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Thousands Rally Across Maine in Support of Women's Rights

One day after the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, thousands of women and men turned out across Maine Saturday to raise their voices, show solidarity and pledge to stand up for women's and immigrants' rights, for the LGBT community and for the environment.  In Augusta, the crowd at the State house was so large that Capitol Security couldn't provide an estimate of its size.  At one point cars trying to get off I-95 were backed up for more than a mile, delaying the start of the rally for about half an hour.  Eliza Townsend of the Maine Women's Lobby kicked it off. "I have worked in politics for 25 years and I have never seen anything like this! This is extraordinary!" she told the applauding crowd.
Women and men of all ages and ethnicities joined the rally, many of them wearing pink, pussycat hats and carrying banners and signs supporting Planned Parenthood, promoting unity and equality and condemning hate. 
Fatuma Hussein of Lewiston is a Somali woman who's lived in Maine for 15 years. Accompanied by her young daughter, she broke down when she described her personal struggle of making a new life in this country.  But she was reassured from someone in the audience who shouted, "You are welcome here!"
"I know," Hussein replied.   

Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public
Maine Public
Fatima Hussein addresses the crowd while her young daughter watches an interpreter for the deaf.

Daniel Oppenheim is a physician from Falmouth. "I'm here - I can't even count the reasons that I'm here. I'm wearing a tee-shirt that says, 'I stand with Planned Parenthood.'  I think it's extremely important that men's voices are heard on the subject of women's reproductive rights which are being profoundly threatened at the federal and state level."Phyllis Coelho of Belfast says she came for many reasons, too. "I'm worried about our democracy, the little shreds that we have left, being taken over by neo-fascism. I'm worried about women's rights and the rights of everyone!."Speakers, such as Democratic state Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, the former director of the ACLU of Maine, acknowledged the fear people have about the future under a the new administration. But Bellows and others encouraged them to remember that they are not alone, that it is important to stay engaged, and that there is power in numbers.

Credit Andrew Catalina / Maine Public
Maine Public
State Sen. Shenna Bellows, a Democrat from Manchester, addresses the crowd at the Augusta rally.

"When you look back at our nation's history of civil rights it's one of both tragic loss and setbacks and forward action of people," Bellows said. "And we are a more just and equal society than we were at our nation's founding or even 50 years ago. And so I have confidence that good people coming together and persevering will prevail."
And Maureen Drouin, of the group Maine Conservation Voters, left them with this challenge: "I am here to ask you:  Will you head into the arena and fight?"
"Yes!" the crowd responded.

"Will you fight for clean air?" "Yes!" "Will you fight for clean water?" "Yes!" 
"Because it is time," Drouin said. "We are the Maine fighters and I know we will always be on the front lines for our kids, for our environment and for our way of life. Thank you."
In Portland, thousands of women, men, kids - and a few dogs - marched in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington.
"After the election which was so divisive and wounding, I wanted to do something for the community, because i think that's where we start, locally," said Kathryn Yates, who organized the Portland march.


Credit Nora Flaherty / Maine Public
Maine Public
Kathryn Yates, who organized the Portland rally, in front of participants getting ready to march.

And Yates says the turnout was a big surprise. "It's funny - when I started this, I applied to the city for a permit in November, I estimated two to three hundred, and I was really hopeful we would get there. If you believe the FaceBook numbers we'll be close to 3,000."

Police are estimating that the crowd was actually much bigger - at more than 10,000, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Among those participating in the Portland march was Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Family Crisis Services. Speaking to the crowd, she said it's important now to come together as a community to deal with issues that affect women and vulnerable people.

"Domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, stalking, dating violence - these are all issues that are not individual problems," Hobbs said. "They can be made better by a community that supports us, or they can be exacerbated through the laws and the policies and the norms that we hold."

Women's marches were held in other Maine communities Saturday, including in Brunswick, Sanford and Kennebunk.

Nora is originally from the Boston area but has lived in Chicago, Michigan, New York City and at the northern tip of New York state. Nora began working in public radio at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor and has been an on-air host, a reporter, a digital editor, a producer, and, when they let her, played records.