Well over 200 demonstrators gathered at Mill Park, in Augusta, on Sunday, November 12, to take part in the Love is Louder rally organized by State Representative Regan La Rochelle and the Greater Augusta Unity Committee. The event came in response to recent incidents of vandalism and hate speech in Augusta and Hallowell and a rise in neo-Nazi organizing taking place statewide. The rally featured eight speakers including elected officials, the Augusta chief of police, various faith leaders, and the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, as well as live music, sign and banner painting, and crafts and activities for families.
On August 12, two dozen masked men assembled at the State House behind a banner reading “Keep New England White,” to chant racist and anti-immigrant slogans at passersby. Similar demonstrations occurred in Portland and Lewiston in 2022. Following the August event, swastika graffiti appeared at Mill Park and Cony High School and at least one city council meeting in Hallowell was disrupted by anonymous “zoom bombers,” calling in remotely to shout racist, antisemitic, and homophobic comments at the council members.
Addressing the crowd on Sunday, LaRochelle explained that the Unity Committee organized the event following an outcry from residents looking to “do something” to counter the recent series of hateful displays. “(Residents) were looking for an outlet,” said LaRochelle, “to show what our community and the beautiful state of Maine is truly about.”
The rally began with an up-tempo performance by Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations. Following a moment of silence and a reading of the names of the shooting victims in Lewiston, LaRochelle first introduced Augusta Police chief, Jared Mills. Mills spoke briefly to commend the organizers and liken the days event to other random acts of kindness that he and his department encounter daily.
Next, Hallowell mayor, George LaPointe, described the values of love, tolerance, inclusiveness, and community as fundamental to the character of his city, despite occasional reminders that not everyone feels the same way. “Our work to become a better place is everyones and is ongoing.” LaPointe closed by paraphrasing Edmund Burke, saying, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of hate is for good people to do nothing.”
Rabbi Erica Asch from Temple Beth El, in Augusta, spoke next, connecting recent events in the capital area to a larger national trend. “What has been happening here in Augusta is part of a larger pattern of antisemitism in our country. Since my family and I moved here to Maine 10 year ago the number of antisemitic incidents in the United States has quintupled… Most synagogs, including ours here in Augusta, regularly have police officers patrolling during our holidays and our Hebrew schools.” Rabbi Asch spoke to the many ways the Jewish community feels targeted today and of the importance of events like Love is Louder to grow solidarity.
Augusta mayor, Mark O’Brien, celebrated the Augusta City Councils unanimous decision to establish a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee as sending a decisive message that the city welcomes, recognizes, and values all people.“We don’t always have the power to change the hatred that exists, but we do have control over how we react. We will not be accepting. We will not be intimidated. We will not be silent…No matter what our backgrounds or upbringings, we are united in striving for the protection of individual rights, free and civil debate, and the rejection of intolerance.”
Jonathan Strieff is a freelance contributor to The Town Line newspaper
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