April 30, 2010

Topless march draws massive crowd on Main Street

By Scott Monroe

FARMINGTON — Under an afternoon sun today, they came pouring onto Main Street: a massive wave of people accompanied by a clown and unicyclist, flags, signs, cellphones, video cameras, yelling, cheering, horn-honking and bumper-to-bumper traffic.

click image to enlarge

Elaine Graham tries to cover up a topless demonstrator in Farmington's Meeting House Friday afternoon.

Staff photo by David Leaming

It could have been a raucous Fourth of July parade. But, no, it was the last day of April — and there were dozens of topless women and men leading the way.

Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks and street of this college town, while clusters of protesters held signs in opposition to the march.

Among the crowd on Main Street was 104-year-old Marion Wing of Phillips, who looked across the street in amazement.

“I’ve never seen anything in my entire life like this and I hope never to again,” Wing said.

Directing the bare-skinned walkers was Andrea Simoneau, 22, of Brooks, a senior at the University of Maine at Farmington who organized “Farmington’s First Female Bodied Topless March,” modeled after a topless march she attended recently in Portland.

UMF officials said the university had no involvement in the march, which ended at a park on campus.

Resident Elaine Graham, wearing a blue baseball cap with a red cross on it, took on the most active protest role by following topless women throughout the route and holding up a blue blanket to cover them.

Before the march, Graham confronted Simoneau and challenged her.

“I want to send a message that public nudity degrades girls,” said Graham, who had arrived at 11 a.m. to begin her public protest. “You’re degrading yourself,” Graham said to Simoneau. “You’re sending the wrong message.”

Simoneau thanked Graham “for coming out to express your opinion” and said she admires that form of free speech as well.

Before the half-mile march started about 1 p.m. in a crowded Meetinghouse Park, a bare-chested Simoneau stood up in a gazebo and rallied the assembled to march in the name of women’s rights. Simoneau told the crowd that the march highlights the fact that it’s legal in Maine for women to go topless in public, but she also wants it to become socially acceptable just as men are able to take off their shirts.

Simoneau said she had chosen to ignore criticism of the march and “focus on empowerment” instead.

“Please be respectful and do not engage protesters,” Simoneau yelled before the march proceeded.

‘Like a circus’

At Tranten’s grocery store on Main Street, shortly after the march concluded, manager Sondra Castonguay said the store had been a little busier than usual because of the large crowds. Otherwise, though, “it’s business as usual here,” she said.

Several Farmington police officers directed traffic and kept watch during the march. Police said they received no reports of problems or accidents related to the march.

“There’s nothing we’ve been made aware of,” said Bonnie Pomeroy, dispatch secretary for Farmington police. “It was very quiet and peaceful.”
Actually, it wasn’t that quiet.

“It’s almost like a circus,” said Dalene Pulk of Carthage, as she held up a protest sign — “Pornography doesn’t belong on the streets” — beside fellow protesters on Main Street.

The circus atmosphere seemed reinforced by a topless male who rode a unicycle among marchers on the sidewalk and Russ Mathers, of Carthage, who walked around with his face painted like the clown villain “The Joker.”

“This doesn’t promote women’s cause — it’s just for fun. What does this prove?” Mathers said. “So I came out to be sillier. I’m out here for fun and to make fun.”

But the message of the march was serious for the people participating.

(Continued on page 2)

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