Skip to content
View Featured Image

Protester Explains Protesting To Attorney General Sessions

Last Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to Portland, Maine to meet with members of local law enforcement and promote “Operation Synthetic Opioid.” During the meeting, he called for Maine Sheriffs to “prosecute every readily provable case” involving the distribution of opioids, regardless of drug quantity.

Essentially, Sessions wants to solve the opioid crisis by locking more people up.

Outside the conference, on Middle Street in Portland, about 150 people protested Sessions’ appearance. One of those people was 39-year-old Jessica Stewart, a member of Moral Movement Maine, and Catholic Workers, who drove from her home in Bar Harbor to protest what she calls the criminalization of opiate addiction and Sessions’ “zero-tolerance policy” of separating families at the U.S. border with Mexico.

An hour into her protest, Stewart was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing after an act of civil disobedience. According to a report from the Portland Police Department, Stewart sat “on the ground in front of the garage entry and exit lanes.” One other woman, 70-year old Lucia McBee, was also arrested for the same act.

We spoke with Stewart shortly after her release from Cumberland County Jail about the impact of civil disobedience, the opioid crisis, and protest fatigue.

Why did you protest Jeff Sessions’ appearance in Portland?

I wanted the opportunity to engage directly with Sessions.

For starters, he is an avowed white nationalist. He’s been very clear on his disdain and hatred for immigrants. He also has a long history of supporting policies that persecute black Americans and poor people. I don’t think he’s an appropriate person to be the Attorney General because part of the responsibility of that position is protecting the rule of law, which in turn is about protecting vulnerable people.

There are also his crimes of omission. He’s stopped upholding health care directives which is causing real harm to Americans.

I understand people were protesting about both immigration and his approach to the opioid crisis, right?

It’s interesting how the immigration situation and opioid crisis were merged together in one protest, but it’s because how Sessions operates.

There probably isn’t a person in Maine that doesn’t know someone who’s died of a drug overdose. His solution is that he’s going to ramp up enforcement, when we have proven ways to help people that suffer from addiction and lower the amount of people dying. We should be funding health care but he’s doing everything he can to reduce the amount of people on Medicaid. More people will die of drug overdoses and more people will get locked up, particularly black and brown people.

We should be reducing the amount of people we have in prison.

That’s what links the protest around these two issues together, a sense that his policy ideas on both immigration and the opiate crisis are dehumanizing.

Right. He’s got one tool in his toolbox. If there’s a crisis of any kind his solution is to lock people up. We should be seeking dignified and humane solutions to these problems. Incarceration is not the solution to every problem.

I’m firmly against, as most Americans are, Sessions’ zero tolerance policy on the border. It creates an environment where immigrants feel unwelcome. Frankly, I think ICE is engaging in criminal, immoral behavior.

We have a particular role as citizens. We need to make it clear that it’s not okay and engage in civil disobedience.

There are some protesters who aren’t comfortable with putting their bodies on the line and risk getting arrested, but you did. Why is that?

Yes, of course, people will have different approaches. I actually wanted to have a word with Jeff Sessions. But it’s so hard to get an audience with anybody in power.

We wanted to shut things down until we could talk with him. Civil disobedience is one of the few tools we have available to us. But I also support a wide variety of approaches to social change. We all have different skills and abilities. I put my body in the line to firmly say that these policies are unacceptable. To the extent that I can anyway.

Do you regret the action?

Definitely not. It was a tiny thing. But it’s one of the few things that I can do. We all should exercise our democratic right and fight for our neighbors’ right to be treated with dignity.

What would you say to someone of the Christian faith that supports the Trump and Sessions administration?

The bishops and the church hierarchy have been completely clear that the family separation policy is not in line with Jesus’ teachings. There is a pervasive thread in the Bible about treating people fairly with justice, dignity, respect and preserving the sanctity of human life.

Catholics and Christians should be feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, and welcoming immigrants. I don’t see how any person could call themselves a Christian and support policies that are so hateful, discriminatory, and debasing.

The Bible also asks us to take risks for each other and stand in radical solidarity with our fellow human beings. If someone is being harmed, we have the moral obligation to stand up and try to stop that harm. A person crossing the border is a Child of God just like any other person and deserves compassion, care and respect.

That’s the moral lens we should be viewing every single policy through. And you don’t even have to share my faith to adhere to that moral framework.

What do you think about protest fatigue?

I’m sure it’s a very real thing for some people. Everything that’s going on can be very overwhelming. We can’t do everything but we can do something and there’s a big difference between doing nothing and something.

I noticed that some protesters were chanting “Abolish All Police.” Do you agree with that?

I don’t think any powerful organization should be above critique. When you are granted power by the state to end someone’s life, or threaten to, than I think that’s an illegitimate role. So yes, I do believe in abolishing the police. I don’t like the idea of people holding guns and wielding that kind of power over other people.

There are probably some cops out there that are trying to do good in the world. I do see them as human beings. I’m just uncomfortable with them having so much power to carry out violence on behalf of the state. Across the country, police are engaged in the oppression of black and brown people and there’s this wall of silence about it. It’s very hard to ridicule law enforcement in this country and I find that really troubling. It allows for a really oppressive, unjust culture without accountability.

Sign Up To Our Daily Digest

Independent media outlets are being suppressed and dropped by corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our daily email digest before it’s too late so you don’t miss the latest movement news.