FREEPORT — Once a week for the past 14 years, the Flag Ladies have stood on Main Street, waving American flags in support of U.S. troops.
Once a week since Thanksgiving, Liza Moore has stood in the same area, at the same time, carrying a sign supporting refugees.
She wanted to raise awareness about the plight of immigrants and refugees as national rhetoric grew increasingly hostile toward them. She knew the Flag Ladies were already on the corner and figured the company could help everybody.
“I thought it would bring more awareness to anybody being out there, to have more people out there,” the Freeport resident said.
But it hasn’t been an easy mix.
Some supporters of the Flag Ladies have railed against Moore — including one man who was quoted in the Bangor Daily News as calling her “rude and lazy,” and her activity “mean and evil and vile.”
Moore’s adult son, whose father was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was arrested in September for disrupting a 9/11 ceremony while the Flag Ladies were speaking. Charges were later dropped. He is the subject of a temporary protection from harassment order by the Flag Ladies trio and will appear in court in January regarding a more permanent order.
Last week, a crowd of veterans and others, including Maine first lady Ann LePage, stood on Main Street with the Flag Ladies, while a group of high school students held signs backing Moore.
Sides seem to have been drawn: You’re for the Flag Ladies or you’re for Moore.
But for her part, Moore is clear: She likes the Flag Ladies’ work, too.
“It’s amazing what they do in supporting soldiers who are going to war or who are being deployed and who are coming back from being deployed,” she said. “They do a lot of really wonderful, supportive work for our troops. I think that’s fantastic because that hasn’t always been the case for soldiers returning from foreign countries. … I think the Flag Ladies are really remarkable in their limitless energy to do that.”
She believes the situation has been blown out of proportion.
The Flag Ladies did not return a call seeking comment.
Moore is the ex-wife of James M. Roux, who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the plane he was on hit the World Trade Center in New York City. Roux grew up in Lewiston and was working as a lawyer in Portland when he died.
Moore decided in November to start carrying signs on Main Street. The Paris terrorist attacks had just happened and refugees were increasingly coming under political fire in the U.S. She was depressed by the lack of compassion.
“There are decent refugees and immigrants who will benefit from our support and compassion,” she said. “From my experience in the past number of years, I have met people who are refugees and asylum-seekers and they have just enriched my life and the lives of my family members.”
An elementary school computer teacher in Freeport, she doesn’t go into work until mid-morning on Tuesdays, and that was the day the Flag Ladies stood on Main Street. If she was going to show support for refugees, she thought, that would be a good time to do it.
With homemade signs, such as “ME (hearts) refugees,” she decided she’d stand on Main Street once a week for four weeks, until Christmas.
But animosity quickly grew. The Flag Ladies have said publicly that Moore is harassing them, telling the Bangor Daily News that Moore chose to stand on the same Main Street corner at the same time to antagonize them and take away from their message.
Moore said Friday that she hasn’t tried to antagonize the Flag Ladies. Although her son is the subject of a restraining order, she said she is not.
Nearly 150 people crowded onto Main Street to rally for the Flag Ladies on Dec. 22. Several Freeport High School students showed up for Moore.
Moore didn’t go.
“I just thought any message I had about refugees would be lost,” she said.
On school break, Moore showed up Dec. 23 instead.
It may be the last day Moore appears on Main Street with her message of support for refugees. She’s been there once a week for four weeks, as she had planned. She thinks she’s raised some awareness.
“I don’t know how effective it would be for me to continue doing this,” she said.
Earlier this month, Liza Moore of Freeport held a sign in support of refugees on Main Street in the spot where the Freeport Flag Ladies usually stand on Tuesday mornings. The Flag Ladies chose to stand on the opposite sidewalk.