At noon today, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
At that very moment Mohamed Ali Ibrahim stood in the State House Hall of Flags in Augusta and read aloud the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The reading was part of an event organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, and it brought together a cast of Mainers representing an unusually broad swath of the political spectrum.
It’s not something that you see at the State House very often: a progressive Democrat standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a staunch, conservative libertarian.
But here, Democratic state Sen. Shenna Bellows, former director of the Maine ACLU, reads from the 4th Amendment, which protects Americans’ right to privacy.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue …” she reads, beside Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey, a fierce advocate for federalism, who reads from the 10th Amendment.
“The powers not delegate to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively. Or to the people,” he reads.
The ACLU’s Rachel Healy distributes pocket-size U.S. Constitutions to the hundred or so people gathered here to hear the speakers, who form a line near the lectern.
The timing of the event is no accident. The people gathered here decided to skip the pomp and circumstance taking place 500 miles away in the nation’s capitol, where the newly sworn-in 45th president of the United States thunders about a country mired in a dystopian crisis, weakened by terrorists, illegal immigrants and politicians.
Gangs are running rampant. Burned out factories litter the landscape like “tombstones.” Impoverished, undereducated Americans are without hope, Trump says.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump says.
But he may face some resistance. The ACLU has vowed to sue Trump if he tramples on American civil liberties. When he won the election, the organization warned that many of his campaign promises were unconstitutional and unlawful.
On Thursday, the group filed its first Freedom of Information Act request seeking to discover conflicts with Trump’s business interests.
The Hall of Flags event is less confrontational. The speakers read from sections of the Constitution that align with their background or interests. And they represent an array of backgrounds and political views.
Marena Blanchard, an African American woman, steps up and presented the 13th Amendment.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” she reads.
David Trahan, head of the Sportsman Alliance of Maine and a former Republican state senator, recites the 2nd Amendment.
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” he reads.
Paul McCarrier, an advocate for legal marijuana, reads the 18th Amendment, the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, and the 21st Amendment, which repealed it.
Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason, a Republican, spoke for the 1st Amendment, and Eliza Townsend of the Maine Women’s Lobby gave voice to the 19th.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” she reads.
By the time the reading ends in the Hall of Flags, President Trump is finishing his inauguration speech.
“And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you, God bless you and God bless America,” he says.
And Alison Beyea, the director of the ACLU of Maine, makes her own pledge — to fight for the protections and ideals in the document that Trump had just sworn to protect.
“Equality, justice and freedom. Thank you,” she says.