Hundreds Take to the Streets in Portland to Protest Racism

Aug 21, 2017

One day after about 40,000 counterprotestors marched in Boston to protest what was billed as a right-wing "free speech" rally, close to 1,500 people gathered in Portland to rally for racial justice.

 The event near Portland Back Cove on Sunday was organized by the Maine People's Alliance and co-sponsored by dozens of other Maine organizations.  Those gathered heard speakers disavow racism and white supremacy and denounce the violence that took place in Charlottesville a week ago.

"What we saw in Charlottesville was an angry, hateful vision of America, a torch-lit America of anti-Semitic white supremacists hoping to divide us along lines of race, religion, sexuality and national origin," said Rabbi Erica Asch of Temple Beth El in Augusta. "We will never go back to the days when racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism were considered normal and acceptable. We will never forget the horrors of slavery, of segregation, or of discrimination. We will never allow our country to be controlled by white supremacists. Never."

 Francine LaPorte, a resident of Tenant's Harbor and Portland, attended the rally. "I think it's the most important thing that I could do today with my time is to come out and show support for all our brothers and sisters and to show that we will not allow this country to sink into racism," LaPorte said.

 Among speakers at the event was Portland at-large City Councilor Pious Ali. Ali said counter-protests, like the one in Boston on Saturday and the smaller one in Portland on Sunday, are a way for communities to "push back" against hate.

 "Racism and white supremacy have been in this country for a long time, and generations before me have fought and marched," he said. "And I don't want my daughter and our kids and our grandkids to continue to do this." 

 Sam Payne, a 12-year-old white middle school student from Portland, wore a Black Lives Matter sweatshirt and attended the rally with his family. He said all kids need to talk about racism in their schools and at home.

"Yes, they should know about racism so that they know how to deal with it in the future," Payne said. "And I have a lot of friends who, I think, probably have to deal with a lot of this kind of stuff, so I just wanted to come out here and make them feel safe."

 Deqa Dhalac, a Somali who lives in Maine and who is involved in immigrant rights groups, told the crowd that what happened in Charlottesville can happen anywhere.

 "Today, we are witnessing a group of people who are blinded with hate. These people want to turn the clock of history back to its dark days–we shall not allow them to succeed," Dhalac said.  "I am a Muslim, black, immigrant woman - and I'm not going anywhere!"

 Several speakers, including Hamdia Ahmed, said that President Trump's administration promotes hatred, violence, and division.  But, says Ahmed, "The things you are outraged by today, that has been a reality for Muslims, immigrants, black people for the past decades. Today we are fighting against white supremacy." 

 At one point, University of Southern Maine sophomore Maryan Isack urged the crowd to stand up and lock arms. "Lock arms to lock away the hate happening in the world right now. Lock arms in solidarity for Heather Heyer, whose life was taken away just or fighting for social justice in Charlottesville."

 At the end of the event, some of those gathered made their way in silence down Baxter Boulevard towards what organizers say was the site of KKK headquarters and cross burnings in Portland between 1923-1926. Although the building is no longer standing, KKK flyers have been found in midcoast Maine as recently as last week.

 The event in Portland on Sunday event was among others across the country and throughout the weekend.