I went to the bridge on Sunday, as I nearly always do. The usual crowd was there: three artists, a retired social worker who summers in Maine, my husband (woodworker) and I (teacher). Our messages were as follows: NO TO WAR, CREATE PEACE, DON'T BOMB SYRIA, KEEP THE OIL IN THE SOIL, NOBAMA DEPLETED URANIUM = WAR CRIME NONSANTO BIG OIL ENDLESS WAR and BLACK LIVES MATTER Duh.
Our decade plus of standing on the bridge each Sunday for an hour at noon entered a new phase last week when we were joined by two young men who mounted an aggressive counter protest.
At first one of the young men, who appeared to be college age and was dressed in corporate logo jock-type attire, passed by us on foot. He looked up from his phone long enough to read our signs, then said, "What do you think you're doing here? None of this matters. You're not making a difference," angrily without breaking stride.
I didn't hear what my fellow bridge denizens said to him but I said, "We got your attention though, didn't we."
About ten minutes later he reappeared with a friend of similar appearance and age. He had a sign that said NONE OF THIS SHIT MATTERS → (the arrow was meant to be pointing to us) and his friend had a barely legible, probably hastily made sign that said WHITE LIVES MATTER T@#%P 2016.
The boys then began to engage passing cars by shouting slogans such as "Deport the immigrants" and "Vote for [the demagogue with the bad hair]"
Abby, always one to engage in dialogue when people turn up on the bridge, began asking them questions related to their messages such as, "Do you want to deport all immigrants or just Mexicans?"
The boys skittered away as if we might infect them and they didn't want to stand next to us, but one replied, "All immigrants." Abby pointed out that immigrants picked the vegetables they ate but they did not seem interested in discussing this. They continued engaging with the people in the cars and ignored us until we began to depart as we always do around 1pm.
"Ha! You're leaving!" they said, apparently pleased that they had driven us away.
"We always leave at 1," Abby said mildly. They gave no appearing of hearing her.
The first time I stood on the Margaret Chase Smith bridge in Skowhegan, Maine was 13 years ago during the cold days just prior to the "Shock and Awe" attacks on Iraq. I met my future husband there. The bridge was thronged with liberals holding candles protesting what was perceived as George W. Bush's impending war. During the remainder of Bush's term in office we stood there sporadically as well as marching and protesting U.S. wars in many different venues around the state and the nation.
When the photographs of detainees being abused at the notorious Abu Graib prison came out, I was deeply disturbed. (Little did I know at the time that similar abuses were going on at a secret prison in Chicago whose thousands of victims were predominately black men.) Besides writing letters to the editor and to my alleged representatives, I could think of nothing I might do to address my grief and horror. So, I returned to the bridge that Sunday. My husband came, too.
We stood alone for a few weeks because it was now the Obama administration waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and supporting Israel's criminal attacks on Gaza, and Saudi Arabia's vicious attacks on Yemen. Eventually the core group of people opposed to U.S. wars of aggression whether waged by Democrats or Republicans reassembled and we have continued the Sunday protest to this day.
|July 21, 2016 in Skowhegan, Maine|
If all the people who have ever stood with on the bridge were to come next Sunday, we would fill the sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. The 300 or so vehicles that pass by in an hour, plus the pedestrians, would see us as numerous as they traversed the intersection of Route 201 and Route 2, major north-south and east-west highways through central Maine.
I suspect that if the two aggressive youths saw strength in numbers they would hesitate to harass us. Bullies are nearly always cowardly, seeking targets who appear to be isolated and lacking support. I also suspect that if we had left the BLACK LIVES MATTER sign home they wouldn't have responded. Let me just say this now: it will be there every week, from now on.
This is an open invitation to all who agree that black and brown lives matter, and that U.S. foreign policy is deadly, racist and immoral. Even those who believe in fighting "terror" but think bombing Syria is too expensive and would rather fix our crumbling infrastructure or build solar power with the money instead are entirely welcome.
This is what the brown shirts look like this time around. They are emboldened by the open racism of the demagogue with the bad hair being nominated by one of the big corporate parties as its presidential candidate.
(How did this even happen? Ask the corporate press who promoted his name recognition and, eventually, candidacy relentlessly.)
Will you shelter in place as they come for your neighbors?
It's time to decide: which side are you on?