It’s going to be a busy week for Portland Police Chief James Craig.
On Thursday, President Obama comes to town – and with him the inevitable jawing match between those who think he’s a modern-day messiah and those who think he’s a radical Muslim with a fake birth certificate.
But if you want to witness a real challenge in crowd control, take a peek at what Craig and his department will face Saturday afternoon in the heart of downtown Portland.
It’s called “Portland’s First Ever Female-Bodied and Allied Topless Adventure.” Put more simply, an expected 30 or more women, along with “allied” male sympathizers, plan to walk from Longfellow Square down Congress Street to Tommy’s Park at the top of the Old Port with nothing on from the waist up.
Reaching to dial 911?
Don’t bother. It’s all perfectly legal.
“There’s no law against it,” Craig said upon hearing about the event for the first time Friday.
Still, he couldn’t help but ask, “What’s this about?”
It’s simple, explained organizer Ty MacDowell, 20, of Westbrook, in an interview Friday.
On a personal level, MacDowell likes to swim during the summer at East End Beach and has always yearned to do so topless. Beyond that, she and her fellow adventurers want to expose what they see as a glaring double standard.
“You see a man walking down the street (with no shirt on), and it’s just accepted – that’s part of society,” MacDowell said. “It’s not the same for us – and it should be.”
McDowell stressed that Saturday’s stroll is not intended to be a full-blown protest (too confrontational) or political demonstration (too organized). In fact, no advance publicity whatsoever was planned before a Facebook posting about the walk found its way into the latest issue of Portland’s bi-monthly West End News.
(“Full topless nudity is strongly encouraged,” the posting advised. “But for the more modest, pretty electrical tape will be in supply.”)
“It’s not a march,” MacDowell said. “We’re just going to take a casual stroll down Congress Street and see what happens.”
Probably not much, at least from a legal standpoint.
Calls last week to Portland City Hall and the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office confirmed that while it is illegal for men and women to expose their genitals in public, local and state laws contain no such prohibition on uncovered breasts – male or female. (Although, considering some of the men who insist on parading around topless, one could argue that there should be.)
Maine, in fact, is one of a handful of “top-free” states that have no laws banning breast exposure, according to the national organization gotopless.org. The group lists the others as Hawaii, New York, Ohio, Texas and the “coast of California.”
Nadine Gary, 45, of San Diego, a real estate manager with a heavy French accent who helped found gotopless.org in 2007, said last week that she had not heard of the Portland event.
“But I’m happy you’re telling me about it!” she added cheerfully.
Gary said her organization, which plans to hold National Go Topless Day on Aug. 22, already is well aware of last year’s flap over the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, not to mention the ruckus 12 years ago over the young woman in Newport who insisted on letting it all hang out whenever she mowed her lawn. (A subsequent effort to pass a local ordinance forcing her to cover up was soundly defeated.)
“It’s comfort. It’s fun. It’s freedom,” Gary replied when asked why going topless is so important. “It doesn’t mean that at every single moment, I’m going to take off my shirt. But sometimes it’s hot and you can take off your shirt. Why can’t I have that option?”
For the record, it should be noted that gotopless.org is a spin-off of the Raelian Movement, which holds that we were all created by little human-like creatures from outer space who plan on returning in 2035. No word yet on what they will – or won’t – be wearing.
But we digress.
Here in Maine, organizer MacDowell conceded that April might be a tad early for Portland’s First Ever Female-Bodied and Allied Topless Adventure. But it won’t be the last such event, she promised, and she fully expects the turnouts to go up with the temperatures.
MacDowell also understands that not everyone will be thrilled with Saturday’s spectacle.
“I want the event to be social and casual,” she said. “I don’t want it to be, like, aggressive – unless it has to be.”
Translation: Lay a hand on anyone walking topless, MacDowell promised, “and you’ll get punched in the face.”
Which brings us back to Chief Craig.
“I think the only thing we can do is monitor it to make sure that one, they’re not interfered with and two, they don’t create a public disruption,” Craig said. “It certainly will be something that will cause a reaction of some sort.”
Still, we can all rest assured that Portland’s finest will have the situation, shall we say, covered.
Mused Craig, “I’m wondering how many officers are going to volunteer for this detail.”
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: