(Photo by Andi Parkinson)
(Photo by Andi Parkinson)
Thousands of women, men and children gathered in towns across Maine last Saturday to demonstrate in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people gathered at the State House in Augusta to demand equal rights for women, immigrants, Native Americans, LGBTQ individuals and people of color as well as economic, reproductive and environmental justice. Another sister march in Portland drew 10,000 marchers, with smaller demonstrations taking place in Brunswick, Sanford, Tenants Harbor, Vinalhaven, Kennebunk, Ellsworth, Eastport, Lubec, Gouldsboro and Fort Kent. 

“Make no mistake, we are moving forward and our purpose is clear: women’s rights are human rights. Human rights are women’s rights,” said State Senator Shenna Bellows (D-Kennebec), addressing the crowd. “Our march is righteous. It is a march for unity at a time of division. It is a march for hope at a time of fear. It is a march for faith at a time of doubt.”

LGBTQ activist Jacie Leopold, a transgender woman, recounted being physically attacked by her coworkers at a workplace Christmas party in Arkansas back in 2014. The attack left Leopold with several broken bones in her face, but she said she found little support from the police in following through with an investigation. 

“We face a world and a political system that tells us we do not have the right to exist, yet here I am,” Leopold told the crowd. “And here we are. And together we are not backing down. The world is not fair. It is not just. Yet we smile and face each day. We put our best foot forward and strive to be better than the day before while constantly standing against lawmakers and politicians that will deny us access to health care, equal employment opportunities and the basic right to exist without discrimination and harassment. I’m here today to ask that all of you come together and continue to include all women, all feminine-identifying people.”

Lewiston resident Fatuma Hussein, founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, described her experience as a Somali immigrant and woman of color living in Maine and called for all Mainers to stand up for vulnerable populations. 

“I am very fortunate to be in front of you. To be an immigrant that has the opportunity that I have today,” said Hussein. “As we stand here there are many immigrants in the world that have been displaced. Many children and women who have no shelter, no hope, no place to turn to. They don’t have a second chance like I have had. They don’t have the opportunity to go to school. They don’t have communities…. They don’t have a home to go to. That’s the place we come from. America represents the opposite of all of that.”

Julie Kahrl, founder of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights, urged the demonstrators to continue the fight for women’s health care and access to safe abortions. 

“We remember when girls were sent away mysteriously for 10 or 12 months. Nothing was said about why,” said Kahrl. “We remember when women were dying of unsafe abortions. We do not want to see a comeback of the days when there used to be three wards in a hospital for women. One for o.b., one for gynecology, and a third for women who were suffering from unsafe septic abortions. No, we will not let that happen again.”

Speaking on behalf of indigenous women, Penobscot Nation tribal member June Sapiel called for the protection of “nebi,” the Abenaki word for water, from polluters. 

“As native people we understand the fear that you’re all feeling,” said Sapiel. “We have lived it, but we have survived. We’re still here. We will continue to stand for our nebi, for our Mother Earth and for our rights as indigenous people.”

An estimated 3.3 million took part in the historic Women’s Marches in 500 cities across the country and the world in what was likely the largest day of demonstrations in US history. The previous record for a turnout at a demonstration in Maine was about 10,000 at the 1987 International Paper Strike, according to Maine labor historian Charles Scontras. Prior to that, in 1970 about 2,000 demonstrators protested the Vietnam War in Portland, said longtime activist and University of Maine professor Harlan Baker. With 15,000 to 20,000 protestors taking to the streets in Maine this past Saturday, the day is one for the history books.

“Based only on my observations of the past 47 years,” said Baker, “I think it is safe to say it was one of the largest, if not the largest demonstration in Maine history.”