2017-05-17 / Opinion

Din of Protesters Grows Louder By The Day

BY LISA SAVAGE

This month Governor Paul LePage convened an opiate addiction roundtable in Augusta that was attended by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Why Maine? Because in 2017 an average of one person a day dies of an overdose. It’s a serious problem.

The press conference on the steps of the State House had to be moved inside because protesters led by Planned Parenthood had gathered, noisily demanding full coverage for reproductive health care for women. Even inside, videos recorded that the chanting was loud enough to drown out the man at the podium. News coverage of the roundtable made reference to the protesters — thus amplifying their voices.

We who protest at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard are often told that protesting does nothing. Routinely barred from entering the regular “christenings” when a warship is completed, our messages typically reach thousands in attendance. Reporters have told us they are warned that if they photograph or interview protesters outside the gates, they won’t be allowed inside to cover the event.

It’s difficult to tell whether our congressional delegation see us as they are whisked through the gates in cars with tinted windows. On April 1 we did catch of glimpse of Senator Angus King at BIW, a man who shook my husband’s hand in Bath’s 4th of July parade while campaigning and told him that bringing our war dollars home “sounds like a good idea.” Senator King continues to support huge budgets for the Pentagon and to accept campaign contributions from its contractors. I’ve shared copies of the UMass study demonstrating that military contracting is a poor jobs program with Senators King and Collins, and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin -- but the problem persists. Thus, I protest.

That Saturday I joined a tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience at BIW and was arrested for trespassing. News outlets around Maine carried a brief mention of the protest. As I arrived at school to do my regular job on Monday, coworkers cheered as they had seen television coverage of the protest. Now, my antiwar message has spread to many unusual audiences due to an unintended consequence of my arrest.

I was up for an internal transfer in my district, but the school board abruptly tabled the matter at their April meeting. I learned why a few days later: one board member was angry that I was protesting “the government who pays her salary.” Whether or not General Dynamics is now de facto an arm of the federal government would make an interesting high school debate topic, but whether my 1st amendment rights exist on the weekend probably would not. I’m entitled to freedom of speech on my own time whether my employers agree with me or not.

As a member of the Maine Education Association I took the matter up with my local president and he contacted our MEA uniserv director for advice. Officers there discussed the matter and advised that the district would have a “PR nightmare” on their hands if they attempted to discipline an employee for protesting outside of school hours at BIW.

Meanwhile, another colleague contacted me to say she wished she could be as brave as I was. One wondered why I had not told her of my arrest. As a public servant, I do not use my position as an educator in order to espouse my political views. I see my job as teaching children how to think, not what to think. Many of my coworkers marched in the massive women’s protests this year. Currently many are worried about the prospect of nuclear war. My arrest upped the ante and prompted them to ask, “Why am I not doing that?” I am delighted that they are discussing this possibility, because only mass civil disobedience is likely to bring the highly profitable war machine to a halt.

The final unlikely audience for my protest message was the law firm Drummond Woodsum, which provides counsel for most of the school districts in Maine. Consulted by my school board, they billed time explaining the 1st amendment and its ramifications. Subsequently, the board voted unanimously with one abstention to approve my transfer.

The Aegis 9 look forward to a jury trial this summer to explain our actions and further share our message: building warships at BIW is bad for the environment, bad for jobs and dangerously bad for our collective karma. Building sustainable energy solutions would be much better. As we await trial, we plan to go on protesting. My next unlikely audience: classmates at my 40th Bowdoin reunion in June. Will I disrupt commencement with my urgent plea for peace in our time? Stay tuned.

Lisa Savage is a teacher and literacy coach in RSU #74, a member of Peaceworks, and a director of the Maine Natural Guard campaign. She blogs at Went2theBridge.blogspot.com.

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