Chalk Up A Victory For The Little Guys: #Aegis9 And #1stAmendment Prevail

It was February 1 now and it was snowing. Again.

A handful of us had gathered on the pavement thinking about our government building weapons of mass destruction and polluting our relation the Kennebec River. Tormenting sea creatures with sonar and destroying the habitat of millions to create ports for gigantic nuclear-capable ships aptly called destroyers.

The Aegis 9 at the Bath Police Department after booking

On April 1, 2017 nine of us had been arrested outside General Dynamics shipyard in Maine, an historic site called Bath Iron Works (BIW), named after the town we were in. Our signs and banners as we stood outside the lovely old courthouse the morning before the trial called for war dollars to to brought home and for tax giveaways to return to state coffers. Called for BIW to build trains or sustainable energy systems. Cynthia Howard, dressed as a polar bear, called out the Pentagon as the biggest polluter on the planet. She was probably warmer than I was.

“I just saw a good omen,” my husband said as morning commute traffic advanced by fits and starts through the slushy intersection. A mouse had run into the road from across the street where our friends stood with their signs. It froze as vehicles passed, then ran a few more feet and froze again. Mark expected to see it crushed but it somehow made it all the way across the busy street without harm. Chalk up a victory for the little guy.

Other members of the Aegis 9 began to arrive. They had all been arrested with us in a snowstorm in April protesting in front of the 5th largest WMD maker in the world.

A juror — whose family including herself had worked for BIW for years — had slipped through the jury selection process and was now eliminated just before the trial got underway. Her late husband’s obituary made much of his relationship to the Navy and its wealthy contractor in this company town.

Eliminating juror #92 was our first win of the day.

Justice Dan Billings had been general counsel to Maine’s Governor Paul LePage before ascending to the bench. He now presided over Sagadahoc County Superior Court in the matter of the State of Maine v. Bob Dale (who is 92 years old) et al.

The Zumwalt 12 at the Bath Police Department after booking

Known as a libertarian, Justice Billings had previously convicted three of the Aegis 9 of obstructing a public way when they sat down in the road in front of BIW where the christening[sic] of a Zumwalt destroyer was underway. Now those three stood with us again, this time charged with criminal trespass for allegedly being on BIW property protesting the christening[sic] of an Aegis destroyer.

Counsel for the defendants not representing themselves in the matter was Logan Perkins of Belfast, Maine. Perkins herself had been on trial for criminal trespass in her younger days, before going to law school and being accepted as a member of the bar. Pro bono work on behalf of those facing criminal charges for protesting was a special interest of hers. Her expertise would be on display throughout the day, and on a conference call the previous evening Logan had expressed excitement in anticipation of an expected two days in court.

Jessica Stewart under arrest

Our second win came when the judge ruled not to allow the prosecutor’s motion to introduce evidence of prior convictions by some of the defendants.

Jessica Stewart, Catholic mother of three and paralegal, had been found guilty of trespass at BIW as a teenager, cutting the fence and entering the shipyard to pour blood on warships under construction there. Did the state prosecutor know this? As Stewart remarked to me later, “It was all in the discovery. I never made any attempt to conceal it.”

Unfortunately for the state’s young prosecutor, his superiors had decided to join the nine cases into one for the trial. And Justice Billings was of the opinion that introducing the priors could prejudice jurors against the other defendants. (Actually my husband and I had a prior arrest at the White House for failure to disperse while protesting on an anniversary of the war on Iraq during the Obama administration. We had pled out, payed a fine, and been released. Did the State of Maine know about that?)

Some of us gave opening statements: Bruce Gagnon, Jason Rawn and Mark. Logan spoke on behalf of Jessica, myself and a Veterans for Peace member from Massachusetts who was unable for health reasons to be present.

The artist Natasha Mayers took off her carbon footprint which would not fit in the police van.

The state had opened its case by claiming that we had been arrested because we were trying to enter the event, were trying to block the gate after failing to enter, and had intended to disrupt the christening[sic] ceremony. Perkins was brilliant in cross examining the state’s witnesses: Stan Cielensky, chief of security at BIW, and Lt. Savary of the Bath Police Department. They testified of their close collaboration on that snowy April Fool’s Day, in between Cielensky scrambling to get more salt delivered through a different gate into the slippery shipyard.

Videos shared by the defense and the prosecution showed the Aegis 9 standing in a curving line with our backs toward the gate where the public could enter, about 10 feet behind us. An aerial photo of the shipyard showed an alleged property line we had crossed, barely visible in key locations. Logan descibed the line’s appearance as “scuffed” and noted that it was snowing on April 1st. Lt. Savary agreed and then Logan asked a classic Maine question: “Was it stickin’?” Lt. Savary wasn’t sure, but he did remember being cold.

Cielensky made a crucial error when he elaborated after being shown the aerial photo and asked by the prosecutor if this is what the area at BIW near the south gate looks like. “Yes,” said and then inexplicably added, “in the summer.”

We had expected our defense to rely on a white line in the snow that most of us were unaware of having crossed, but by the time the state rested it was clear to Logan that they had failed to make their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Much of their testimony, including cross examination, had admitted that we protesters were excluded while other people were allowed inside the event to which the public had been invited. Excluded because of our signs and their messages in opposition to building or christening[sic] warships funded by taxpayers.

Cielensky even volunteered that BIW employees who were seen talking to  protesters were barred from entering such events.

Jason Rawn in costume as Senator “An-gas” King

These events are lavish public relations opportunities for the biggest employer in town. Senator Angus King was seen entering on April 1, and we knew it was likely that all of Maine’s congressional delegation were on hand to “celebrate” with General Dynamics, a reliable source of campaign funding.

I was dressed as Senator Susan Collins that day, with my power suit displaying the logos of many of the corporations that Collins accepts money from.

BIW is embarrassed by our presence across the street, in full view of people entering the south gate. Bruce estimated he has protested at BIW about 100 times over the years. BIW was drawing a line in the snow at tolerating our presence on “their” side of the street. Even though they have buildings up and down both sides of Washington Street, the south gate is where their celebratory banners are hung and where the crews of new ships customarily parade through in their dress white uniforms.

Corporate news outlets fawn over the shipyard owners, the crew, the workers, and the politicians in puff pieces that rarely mention the scores of protesters. (One reporter told protesters that if he was seen talking to them, he wouldn’t be allowed in to the event.)

Our day in court came to an abrupt end on February 1 as Justice Billings agreed with Logan’s opinion that the state had failed to prove that our arrests were reasonable. An early indication of the way the wind was blowing was when he asked the prosecutor — who was arguing that we could have put down our signs and walked through the gate like anyone else — “Do you seriously think Bruce Gagnon would ever get through that gate?” He had also asked the prosecutor, “If someone blogs about how evil Walmart is –and lots of people do that — but they don’t do anything else, does that mean that they aren’t allowed in Walmart’s stores?”

You can hear the judge’s reasoning for dismissing the charges against us in the video made for community access tv by Regis Tremblay, one of many supporters present in the courtroom.

Logan said later that evening as we celebrated at a pot luck dinner,
“The 1st Amendment is alive and well in the State of Maine, and I appreciate that the court was willing to hold the Bath Police Department to the standards contained in the U.S. Constitution.”

Amen to that, sister.

Logan Perkins of Belfast Criminal Law and me celebrating after our day in court.
Now if we could only chalk up our next victory blocking the $60 million corporate tax giveaway bill before the Maine legislature submitted on behalf of General Dynamics. LD1781 is set for a work session where the public may listen but not participate. The Taxation Committee in Augusta has a Work Session on LD 1781 on Thursday, February 8 at 1:00 pm in the State House Room 127

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