Sunday, January 21st, 2018

USM activists protest for equality at Maine State House

Student activist Emma Donnelly leads the crowd in a chant at the &quotWe Won't Go Back" protest at the State House in Augusta.
Samantha Torr / Contributor
Student activist Emma Donnelly leads the crowd in a chant at the "We Won't Go Back" protest at the State House in Augusta.

Posted on December 03, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer

On Friday, Nov. 18, a group of protesters gathered in front of Maine’s State House in Augusta in an effort to demonstrate their commitment to progress and equality in light of the recent election. Organized by USM student Emma Donnelly, the gathering was called “We Won’t Go Back,” in reference to a strong unwillingness to revert back to what, in the group’s  opinion, is archaic and unequal legislation and government practices.

The crowd of over 60 individuals assembled at noon, full of positive energy to spread their message. Protesters of all ages attended the event. Donnelly began rallying the participants by briefly speaking to the crowd via bullhorn. Shortly after, members of the group began to share their stories and promote their cause.

Donnelly wanted to “take up space and make our voices heard” through demonstrating.  Inspired by the energy at the event, the protesters made their presence known as individuals chanted, waved signs and commiserated with one another. Individuals who spoke at the event asked protesters to think about the statuses they hold, for example as a woman or as a member of the LBGTQA community, and understand how those statuses have been and possibly will be attacked by politicians.

“This is what democracy looks like!” said Nicole Littrell

As the protest continued, Maine state police officers Jeff Belanger and Lieutenant Bob Elliot oversaw the demonstration from a distance. Their presence was understated. Both officers declared they were there to advocate for the rights of all Maine citizens.

“This is the people’s house and we want everyone who comes here to voice their opinions to be safe,” Lt. Elliot said. “We’re here to ensure that every group who has a permit to gather can do so without harmful interruptions.”

While the protest continued to advocate that groups of minorities stand together in the face of adversity under the new Trump administration and Republican majority government, legislators noticed the demonstration and had varying opinions about their presence.

Owen Casas, one of Maine’s two newly elected Independent state representatives, agreed that the protesters have valid concerns that must be addressed by the new wave of elected officials. While his agreement with the cause was understandable and practical, Casas also argued that he did not personally understand the point of protesting.

“The way that I handle a situation like this is to get involved. That’s why I’m here, working in the state house, to see what I can do to change what I don’t like,” said Casas, as he left the State House.  

Demonstrations continue across the nation, ignited by large groups of individuals who feel as if their rights will taken away by the new administration. Protesters from the Maine State House demonstration encouraged citizens to continue to speak out and voice their opinions, even if these opinions  are unpopular. Donnelly is currently spearheading the project of starting a Maine Student Action chapter for the university. Her goal “is to have student-led demonstrations, rallies, protests, and events” and, above all, to continue to fight for the values and rights she believes in.

The first meeting of the Maine Student Action chapter at USM will be Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. in Luther Bonney 302. More information can be found on the chapter’s Facebook page, Maine Student Action: USM.