AUGUSTA — More than 30 area residents took their Presidents Day holiday to voice their opposition to President Donald Trump’s recent national emergency declaration.

In snow and below-freezing temperature, protesters stood up in front of the Edmund S. Muskie Federal Building on Sewall Street. They chanted and held signs, expressing their dissent of Trump’s decision on Friday to help fund a promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Honks came in from passing vehicles, some accompanied by waves of support and some with thumbs-down in opposition.

The Associated Press reported the president said he would use executive orders to move about $8 billion from federal military construction and counter-drug efforts in order to fund the wall. The move drew bipartisan criticism and could face legal challenges.

More than 270 similar events were held on Monday across the country. Other rallies in Maine were planned in Portland, Brunswick, Lewiston, Bangor and Bar Harbor.

Army combat veteran Ken Lambert, of Wiscasset, said drug- and immigration-related threats are not prominent enough to sap money from military construction funds.

“I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a national emergency in relation to (some) greater threats that the country faces,” he said. “For military families that live in substandard housing, that money is going away, so they’re going to have to wait that much longer for a political stunt.”

“It demeans the oath we take,” he said, citing some rebukes of Trump by former military officers. “We swear to defend uphold the constitution … then the military is used as a pawn in a political stunt.”

When asked if drug and immigration problems at the southern border compared to other national security threats, Lambert cited a Military Times report based on a survey of 900 soldiers that showed 60 percent of soldiers believe immigration is a small threat to national security.

The protesters who spoke with the Kennebec Journal saw the border wall as a divisive symbol rooted in the misrepresentation of a “border crisis.”

Brian Alves, of Washington, said Trump’s rhetoric and decision-making has unearthed “the underbelly of the Republican party,” which he said was hate-motivated.

“We’ve learned a lot from this; we’ve found the people that actually hate in this country,” he said. “With that knowledge, we can move forward, and we need to teach our young people … about involvement (in politics).”

Akiba Mermey, of Manchester, called the wall “a monument to Trump’s ego.” When speaking about the wall, Trump cites the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico into the United States. Mermey said another drug crisis closer to home requires more national attention.

“One of the biggest problems is opioids here,” he said. “Most of the drugs are coming in other ways.”

“We all want a safe border, and we all want good immigration policy,” he added. “I think the notion of demonizing a group of people, it’s a gross misrepresentation of what is going on.”

Lead organizer Jessica Gorton, of Readfield, said she did not believe illegal immigration and related drug activity was as much of an emergency as Trump claims.

“If you want to talk about emergencies, let’s talk about climate change,” she said, adding that violence against minority groups is also an emergency facing the nation.

Trump made the announcement Friday, shirking a Thursday vote by federal lawmakers for a bill to allocate $1.4 billion for border barriers, far less than the $5.7 billion Trump said he needed for 200 miles of barriers.

The Augusta protest was organized by Capitol Area Indivisible, the local chapter of a national grassroots progressive advocacy group, and MoveOn, a left-wing social justice group. The same groups organized an event at the State House in November protesting the resignation of Jeff Sessions.

 

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666
[email protected]
Twitter: @SamShepME


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