HUNDREDS MARCH around the Brunswick Mall in January in solidarity with hundreds of thousands taking part in the Women’s March across the country.

HUNDREDS MARCH around the Brunswick Mall in January in solidarity with hundreds of thousands taking part in the Women’s March across the country.


President Donald Trump’s unexpected ouster of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday has added more fuel to the fire for local activists already protesting the administration’s policies.

Comey’s firing has raised questions about an independent investigation into any untoward relationships between the Trump campaign and Russia. Local activist Jessica Mahnke said that this latest turn of events only bolsters her group’s call for a special prosecutor to launch an independent investigation, free from any tampering by the president.

Indivisible Sagadahoc is already planning a rally for Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Bath Custom House to protest Republicans’ health care bill and to call for an independent commission to investigate Russia ties in the Trump campaign.

“This is really reminiscent of Watergate,” said Mahnke. “And the overt reasons that are given for his firing are blatantly ridiculous.”

Mahnke said her members are already organizing to make calls and advocate for an independent investigation.

“We’re starting to target the Department of Justice. There’s a number you can call and a comment line, and that’s what we’re going to start to see if we can bring a lot of pressure on that line.”

Saturday’s protest will be the latest in a number of demonstrations that have taken place in Maine and the Midcoast in the aftermath of Trump’s election. Following Trump’s unexpected victory in November, Mahnke said she was dejected and unsure of what to do.

“The day the election results came through, I entered a deep depression and anger and I was really immobilized for many weeks,” said Mahnke. “As the Women’s March started organizing, it brought a little bit of light to my eyes.”

Watching Rachel Maddow’s show, Mahnke learned about the Indivisible Guide, which walked people through forming local, grassroots groups to resist the Trump agenda in whole or in part.

“I immediately decided I was going to form a group,” she recalled.

With help, Mahnke learned how to use social media tools to create the group and reach out to other Sagadahoc residents discontented with the election results. Just a few short months later, the group boasts about 240 members through email and Facebook. While early rallies were small, with less than 15 people gathered at times, Indivisible Sagadahoc’s last rally had more than 60 people in attendance.

“I think there is a tremendous fear of our democracy being co-opted, and I think that good citizenry is like a good muscle that is not developed,” said Mahnke. “When it’s threatened, the people rise.”

The group has organized multiple protests in the months since Trump was inaugurated in January, from a Tax Day protest calling for Trump to release his tax returns to a demonstration at the Portland office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to call for the special prosecutor to investigate alleged Trump-Russia ties.

Indivisible Sagadahoc, however, is just one of several groups that have formed in the last six months to resist various aspects of the Trump agenda. Indivisible groups have been created in Harpswell and in Lincoln County, along with other groups such as Brunswick Area Rising, as part of a grassroots opposition to all or parts of the Trump agenda.

Gathered at Mall

Many of the groups kicked off after the Women’s March the day after the inauguration. While hundreds of thousands gathered in D.C. and across the country at sister marches, around 400 Midcoast residents gathered on the Mall for a vigil organized by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick.

“I think when I heard about the Women’s March initially, I was out walking with friends,” said UUC Minister Sylvia Stocker. “And I had various friends who were planning to go to Boston for the Women’s March.”

But Stocker preaches on Sunday, making travel on Saturday difficult.

“I can’t be the only one in the Midcoast area who can’t make that long journey,” Stocker recalled thinking. “So I floated the idea of doing (a vigil here) with the co-chairs of the Working for Justice Committee here.”

Stocker got the necessary permit and signed up online as a sister march, expecting maybe a hundred people to turn out at most.

“Well, I think the vigil started at 10 in the morning: I called the police department at 9:45 and I said there’s already more than 100 people here,” she recalled.

With around four times the expected turnout for a rally in the snow in January, members of the church decided to continue with the momentum. Lynn Ellis took up the baton of continuing the work begun with the Women’s March, ultimately forming Midcoast Voices for Democracy, which is still affiliated with the church but in many ways has taken on a life of its own in the greater community. The group decided to continue the spirit of the Women’s March by taking part in the 10 actions in 100 days.

“There’s clearly a yearning for a place to use your voice in non-violent protest that this group met a need for,” said Ellis. “I’ve been really delighted to see that people want to engage in this way — that we can respect each other and our differences and still protest.”

“I’m very excited about it,” said Stocker. “I love the idea that our church can be a place where the community can gather and to look at issues of justice and peace and inequality and all of those things. I think it’s wonderful.”

In line with church

While the church is nonpartisan and wasn’t interested in protesting a specific politician or party, Stocker noted that the themes of the Women’s March are in line with the church’s.

“The idea of the Women’s March, to promote women’s rights, fell under that rubric of ending inequality, regardless of who anyone voted for president,” said Stocker.

“I think in that way (supporting rights and equality) it’s certainly not promoting one political party over another. I think there are probably people from a variety of parties, including independent voters, who come to that group,” she added.

On Saturday, April 30, Stocker and UUC hosted a Brunswick Climate March on the Brunswick Mall, gathering around 200 protesters months after the Women’s March. Afterward, activists gathered at the UUC for a potluck to reflect on the first 100 days of the Trump presidency — and their resistance to his agenda. While the event neatly bookended the first 100 days, the groups that have formed seemed poised to continue resisting enthusiastically.

“Certainly, it does strike me that the populace in general seems more politically engaged right now than I can remember it being in a long time,” said Stocker.

“The Midcoast Voices group has decided to stay alert, stay in touch, and decide (whether to take part in further actions),” said Ellis. “We’re going to continue to … look for ways we can be involved and make our voices heard in a positive, nonpartisan way.”

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