On January 8, six anti-war protestors who last fall refused to leave Olympia Snowe’s Bangor office were sentenced to 24 hours in jail. It was exactly what they wanted.
Protestors engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience in Maine often are sentenced to community service, but the judge presiding over the trial instead intended to fine each activist $200. The protestors, however, requested a prison sentence, in the tradition of famous activists Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., who spent significant time behind bars for nonviolent demonstrations.
“We are willing to face the consequences of our action with the hope that others will take whatever steps they can to put an end to the occupation of Iraq and bring our troops home safely,” said Doug Allen in a prepared statement to the court on behalf of the group. Allen, a philosophy professor at the University of Maine, had never been to jail before.
The six (four women and two men, all from the Bangor area) were arrested in Olympia Snowe’s Bangor office on September 21, the International Day of Peace, and charged with criminal trespass. Five others were also arrested but agreed to pay the fine. The protestors were part of the Frequent Visitors’ Program, a Maine antiwar effort in which activists visit the offices of the state’s congressional leaders to read the names of American soldiers who have died in the Iraq War (see “A Somber Occupation,” by Sara Donnelly, December 16, 2005). The six spent their day at the Penobscot County Jail and were released on January 10. They also had to pay $80 each to reimburse the county for the cost of housing them during their stay, an unusual penalty.
Allen, 65, says he may continue to request jail time because it prompted Bangor print and television media to cover the protest and because he enjoyed talking with the other inmates in jail, who he says he “bonded” with.
“I was sitting in my cell and some of them came in, they were curious, they asked me why I was there,” says Allen.
“Well, when I told them why I was there they thought this was funny as hell. When they found out that I had voluntarily come to jail, this also was very funny and also puzzling. Right away they would say [the Iraq War is] all about oil, it’s all about rich people, people with a lot of money and power, they just screw people over. In their world you can’t do anything about it, you just have to try to survive. So the fact that we would resist, that we would protest, and we would try to change those conditions, you could tell they kind of admired this.”