Mainers are known for labeling anyone not born in the state (or even not coming from several generations of Mainers) From Away, but it was a pretty new Maine resident who brought the crowd in Augusta, the state capital, to a hush on Saturday. Fatuma Hussein, a Somali immigrant, spoke with her voice cracking at times. When she came to America, it was “a symbol of hope” but now that was “threatened” by “those who would intimidate us.” Hers was a message of personal resilience and political fortitude. Her two oldest children of eight were in excellent universities. As for politics, “If we all work together . . . imagine the power we have,” she encouraged us.
The Augusta Woman’s March was one of two large gatherings in Maine, each of which hit historic highs of 10,000. Other smaller events in this state of 1.2 million people added up to another 1,000. Organizers and attendees were surprised by the turnouts. Beforehand about 3000 had indicated on Facebook they would come to Augusta, itself impressive.
Much of Maine is geographically isolated from the rest of the country. As another state saying goes, “You can’t get there from here.” It is also the oldest and whitest state, two demographic facts that are intertwined. As Hussein proclaimed of immigrants, “We are the future of the state. You need us.”
We do: Maine hasn’t got enough workers. For those confronting Trumpism in Augusta, the Maine Library and Museum was a convenient place to warm up, since it provided a bonus: viewing the labor mural Maine Gov. Paul LePage removed from the Labor Department. Before Trump defamed immigrants and riled up his voters with fear of Muslims and Mexicans coming to the United States, LePage ran campaign ads featuring dark-skinned people entering the country illegally and taking “welfare.” Clinton won Maine by just under 3 percentage points, closer than other recent Democratic presidential candidates. Trump was the first presidential candidate to split the state’s electoral votes, taking the more conservative rural Second Congressional District, an area that has lost manufacturing jobs and is older, less educated and less diverse.
Augusta’s marchers were mostly white, with a wide age range. There were seven twenty-something women with a huge sign bearing a Susan B. Anthony quote, a bearded elderly man with a VFW hat next to a child with a pink pussy cap, and many in-between. Native American women chanted in Penobscot as they drummed. Not only was the crowd remarkably polite, but signs also promoted those values. One simply urging “Ethics! Tolerance! Civility!” Others read, “Build kindness, not walls,” “Compassion is the radicalism of our time” and “Make America kind again.”
Speakers and attendees invoked women’s suffrage and civil rights struggles. Signs also referenced Trump’s Russian ties; issues like climate change, health care and reproductive rights; and commitments to resist oppression and to speak out and engage in political action.
Indeed, the speakers and the crowd were primed to act, no matter how difficult it might be. As the Mainest sign of all wryly declared, “It’s going to be wicked hard but we best get there from here.”