(Photo by Jody Crane)
(Photo by Jody Crane)
The night of the November election became a turning point in citizen activism in America when a Facebook post by a woman in Hawaii led to a global phenomenon: the January 21 Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

The question many were asking right after the march was whether the level of interest could be sustained and turned into effective grassroots political action. 

There were indications it would.

Indivisible, a grassroots volunteer effort started by a small group of Democratic staffers in Congress, adapted the citizen action strategies used by the Tea Party and wrote a how-to guide to resist the Trump agenda on specific issues. It is downloadable for free on their website, indivisibleguide.com. The site also lists upcoming congressional votes and other action. 

Indivisible also encouraged citizen action groups to form at the local level.

Any chance that protests would flame out quickly were put to rest over the first two weeks of the Trump administration. In Maine and across the country, local political activists started organizing.

Maine Indivisible launched on January 15. There are now 34 citizen action groups listed on their website that are located within 100 miles or so of Camden. Midcoast Indivisible groups are having their first meetings this week and next in Rockland, Belfast and Damariscotta. 

Indivisible Lincoln County Maine  in Damariscotta held their first meeting on Monday, February 6, with one attendee claiming the meeting packed the Friends Meeting House to the rafters. Another participant shared information about a new phone app, Countable, that is poised to make legions of informed citizen activists. 

Countable gives a listing of all pending congressional votes, the implications of a yes or no vote, and when the vote is scheduled. Users can put in their name and Zip code and the app pulls up contact information for senators and representatives for that location. The user then can click on an upcoming vote, write a short message or shoot a short video recording right on the app, and send it directly to the elected official. It takes about a minute.

Belfast Indivisible has its first meeting scheduled for Sunday, with an as-yet unconfirmed location. Rockland’s Midcoast Maine Indivisible will hold a meeting Wednesday, February 15, 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the First Universalist Church in Rockland.

Other groups formed shortly after the election have various missions, from teaching how to be an effective activist to organizing weekly protest rallies in front of the offices of elected officials. 

New groups on Facebook keep forming every week, making it difficult to tell if they are related to established political advocacy organizations like the left-leaning Maine People’s Alliance, which has paid professional staff and is registered to solicit donations.

For example, a newspaper report this week indicated that Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a group that held a protest against Trump’s policies last Sunday, was affiliated with the Maine People’s Alliance.

“They aren’t,” said Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance. Tipping said the Maine People’s Alliance passes on information to their members about protests organized by others. Sometimes they also contribute a speaker to an event, but the Maine People’s Alliance isn’t sponsoring them, organizing them, funding them, or representing them.

“Many of these groups are happening organically,” said Tipping. 

 Facebook has become the tool of choice to announce meetings and protests, but one popular web page also gets a lot of traffic: maineresists.org, which lists upcoming political protests and actions. 

Still, Facebook is the more flexible and interactive social organizing tool and various groups popping up have coordinated on the social media platform to keep from diluting their efforts.  

Midcoast Women’s Collective, for example, has turned into a de facto clearinghouse for grassroots political events in the midcoast. Pam Maus of Rockland and Jill Smith of Camden started the group just after the election. In addition to announcements about what other groups are doing, the Midcoast Women’s Collective hosts teach-ins on how to do activism. They showed a film on Monday in Rockland on how Mainers concerned about the climate became organized as citizen activists. 

On February 28, the Collective is holding a discussion with elected officials present to weigh in on civil discourse. On March 30, they are holding a panel discussion about  the difference between journalism and fake news. Both are being held at the Rockland Public Library.

 


Maus, a filmmaker with a particular interest in women in politics, has been politically active for years. She started looking on Facebook for local people who wanted to be activists. Smith was looking on Facebook, too. They teamed up.

“There are so many citizen action things popping up right now that the question the loosely organized groups are asking is: What do we do to add to what’s happening?” said Maus. “We are all trying to figure out how to organize and educate ourselves.”

 And it’s evolving without much trouble because all organizations are working together formally or informally, according to Maus. 

“People get in touch and ask me if I can email the information,” said Maus. “I can’t. That’s not the way this works.  We’re sharing information between groups. Facebook is why this works.”

Suit Up Maine Action Network, another Facebook group,  updates a weekly list of  political action around the state on Mondays. It automatically posts to the Midcoast Women’s Collective page.

On Tuesdays, Take a Stand for the Common Good, Congressional District 2, organizes weekly rallies through Facebook at Poliquin’s, Collins’, and King’s offices to express concerns over Trump’s agenda.

Facebook has also rallied activists to use the old-fashioned form of communication, the telephone, to bombard elected officials on specific issues.

Senator Susan Collins’ offices have been overwhelmed with telephone calls, according to Collins’ aide Annie Clark.

Maine callers have complained about busy signals and not having their voices heard by Collins’ staff at a time when the senator is a key vote on controversial Trump cabinet appointees, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and whether Planned Parenthood will lose its funding.

Clark said up to 90 percent of the calls coming into Collins’ office are out-of-state calls about Trump’s cabinet nominations. Clark indicated those calls make little difference in Collins’ decision-making process. Collins wants to hear from Mainers, said Clark.

“Many of the Maine calls are people calling with questions about her Affordable Care Act replacement plan,” said Clark, referring to a bill Collins introduced that would give states like Maine a block grant to devise a health care insurance program how they see fit. The details of the proposal are not yet fleshed out, and many have questions about what would happen under LePage if his administration were in charge of health care reform.

“Unfortunately, our phone lines are being jammed by callers from other states, and I think that’s really unfortunate,” said Collins, in a statement.

Collins said Mainers who are calling with questions about veterans benefits and Social Security benefits are having a hard time getting through.

Collins urged protesters to write in through her website. Clark said the website registers Zip codes and comments quickly.

The calls are unlikely to stop, and informal groups are holding house parties to write postcards to Collins, and many of those concerned about Trump’s policies want to see the senator face to face. 

The group Mainers for Accountable Leadership announces #SusanSundays on Facebook. The Sunday rallies are designed to put pressure on Senator Susan Collins to come home for a town hall-style meeting to hear what her constituents have to say about President Trump’s agenda.

Last Sunday’s rally was in front of the Lewiston courthouse. Next Sunday’s will be announced on the group’s Facebook page.