READING THE NAMES IN LEWISTON, MAINE
Today was the fifth time in recent months that peace activists from around Maine occupied a congressional office to bring the reality of war to the politicians who continue to ignore growing public opinion. Previous readings have been done in Portland, Bangor and now today in the working-class town of Lewiston.
The office of Sen. Collins sits on the busy downtown Lisbon Street which was full of cars and pedestrian traffic all day long. Just across the street from the senator's office sits a small park where we set up a staging area with many signs, banners, a table and literature. Peter Stewart (South Montville) sat at the table all day long talking with passers-by and was even successful in getting a few of them to cross the street and join the office occupation for awhile. One mother and her child entered the office and rang the bell for a spell that chimed for six long hours after each name was read.
The local Lewiston Sun Journal sent a reporter and photographer. The photographer stayed for what seemed like several hours taking an enormous amount of pictures. One particular photo background shot he worked on for some time was the one of the Bush and Cheney pictures on the office wall. One local TV station also came and took extensive footage and did an interview.
Dud Hendrick and Pat Wheeler once again came down from Deer Isle and brought the huge banner that was blank except for the words "Iraq War Dead." As each name was read an X ( red or black) was marked. By the end of the day the banner was completely covered in X-marks.
At one point I stepped outside for a break. When I came back in I noticed that the framed pictures of Bush and Cheney had been taken off the wall and were sitting face down on a table. I later learned that Maureen Block (Swanville) had taken them down - surely noticed at some point by the staffpersons who took turns at the reception desk - but never to be returned to the wall.
Richard Clement (Gardiner), one of many Veterans for Peace members present today, once again brought his large notebook full of U.S. soldier names. There was one difference today though. Richard has now had to go to a second notebook to hold the growing list of names of dead GI's. Richard's own son just recently returned from a year in Iraq. At one point, when Casey Sheehan's name was read, the whole room froze as his name is one we all know.
Months ago Karen Wainberg (Portland), Mary Beth Sullivan (Brunswick), and I met with some folks from the Lewiston area to plan today's action. We were impressed with the way they spread the word throughout their community, did media work (one local radio newsman did an advance story and it ran on five local stations), and they showed up and were there until the end. Judy & Kevin Simpson, Bonnie Shulman, and Bonnie Lounsbury (all from the Lewiston/Auburn area) were great organizers for this reading of the names and we are grateful to them.
After the action several asked when do we do it again. They felt we must continue to put pressure on our senators to hold a town hall meeting on Iraq. (Our pressure on Rep. Tom Allen eventually forced him to hold one on July 17 in Portland that 500 people attended.)
We will be doing this again soon. We are now talking about visiting the office of Sen. Olympia Snowe in Biddeford next, perhaps sometime in mid-October. First we need to line up some local organizers, have a meeting with them, and then promote the action.
Each time we hold these reading of the names we get more new people to turn out. This is what we are trying to do. We are trying to get people who feel strongly about the war to take a step out into action. The reading of the names is a heart-rending and effective way to bring the war home. Please join us in the future.