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Blues singer Karen Lovely joins Women's March lineup

Thousands will pack Medford's Hawthorne Park on Saturday, Jan. 19, in support of equity for women at the third annual Women's March Southern Oregon. The event kicks off at 11 a.m. with recent Congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner and others, followed by a ukulele band, a flash mob dance and more. A highlight is expected to be singer and songwriter Karen Lovely talking about her commitment to social justice.

Lovely and her band will perform songs from her newest album, “Fish Outta Water,” and more at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. Tickets are $20 in advance and can be purchased at liveatthearmory.com, Music Coop in Ashland or Immortal Spirits in Medford. Tickets will be $25 at the door. Hear excerpts from “Fish Outta Water” at karenlovely.com.

The first Women’s March Southern Oregon was on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Inauguration Day, when an estimated 15,000 people crowded into Ashland’s downtown area, walking from the library to the Plaza and on into Lithia Park for a rally at the bandshell. The 2018 march began in Medford’s Hawthorne Park and ended in Pear Blossom Park. In 2019, the entire event will be conducted in Hawthorne Park, an immersive experience that, organizers hope, will bring people together and build community in celebration and solidarity. It’s expected to wrap up about 1:30 p.m.

Internationally acclaimed blues singer Lovely will be on hand for the Women’s March Southern Oregon, on stage performing during the day and leading the flash mob dance, “Break the Chain.” She’ll also perform later at the Historic Armory in Ashland.

As a survivor of both domestic violence and sexual assault, Lovely is a committed feminist and social activist who uses her music, album liner notes and social media platforms to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual abuse, homelessness, mental health, addiction and suicide prevention.

Lovely says that “Fish Outta Water” is her most politically active, socially conscious work. One track, “Hades’ Bride,” is about domestic violence, and another, “Next Time,” is about how women in power might create change. She sees music as a way of establishing relationships and making impact, a way to cross all classes and all genres and a way to reach people who may not read the newspaper or watch television.

“Just think of Woody Guthrie and ‘This land is your land, this land is my land’ — the lyrics of a protest song during the Depression,” Lovely says. “Everybody knows the song, and it’s become part of American history, the American vernacular. Think of all the protest songs of the ‘60s, the war.”

Lynne Pethel of Ashland believes music and dance are forms of healing and activism, so she brought Lovely into the Women’s March Southern Oregon lineup and is also organizing a flash mob dance in Hawthorne Park to “Break the Chain.” Pethel became involved in the Women’s March Southern Oregon after learning about Redemption Ridge and Grace House, which provide services and safe space to female survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation.

“The song is so powerful,” said Pethel of “Break the Chain,” “This song speaks of social needs.”

“Break the Chain,” by the authors of “The Vagina Monologues,” could be the sound of the women’s movement today. It is a song of confidence and female strength and is a siren demand for respect and acknowledgment. Its message is in movement and voice, a call to arms to stop rape, abuse and incest. “Break the Chain” shouts “Walk, Dance, Rise” as women move together, in joyful concert and determined consensus.

“Break the Chain,” like the Women’s March Southern Oregon, are expressions of working toward a future where cultural norms and civil policies reflect mutual respect and support, where violence against women is not tolerated, organizers say. According to march organizer, Sharon Dohrmann, the Jan. 19 events are a celebration of increasing awareness of violence against women and also about grassroots mobilization to build a coherent, coordinated voice to campaign for social justice.

“The direction this administration is taking our country in is wrong. If you want to do something about it, if we want change, then as citizens we have to be visible, we have to make noise, we have to talk about it,” Dohrmann says. “It’s hard to feel like you’re making change by yourself, but when you see 10,000 people out there who feel like you, it feels emboldening.”

Social justice groups from all over the Rogue Valley are involved in the Women’s March Southern Oregon, including OR2Indivisible, Keeping Ashland Women Safe, the Ashland Branch of the American Association of University Women and others. Students associated with Southern Oregon University’s Native American Student Union and the SOU Women’s Resource Center are sponsoring a bus that leaves from The Hawk on the Southern Oregon University campus at 10 a.m. and, while SOU students have priority, any open seats will be available to the community. Participation in the Women’s March builds political strength and offers visibility to community groups.

“Our mission is to advance equity though advocacy, equity and research and to promote leadership among young women in our community,” says Mimi Pippel, former president of the Ashland AAUW branch, and keynote speaker at the 2017 march. “The reason we’re involved in the Women’s March is because we want to support anything that helps women run our country. We believe that it’s time to get a woman’s point to view in making decisions that affect women’s lives.”

For more information on the Women’s March Southern Oregon, visit womensmarchsouthernoregon.com or tune in to Alaya Ketani’s KSKQ Community Radio program for an interview with Lovely at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19. KSKQ broadcasts at 89.5 FM.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Karen Lovely performing with blues guitarist Ben Rice. Rich Saputo Photography