MORRISTOWN -- The second annual Women's March on New Jersey drew thousands to the Morristown Green, including the new governor and his wife, candidates for public office and residents from Sussex and Warren counties, who marched in concert with identical events taking place all across the country on Saturday.

Gov. Phil Murphy lead the nearly 10,000 activists -- an estimate from a police officer, which has not yet been confirmed -- almost a half-mile down South Street, from town hall to the Morristown Green.

The marchers and organizers said the event was a show of support for women's issues, ranging from equal pay to contraception rights. The march, whose theme was "Power to the Polls," was also intended to motivate people to the ballot box.

But it was New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy who became the center of the day's events when she detailed her own experience with sexual assault for the first time in a public setting.

"Today I will add my voice to this growing chorus," Murphy said. "Three decades ago, as a college sophomore, I was sexually assaulted."

While attending the University of Virginia, Murphy said, she was attacked by a man who jumped out from behind the bushes and tried to sexually assault her. She said her attacker threw her on her back and pulled up her shirt and skirt. When she started to scream, the man grabbed a nearby crabapple in attempt to stuff her mouth and silence her. Murphy said she bit the man's hand, which gave her time to flee. She ran into a fraternity house where a party was going on, and students there called the police.

Murphy said the man who attacked her was never convicted but he was arrested and jailed some years later on another criminal charge.

"Until today, only a few have heard my story," Murphy said. "Now, you all know. I tell this today not for me, but really for all of you. Surely, among us is a woman who has been silent about her own story."

Former 24th District Assembly candidate and Blairstown resident Gina Trish was standing in the front row when Murphy told her story. She said the first lady's words were "powerful."

"That was astounding and moving and just really culminates why we're standing here today," Trish said of Murphy's story.

Sussex County Democratic Committee Chair Leslie Huhn echoed Trish's sentiments about Murphy's story and called it "tremendously moving."

As for the event itself, Huhn, of Sparta, said seeing the number of women on stage who are candidates for public office was evidence of change happening both locally and nationally.

"From the moment I got involved in politics I could see that women's voices were under-represented," Huhn said. "I think women had that moment last year and decided to get engaged. They saw so few people representing women and decided to get involved for the long haul."

Tamara Harris, a Democratic candidate running for office in the 11th Congressional District, said she was encouraged by the thousands of women, men and children that she spoke with and witnessed participating in Saturday's march.

"This is a movement, but we have allies all across the spectrum," Harris said. "It's humbling. But it makes me optimistic, it makes me very hopeful. And I hope that it can continue."

Newton resident Sally Gibson said she attended the inaugural Women's March last year in Washington. This year, Gibson stayed closer to home but said the energy felt similar to 2017. Gibson said marching gave her a "sense of empowerment" and a voice to speak out.

"They say this is an annual event," she said, "but I hope it doesn't have to be."

 

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