Portland school board member sounds off on white privilege and fascism

Portland School Board member Holly Seeliger.

Portland School Board member Holly Seeliger.

A few days ago I noticed a post on Facebook by Portland School Board member Holly Seeliger about the “Pumpkin Fest Riots” that took place in Keene, NH last week. I asked Seeliger if she’d be willing to write a guest post for this blog, and she happily obliged.

Not only did she deliver on the post, but she also did an amazing freaking job of it.

Here’s what she had to say:

As a lifelong Mainer, I have always been intrigued by New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto. Last week, the City of Keene made national headlines when rioters took to the streets during “Pumpkin Fest” to topple cars, set fires, tear out street signs, and cause general havoc across the city.

Students riot in Keene, NH.

Students riot in Keene, NH.

Arrests were made and police used pepper spray to break up the crowd. Yet I was actually surprised by the restraint used by Keene police. In this day and age, I’m used to images of police across the U.S. engaging in mass arrests, utilizing police tanks, riot gear, police dogs, and water and sound cannons upon peaceful protestors.

It seems to me that the “Pumpkin Fest Riots” were met with restraint because A) the rioters were white men, and B) the riot was infused with alcohol, and not infused with a message. Imagine if these rioters were actually protestors carrying signs stating, “We are the 99%” or “Justice for (insert name of young black teen)”!

While viewing images of the “Pumpkin Fest Riots”, it occurred to me that the city of Keene made recent headlines for another strange event. Six residents of Keene were accused of filling expired parking meters before city employees could issue parking tickets.

The city sued the suspects, claiming the group known as “Robin Hooders”, were interfering with the official duties of the parking enforcement officers.

When I first started writing this piece as a guest blogger, I was hesitant to use the “f” word. However, I can’t help but remark how Keene, like so many other predominantly white towns across the U.S., appears to be engaging in what I call “soft fascism”.

While African Americans and other minorities in the U.S. are obviously experiencing the horrors of racism and fascism on a daily basis, “soft fascism” has crept upon white Americans. Since I myself am white, I feel like I am not at liberty to describe how African Americans and other minorities truly feel, and can only discuss my observations as a white person in the U.S.

More rioting in Keene, NH.

More rioting in Keene, NH.

Controlled outbursts, such as the drunken debauchery of the “Pumpkin Fest Riots”, allows an outlet for young white men in this country who are part of a generation feeling enormous pressure.

The U.S has recovered little from the economic effects of the 2008 “Great Recession” and over a decade of constant and expensive war and increasing militarization at home and abroad. Keene proves that under “soft fascism”, drunkenly toppling cars and setting fires in the street is okay, but donating your spare change to parking meters is not.


Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.