Madawaska’s marching band performs in Washington

Some of the musicians lined up to perform at presidential inauguration events this week have faced intense backlash from critics of President-elect Donald Trump.

Some have even backed out.

But the appearance at an inaugural event of the middle and high school marching band from Madawaska has fractured the leadership of the Maine Green Independent Party and driven two of its most prominent members to defect and declare themselves socialists.

The reason? The director of the marching band, Ben Meiklejohn, also happens to be the secretary of the Maine Green Independent Party. And some former Green members from Portland don’t think Meiklejohn should be doing anything close to supporting the inauguration of Trump.

The 28-student band left its hometown on Maine’s northern border for Washington early Wednesday morning in order to arrive in time to perform Thursday in a concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The “Make America Great! Welcome Concert” kicked off three days of events highlighted by Trump’s swearing in as the 45th president of the United States at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.

For the members of a band known as “the Pride of Madawaska,” it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, no matter who is getting sworn in as president, school officials said. The Maine band was only one of 12 such ensembles from across the nation that were invited to perform.

“For them to be part of such a historic event not only reinforces their passions for music, but provides them a real-life lesson in civics and government that most students will only experience in a textbook or on some visual media presentation,” Madawaska Middle and High School Principal Wayne Anderson said in a media release.

Meiklejohn, who was hired by the school department in October, put in the request for the band to perform after recalling his own experience with his Kennebunk High School bandmates during the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.

“Being part of a presidential inauguration is an experience of a lifetime,” Meiklejohn said in a written statement issued before the band left Maine.

OTHER PERFORMERS FACE ANTI-TRUMP BACKLASH

Not everyone sees it that way, as some other performers have found out. The Bruce Springsteen cover band B Street Band pulled out of an inaugural performance after Springsteen expressed disapproval, and singer Jennifer Holliday backed out after hearing from angry fans who did not want her to lend support to Trump.

The fallout has now shaken up Maine’s Green Party.

Former Green Party candidates Tom MacMillan and Seth Baker announced their resignations from the party this week and said they will change their voter registration political affiliation to Socialist Party USA. MacMillan is a past chair of the Green Party in Portland and ran for mayor there in 2015, and Baker was a Green candidate for a Portland state Senate seat last year.

Maine’s Green Party achieved significant political influence in Portland, but has experienced infighting and declining clout in recent years. MacMillan and Baker announced their decision to leave in a news release that said Meiklejohn’s participation in the inauguration was the last straw.

“The Maine Greens’ political support for local Democrats over the past several years has drastically reduced our confidence in that party,” the news release said. “However, what has moved us to leave the Green Party is their lack of accountability for MGIP Secretary Ben Meiklejohn’s support for the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. Secretary Meiklejohn has proven to be a reactionary and unprincipled leader in the MGIP and their leadership is unwilling to address the situation.

“Therefore, in order to stay true to our beliefs in justice and equality as well as to be in solidarity with the millions of people rightfully worried about the incoming Trump administration, we are leaving the Green Party and plan to build the Socialist Party in Maine as a counterweight to the corrupt economic and political system. Working people need their own political party, and from now on, our time, energy and activism will be committed to the Socialist Party as the best way to move forward for Maine workers.”

NOT POLITICAL, JUST ‘BEING PART OF HISTORY’

Meiklejohn characterized the actions by MacMillan and Baker as “silly.”

“I came down here first as a music teacher and for these kids, not for political reasons,” he said during a telephone interview late Thursday evening.

Meiklejohn said he does not support Trump or most of his policies. In fact, he voted for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

“The issue is, this is the biggest, most important concert that these kids have ever played in,” he said. “Participating in a presidential inauguration is not making a political statement, it’s being part of history.”