcoming sign in front of Two Wrasslin’ Cats. While I didn’t put it up, I applaud its presence, and do have an opinion about its meaning and importance. I do not feel that it is divisive in nature, or is an insinuation of Trump’s potential actions as suggested in prior editorials, but is instead in reaction to Trump’s campaign running on the platform of isolating and marginalizing many different subgroups within our society. To those I’ve heard state that the sign doesn’t represent them because it doesn’t specifically state that we welcome whites, I would remind them that we are a predominately white community, and as such, the sign is understood to come from a white perspective. The idea that whites are not welcome because they are not listed is ridiculous. I look at the sign as a show that we are willing to welcome and be supportive to groups that were largely criticized and spoken negatively about throughout Trump’s campaign. And by welcoming these marginalized people, we are making an inclusive statement saying that we support them.
Stating that the sign doesn’t represent the opinions of the majority of our residents is an absurd statement. First off, it can’t be verified. If Mr. Zajak was referring to the election results, he would be correct in stating that a narrow majority of our voting residents did support Trump, and possibly wouldn’t support the sign, but again, that is a majority of those who voted and not necessarily representative of our entire community. But more to the point, even if the sign did not represent the feelings of the majority of our town, why would that matter? In a democracy, all voices are valid and have a right to be heard. If you believe the minority, or the perceived minority should have no voice, then you don’t believe in our constitution. Even our pledge of allegiance ends with the words, “With liberty, and justice for all.” When you restrict the rights of certain groups of people but not all, you are contradicting these important beliefs and words.
And for those who keep stating that “the people” have spoken and that they elected Trump, I would counter that “the people” have spoken and they elected Clinton. The Electoral College elected Trump, “the people” did not. When you look at the percentage of eligible voters who voted for Trump, you will realize that it is a minority of our population, and as such, it is important to give validity to the thoughts and concerns of others with differing viewpoints. We all matter. That is the message behind the sign. It’s as simple as that.

-Denise Di Stefano

Values Woven into our History

Thank you, Together We Rise, for the work you are doing to keep East Haddam a good place to live for all her citizens. I am proud to see so many stand up and speak out for kindness, fairness, and inclusiveness, and I applaud Together We Rise for giving voice to these community values. They are, after all, values that are woven into our history. Eastern European immigrants came here to work the mills of Moodus all through the early 20th century and went on to run the town and build a welcoming community. Their children and grandchildren still live among us. Jews and Christians worked side by side and went off to war together, as witnessed by the name of our American legion Hall, Barron-Smith-Golec. Our town has always been a place of open acceptance of the gay couples that have contributed so much go our history and culture as well. Something will have gone out of East Haddam if we lose sight of these values that have bound us together. Please keep reminding us to be the neighbors that our troubled world needs.

-Susan Merrow, First Selectman, 1991 to 2003

Time for the Rest of Us to Stop Being Followers 

All elections matter. Some matter more than others. This year’s presidential election may prove to have been one that matters far more than any other I have had the privilege to vote in. Both major party candidates had serious flaws, but only one consistently used language of hate. Only one candidate used fear of the ‘other’ as a campaign tactic. Only one candidate advocated discrimination, discrimination based on religion among other things, which is so fundamentally opposed to the liberties claimed in our country’s founding documents. This one candidate is the candidate who will be our new president. When a leader of our country is so willing to use fear as a basis of power, use hate as a basis of power, use discrimination as a basis of power, it is time for the rest of us to stop being followers. It is incumbent on all of us to stand up to our new leader, to love where there is hate, to educate where there is fear, to welcome where there is discrimination. The sign holds a message of love and welcome. This is the reason I support the message on the sign and chose to join our group.

-Jennifer Esty

Don’t be afraid of differences

Those of you who were around in the early 1960s might remember a great deal of hysteria in the news about integration, school busing and civil rights. I was 11 years old when we heard that a black family would be moving in near us. My parents didn’t say one thing or another, but at school I heard almost every racist joke current among my classmates.

The family moved in. Like us, they had three sons. e two oldest were di erent ages than my brother and me, but the youngest was the same age as my little brother – the two of them became very good friends. And the parents in the family became good friends of my parents, a relationship that con- tinued up until the death of the father last year.

I have travelled quite a bit, and all my experi- ences reinforce what my parents taught me back then through example: people are people. ey all have the same concerns: putting food on the table, providing clothing, shelter, and medical care for their families, and seeing that their kids get a good education.

I’ve learned that there are two ways of going through life: You can view people who are di erent from you with suspicion, slander them with hearsay and spread distrust and hatred. Or you can get to know people, and keep an open mind about individ- uals: treat others as you would like to be treated.

When Jesus lived, he mixed with all types of peo- ple: those from other religions and cultures, includ- ing a Roman tax collector (the Apostle Matthew), thieves, and lepers. And in many cases, he defended them against the mob.

Moslems revere Jesus, John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus ‒ who is mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Moslems show respect for Christians and Jews by calling them “people of the book,” with whom they share the Abrahamic legacy of monotheism.

I don’t believe that Christian charity should only be extended to other Christians. I don’t believe that the “brotherhood of man” includes only those who are exactly like myself. We must not allow ourselves to be so afraid that we turn away from, or even re- vile, those who are di erent from us.

-Douglas Nielson (From East Haddam News, Dec 29 Issue)