SALEM — Late Monday night, Josh Arenstam stood on Washington Street with a paint roller dripping with bright orange paint.
With fellow Salem resident and local LGBTQ advocate Gary "Gigi" Gill directing traffic, Arenstam walked into the street — near the old district courthouse — and pressed the roller against a faded orange block in what is a heavily used, and colorful, crosswalk downtown. As he did so, he thought about the Stonewall riots — a series of demonstrations by the LGBTQ community in 1969 that sparked the gay liberation movement — and how that moment in American history connects to the protests spreading across the country over George Floyd's death.
"Even a little bit of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, with my intersectionality of Pride, felt important," Arenstam said, taking a break from the painting. "It feels good to come out to do something. It feels really good to do — especially given the current circumstances that the black community is going through."
For more than a decade, volunteers have painted crosswalks around downtown Salem to match the colors of the Pride flag. The work always happens late at night, and it always coincides with June's designation as Pride Month. This year, the volunteers refreshed the paint on two crosswalks — on Washington Street and a second on Derby Street by the Waterfront Hotel.
With protesters, nationwide, demanding an end to police brutality against minorities and the COVID-19 pandemic still curtailing most normal activities, including June events for North Shore Pride, the annual painting tradition struck a chord for those giving their time.
"It's such an isolating time," said Brenda Kissane, a downtown Salem resident. "It's important that, even if people are alone, they can see that people made an effort. If there's ever a time for community, it's right now."
The work Monday night was aided by several public officials, including Salem city councilors Ty Hapworth — who organized the activity — Patti Morsillo, Meg Riccardi and Josh Turiel.
"When you come off the train, it's the first thing to welcome you," Gill said of the Washington Street crosswalk.
It's the one visible part of North Shore Pride this year. All the other events have gone virtual due to the ongoing pandemic. That includes an interfaith service on June 25, a virtual parade on the 27th, and a drag show held toward the end of May.
"We're going live with flag-raising ceremonies that are on the internet now," Gill said. "I was determined this year, out of all years, to make sure that it's visible this year, because of what we stand for and what the community stands for."
For more on North Shore Pride, its events for June and other information, visit northshorepride.org.