I am tragically uninformed … I don’t follow the news, just go about my business. Because of that, I am as much a part of the problem as those feeding us misinformation … we don’t make it better by continually ignoring the problem.
By A.M. Sheehan
NORWAY — “There’s a lot of fear right now, here in our neighborhood.”
Chris Davis of Norway says people are scared, especially about President Donald J. Trump’s immigration order.
More than 70 people gathered Sunday, Jan. 29, in Norway to share their concerns and work together to address them.
Café Nomad opened its doors for the gathering and provided free coffee. People brought food to share. At every table in the cafe people crowded their chairs and squeezed together.
Discussion was animated and emotional. Notebooks were scribbled in and postcards written.
Organized by two Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School graduates in their mid-20s — Erika Lundstrom and Malaney Cassano — in an effort to bridge divides and take action together as a community, the response to a post on Facebook was much larger than they anticipated.
Otisfield resident Zizi Vlaun helped them with logistics.
We Mattah! was the sentiment of this newly formed Western Maine Take Action (WMTA). The premise of the meeting was to have space for civil dialogue as a community concerning different issues that the country is facing and to make plans for future action to work together for the good of the community.
And although the idea was fomented from the recent Women’s March, Sunday’s gathering included concerned men as well.
People came from far and wide – Norway, Oxford, Paris, West Paris, Sumner, Buckfield, Newry, Bridgton, Mechanic Falls, Rumford. Otisfield, Harrison and Turner – representing a myriad of concerns ranging from the environment to reproductive rights to immigration.
Most, they say, have never done anything like this before. They were clear, however, that this was not a gathering of citizens “whining” about the results of the election.
“We are concerned about the policies, the cabinet, the lack of transparency, the refusal to address conflict of interests, nepotism, and a slate of inappropriate cabinet candidates,” Otisfield resident Lee Dassler ticked off, “a sexual predator in the White House, cabinet choices, nepotism, shifting of power in the president’s circle, freedom of speech, health care, reproductive rights, the environment, education and the arts.
“It may have been more the breathless first week of the Trump administration that triggered the need to meet, share concerns, and strategize,” she continues.
Tables full of people brainstormed how best to get their concerns to their representative in Washington, D.C., and locally.
People say they want to “turn discontent into unifying action and slow the juggernaut down,” while being embarrassed by the president’s behavior and having deep concerns and fears about how America is being perceived globally.
“We’re here,” explains Shirley Hamilton of Otisfield, “because Muslims are not being treated right … .”
“The only reason to fear a Muslim is if you have never known one,” adds her husband, Henry Hamilton.
“We have lived for 23 years in 50 countries,” he continues, explaining that they do humanitarian relief – he in animal science and production and she as an agricultural economist, teaching how to make money from farming – internationally focused on food security.
“We have lived in 21 Muslim countries and we have yet to meet a terrorist.”
And then there’s Earl Morse of Waterford, a fresh water ecologist. He tells how Scott Pruit is the worst choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency because “he will undo all that’s been done to keep Maine water clean.”
“Did you know our fish are toxic to pregnant women? It’s right in the handbook!”
At another table Shelly Thorp of Harrison says she is here “because I care … about Trump’s executive orders and people’s welfare, the environment, LGBTQ, social justice.”
“Everything,” says Rachel McGarry of South Paris, “everything. Reproduction rights, the environment, social justice … .”
This week, Kris Wright of South Paris says, has opened his eyes.
“Since November ‘think globally, act locally’ now means something different to me.
“I am tragically uninformed … I don’t follow the news, just go about my business. Because of that I am as much a part of the problem as those feeding us the misinformation … we don’t make it better by continually ignoring the problem.”
Others were in agreement about not believing this could happen, they say.
Patti-Ann Douglas says she came to find a place to be with other people to channel anger and sadness in a positive way so they can effect change.
WMTA is using “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” written by former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party, saw them take on a popular president, organize locally and convince their own members of Congress to reject President Obama’s agenda … and win, as a guide.
Staffers claim the biggest lesson from its rise was the Tea Party’s organization and that by focusing locally they won nationally.
The guide is full of grassroots advocacy strategies that, according to its authors, actually work. These include such things as letter writing, town hall meetings and other public events, coordinated calling, consensus on a goal and solid knowledge of the issues. Using social media to share, share, share is encouraged.
Organizers Lundstrom and Cassano plan to expand their reach for the next meeting by going beyond Facebook to reach people.
“The slogan of WMTA is ‘We Mattah!’ and it is our hope,” the two say, “that through this group our representatives will recognize that the opinions of their constituents matter and that they are working for us to best represent our interests and needs as a community.”
On Sunday, Feb. 12, the group will meet again from 2 to 4 p.m. at Café Nomad to begin putting ideas into action. WMTA is not politically affiliated and has a strong focus on inclusivity. A topic for the Feb. 12 meeting will be how the group can serve as bridge builders within the community and work on important needs and issues that matter to everyone, not just individual groups, such as health care and economic insecurity. Café Nomad will again provide free coffee and tea, as well as snacks. Everyone is welcome to attend and participate.
The “Indivisible” guide can be found at www.IndivisibleGuide.com. Cassano and Lindstrom can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-5225 and email@example.com. Information can be found on the facebook page: Western Maine Take Action.