AUGUSTA, Maine — When organizer Amy Hale opened Monday’s Maine Patriots Day rally in Capitol Park with “Greetings, fellow patriots,” she was addressing an eclectic mix of gun rights defenders, food sovereignty advocates, marijuana legalization supporters and Mainers who believe God has been wrongfully banished from government.
The afternoon rally drew approximately 60 people to hear songs and speeches, mostly variations on the notion that liberty has become an endangered species in Washington and the nearby State House, which was closed for the state holiday. This marks the fifth year that groups associated with the tea party movement, including the Maine Patriots, Maine Taxpayers Unlimited, the Maine Libertarian Party and the Maine ReFounders, have gathered in Capitol Park for Patriots Day.
After music from a duo called St. Huckleberry, including two songs about socialism “since we’re in Augusta,” Hale shared a brief history lesson about the origin of Patriots Day, a state holiday in Maine and Massachusetts commemorating the battles of Concord and Lexington, which started the American Revolution.
From a platform bedecked with a banner proclaiming “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall not be questioned,” a quote from Maine’s constitution, a lineup of almost 20 speakers and performers offered explanations about how government intrudes too heavily into Americans’ daily lives.
Although the rally falls on the same day federal income taxes are due, gun rights factored more prominently than taxation this year, mirroring the recent focus in the Maine Legislature. Many of those on hand, including Jessica Beckwith of the Maine Gun Rights Coalition, expressed vehement opposition to any form of government gun control. Roughly half of those in attendance raised their hands when asked if they had attended public hearings on gun rights and gun control bills last week before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Even speakers who addressed other topics managed to insert plugs for gun rights into their presentations. Dr. Edward Harshman, who runs a practice in Thomaston, drew a cheer from the crowd when he said questions many medical professionals ask about gun safety in patients’ homes infringe upon gun owners’ privacy rights.
“We don’t need that kind of privacy,” Harshman said, labeling the federal Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act a tool for “government snoops.”
Harshman took well more than his allotted six minutes to decry the ills of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s federal health reform initiative, and other government regulations which he believes make it more difficult to provide quality, affordable health care.
Deborah Evans of Bagaduce Farms in West Brooksville followed with an indictment of federal and state interference in small farmers’ efforts to sell dairy products to their neighbors.
“Get the feds out of our kitchens and off our farms,” Evans said, engendering more cheers from the crowd.
Many of the speakers who followed, including Gary Smart of Take Back America and former U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Ian Dodge, espoused libertarian principles, with regular repetition of accusations that most elected officials fail in their duty to protect “inherent rights” that the state and federal constitutions are supposed to guarantee.
While participants shared a pervasive aversion to governmental infringement on personal liberties, Monday’s rally took on a largely apolitical tone. Blaine Richardson, a Republican who lost to Kevin Raye in the 2012 GOP primary for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and who plans to run again in 2014, attended, as did a few other Maine Republican Party members, but most spectators dismissed the idea that the rally represented a partisan gathering.
“It’s not about parties; it’s about beliefs,” said Tim Barry of Lisbon Falls, who said he got involved in the tea party movement about four years ago.
“We show up for liberty,” said Shannon Evans of Winthrop, who attended with her husband, Kerry Evans. “Today it’s gun control. We came to hear people shout the truth — that legislators don’t follow the Constitution.”
The couple remain registered as Republicans because most of the candidates they support, including Ron and Rand Paul, are Republicans, she said.
Offering a contrasting political perspective, the liberal Maine People’s Alliance held a rally in Bangor urging reduced military spending and an event in Portland to highlight the discrepancy between what corporations and individuals pay in taxes.
But for Melinda McDonald, 15, of Mount Vernon, who attended the Augusta gathering with the Evanses and was waiting for her mother to arrive from work, the problem isn’t how tax dollars are used, it’s overtaxation.
“The government is taking our money and infringing on our rights,” she said.