April 06, 2020
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For activists and others, nonviolent strategies against harassment and assault

Ashley L. Conti | BDN file
Ashley L. Conti | BDN file
Maryanne Mattson (center) plays a drum during a peaceful protest on Bangor Mall Boulevard in November. In light of the recent violence against the peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock, Maine tribes and their allies held a flash mob round dance. For a few minutes a group of over 100 people blocked traffic at the intersection near Toys R Us to pray, sing and dance.
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The outcome of the recent presidential election has elevated fears of harassment, verbal abuse and even physical violence against minorities, women, Muslims, LGBT individuals and other marginalized people for some Mainers.

That’s why Bangor-area organizations will offer trainings this weekend in “bystander intervention” to teach people of all ages who witness such incidents to intervene safely and effectively.

At the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine in Bangor, coordinator Karen Marysdaughter said Tuesday that there is growing concern for the safety of minority groups in the area, as well as for the safety of people who participate in public demonstrations, protests and vigils.

“These concerns have grown in response to the recent elections,” Marysdaughter said. While there have been few reports of violence since the election, she pointed to an incident in November in which an African American man was allegedly assaulted in downtown Bangor and said he was told that President-elect Donald Trump would deport him. In another recent case, she said, area homeowners raised a Confederate flag on their property, a move that was widely perceived as an implicit threat against minority groups.

“There are incidents like this happening all over the country. We’re seeing a real uptick in hate speech and assault,” Marysdaughter said. “We want to be prepared. People need to be ready to get involved, to speak out against harassment and hate crimes.”

To that end, the Peace and Justice Center is partnering with other area activist groups, including Food AND Medicine, the Health Equity Alliance, the Bangor Racial and Economic Justice Coalition and Women’s March on Washington, to offer training in effective strategies for derailing harassment and physical violence.

Trainer Clara Porter, founder and director of the Portland-based organization Prevention.Action.Change, said she sees a widespread and growing need for awareness, self-confidence and concrete tools for coming to the defense of people who are being threatened or harassed.

“There is a real hunger for knowing what to do, how to step in and help people be safer,” she said. Her two-hour trainings teach people how to identify and assess a threatening situation and then to come effectively to the aid of the target of that threat. She also encourages responders to photograph incidents, take notes and be prepared to submit information to local law enforcement or other sources.

“It is important that people acknowledge that they are the ones to take action,” and not count on someone else to intervene, she said.

Sometimes simply stepping forward and embracing the victim as an old friend will break up the harassment, she said. In a crowd situation, raising a general alarm against the harasser can alter the dynamic, she added, while in an extreme case, calling 911 may be the best recourse.

The goal is always to de-escalate the potential for violence, Porter said.

Porter said many older people have taken her trainings in preparation for public demonstrations such as the upcoming Women’s March on Washington. Older activists “bring a lot from their own experiences in the past,” she said, including a deep understanding of the principles of peaceable assembly and nonviolence.

For longtime activist Larry Dansinger, 71, of Bangor, the trainings offer an opportunity to brush up his protest skills and learn new ways to counteract violence and harassment.

“I don’t want to look the other way when someone does something unpleasant to someone else,” he said. “I want to be able to respond in a way that calms and de-escalates the situation instead of having the opposite effect and making things worse.”

Bystander Intervention Training will be offered to individuals 16 and older from 10 a.m. to noon, and again from 1 to 3 p.m., on Sunday, Jan. 8, at Food AND Medicine, 20 Ivers St. in Brewer. There is a sliding-scale fee of $10 to $20. Additional trainings are scheduled at other sites around the state. For more information, contact the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine at 942-9433.


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