SWAMPSCOTT – Ellen Levine of Swampscott felt she “had to do something” in response to the protests that have roiled the nation and Greater Boston since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.
So, in a town that is less than 1 percent African-American, Levine mounted something of a campaign. She ordered 90 ‘Black Lives Matter’ lawn signs for local residents. You might say they flew off the shelves after she mentioned it on the Swampscott 01907 Facebook page.
“People are coming to pick them up … one person bought 10 signs to distribute,” said Levine, who grew up in Maryland, attended Brandeis and moved to the North Shore more than 30 years ago. “When I put the order in for 90, I had no idea if they would sell. I’m ordering 90 more.” She is selling the signs for $11 and donating the proceeds to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. To date, she has distributed 140 signs.
Some people “stirred it up on the post saying, ‘Why not say all lives matter?’ But most people on the Swampscott Facebook page were respectful,” said Levine, who added that the majority of people who requested the signs ranged in age between 20 and 40 – and represented a younger demographic in town.
Coming from a politically liberal family that campaigned for President John F. Kennedy, Levine remembers handing out anti-Vietnam War leaflets at the age of 11 at a Washington D.C. rally and stuffing envelopes as a volunteer for Students for a Democratic Society from age 11 to 13. Levine, who is 63, felt moved to act when the world started demanding something be done about police brutality this month.
A professional violinist, Levine says she’s passionate about “my Jewish community, Israel and teaching music.”
Levine and her husband, Joel, are Orthodox Jews.
“My family and the family I married into and most of the Orthodox Jews I know are either right-wing because they are pro-Israel or they are like me, bleeding-heart liberals. Modern Orthodox tends to be progressive. That doesn’t mean they are left or right. Usually, they are socially conscious. Among my Orthodox friends, people tend to be politically active. If there’s a rally in Boston about Israel or anti-Semitism, my friends are going to be there,” she said.
Levine says her childhood and upbringing, which focused on social justice, drew her to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I was raised to consider everybody as a member of humanity. Everyone is a worthwhile person, there are no differences. Why now? I was hearing people being interviewed saying ‘You can’t sit and do nothing. If you are not helping to solve the problem, you are part of the problem.’ I took that to heart,” she said.
Levine hopes that the movement will push people to the ballot box and vote, which she believes will advance political reform. “Police reform is going to come from our local representatives. I’m hoping there will be tremendous political reform,” she said.
When Levine attended Swampscott’s Black Lives Matter rally earlier this month opposite Kings Beach, she took a knee alongside Swampscott Fire Chief Graham Archer and Swampscott Police Chief Ron Madigan. Along the with 300 silent protesters, they knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to mark the amount of time George Floyd was held in a choke hold and pinned to the ground.
One of the organizers, Toyah Pass, 21, a black woman from Swampscott told the predominantly white crowd, “Your silence during the racism in this country is what is allowing us to be killed. We’re being murdered,” she said as she called for unity. It is “a fight of all races against racism.”
Meanwhile, Levine is planning “something else” for Swampscott that will include black and white residents. “I want to meet and brainstorm to see what we can do besides the signs,” said Levine.