Censored artwork hits the road

Supporters take prisoner’s paintings for a walk
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  September 20, 2006

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SIDEWALK TALK: Marchers, escorted by Portland parking-enforcement trucks and journalists, head up Forest Avenue
The controversial art of Thomas Manning, a man branded a cop killer by his detractors and a political prisoner by his supporters, returned to the USM campus that had sent it packing one week earlier when some seventy supporters gathered there last Friday to stage a rush-hour “moving art show” protest.

On the night that was supposed to have been the opening reception of the show “Can’t Jail The Spirit: Art by Political Prisoner Thomas Manning and Others,” the art that had been taken off the walls took to the streets. Several of the larger paintings, wrapped in cellophane to protect them from possible bad weather, were held up by the crowd for all to see, while many others carried smaller representations of the censored work.

Not everyone was there in support. When a small cadre of grim-faced Teamsters arrived to let their silent, glowering presence serve as a counter-protest, older marchers could be forgiven for feeling a moment of trepidation watching their approach. They perhaps remembered the Hardhat Riots in New York City after the May 1970 Kent State massacre, when construction workers, outraged that Mayor John Lindsay had ordered flags to half-mast in remembrance of the four Ohio dead, tore through the campus of Pace University, beating up hippies while cops watched. Thankfully, these are different times. The Teamsters present at Friday’s protest seemed quietly disgusted, but not enraged. And they were unfailingly polite.

“We don’t think it’s an appropriate subject,” said Jim Carson, whose union represents about 600 Maine police officers.

After demonstrating on campus, the protestors began marching to Congress Square, where there would be speakers, music, and a chance for the public to comment. The large group slowed traffic as it moved through Deering Oaks Park, with traffic stopped by police officers whose union had objected to the display of the art at USM. As they approached the gathered television news crews, their truck antennas visible all the way down on Park Avenue, the numbers swelled to over a hundred, not including media. Most of the passersby who acknowledged the crowd honked in support, but one guy who screamed “murderer” at the marchers did so while leaning out of a red Hummer, which drew a pretty big laugh.

“I’m just glad one of my kids isn’t walking down the street carrying one of that asshole’s pictures,” said a Portland police officer who parked his cruiser at the corner of State Street and Forest Avenue to watch them go by.

At Congress Square the speeches began. Paulette d’Auteuil, the wife of Bob Robideau, a man who was acquitted of charges from the same 1975 Pine Ridge Indian Reservation shootout that American Indian activist Leonard Peltier was sent to jail for, read a statement calling for the release of American political prisoners by Raymond Luc Levasseur, a one-time codefendant of Manning’s who, as a member of the Portland Victory Gardens Project, helped organize the USM show. (Levasseur had been cautioned against attending by his parole board.)

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