A group of nine religious leaders protesting Senator Susan Collins' support for the tax reform effort were arrested by Portland police officers shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday
Police waited inside Collins' office at One Canal Plaza, Suite 802, while the group prayed and broadcast their protest live on Facebook.
Officials explained that they would handcuff protesters and take them out in groups of approximately five to fit in an elevator. The members of the group sang: "We are kind and loving people, and we are singing for our lives", as they were taken.
Maj. Heath Gorham of the Portland Police Department said in a statement that there were 10 protesters in Collins' office, but only nine were arrested and charged with criminal intrusion. All were transported to the Cumberland County Jail and were on $ 60 bail.
"The senator was in Washington and did not meet in person with the group." The protesters were peaceful, but refused to leave the building afterwards. that the office closed for the day, "said Gorham.
Collins is considered a key vote to approve the tax reform bill. He announced that he would support the fiscal plan after obtaining several concessions from the Senate leaders. However, the leaders of the House of Representatives have not committed to support the provisions that won the support of Collins. The Portland sit-in came three days after five people were arrested in Bangor after refusing to leave Collins' office.
"Although none of us really wants to be arrested, it's a minor inconvenience when compared to the bill." to devastate the lives of people, "said Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, a United Methodist minister who also serves as deputy chairman of the Maine Council of Churches, on the live broadcast shortly before his arrest." This is not a trick, but it is clear that the senator is not ready to resist (in the tax reform legislation) "
& # 39; WALK WITH THE DESFRAZANCIADOS & # 39;
Members of the group, which included several ministers, a rabbi and a Quaker minister, knelt down and prayed before the Portland policemen began to handcuff them.
During their prayer, the group members said they were in Collins' office to represent "the poor and disadvantaged" who believe they will be harmed by the tax.
The clergy said that Jesus taught spiritual leaders to "walk with the dispossessed and oppose the tax collectors."
The gr upo had planned to spend the night in Collins Collins' office, refusing to leave when the senator's staff left for the day and closed the door behind them on Thursday afternoon.
Collins, who was in Washington, DC, on his birthday, spoke with the group on the cell phone for more than half an hour and explained his position on the Republican proposal in a conversation that "Moral Movement Maine" broadcast live on his Facebook page.
After their conversation with Collins, who ended the call to take another call, the group members said he was making an effort, but remained skeptical that their efforts would be enough to counteract it. what they consider the negative aspects of Republican tax bills.
"In short, you're doing a great job … but it's not enough," you can hear a member saying in the Facebook video.
During the day, more than a dozen people squeezed into the small waiting room outside the office on the eighth floor of One Canal Plaza, where they had been since 11 a. m. The group had broadcast their peaceful sit-in live all day, and the people responded by sending them pizza and chocolates.
Ewing-Merrill, of HopeGateway, said the group appreciated the senator's work to block Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, they call her to do the same with the tax bill, which would eliminate the individual mandate, a move many fear could unravel the federal health care law.
"We are here because our faith forces us to be here," said Ewing-Merrill. "We believe that this tax is immoral, unfair and harmful, and we are here to wait for Senator Collins to commit to not voting this bill"
"a massive redistribution of wealth"
] During the afternoon, the staff at Collins' Portland office forwarded all questions to the communications director of Senator Annie Clark. She issued a statement in the afternoon.
"Senator Collins meets with thousands of people in the community each year," Clark said. "She appreciates hearing from her constituents and respects her right to protest."
Ewing-Merrill said that about 25 people circulated around the office all day, with their numbers never falling below a dozen. The group spent their time praying and singing. Around 4:30 p.m., eight people raised their hands when asked who was willing to stay after they closed the office at 5 p.m. and risk being arrested.
The Reverend Jim Gertmenian, a retired minister of the United Church of Christ who lives in Cumberland, criticized the tax bill as a "massive redistribution of wealth" that would be dangerous for the country.
"It gives large amounts of money to those who need it the least and takes money from those who need it the most," he said. "It is that simple equation that is part of a massive redistribution of wealth from the bottom up that we believe is dangerous to our democracy and our country, and it is an affront to God who cares more for the needy."
The group called on supporters to meet in Canal Plaza at 5 p.m. M. for a vigil by candlelight.
Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at: