Statement on Portland’s Asylum Seekers

On Wednesday, June 12, around 100 asylum seekers– many of them women and children– arrived by bus in Portland. Because our emergency shelters are already at capacity, these asylum seekers are being sent to stay at the EXPO building. Federal and state agencies have told the city to expect more arrivals in the coming weeks.

The Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America rejects the narrative put forth in news headlines that the arrival of these families is a “problem” and affirm that this “very critical emergency” we face is actually a manufactured crisis.

The City and State are already being congratulated for their response, when they should be shamed for their evasion tactics. Asking citizens to donate via crowdfunding text is washing their hands of their responsibility, both in the incendiary language they have used to respond to this situation, and for actions they’ve taken to get us to such an unprepared position

The effects of the United States’ reckless foreign policy, disastrous domestic and global wealth inequality, and an increased frequency of climate disaster will only bring more people in dire need to Portland, and our city needs to be better prepared to welcome them.

Asylum seekers are not coming here just because they want to.

They are fleeing violence, food scarcity, and persecution in their home countries, and are making the obvious decision to save the lives of themselves and their families by coming to the United States. The US has played a role in the global injustices and poverty that facilitates this violence, and we have an obligation to help the people impacted by it. US imperialism and global capitalism will continue to create instability around the world. As a self-proclaimed sanctuary city, Portland must fulfill that proclamation with action and greater preparations to meet the basic needs of people fleeing violence

The only problem we have is a public policy one.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings and the councilors who walk in lock-step with him have prioritized private profit over the public good for far too long, systematically eroding our housing stock, under-funding our shelters and community support funds, and creating the perfect conditions for fiscal catastrophe and civil unrest. Their policy decisions and votes provide corporate welfare to the real estate developers and the billionaire corporations funding their campaigns. This leaves working-class residents to pick up the tab, as we have done here. They have pushed our city to the breaking point, and any crisis we face is a direct result of their short-sighted decision making

We need radical solutions, not damage control.

Portland’s $200,000 Community Support Fund was established in 2015 to help families who are here legally but cannot yet work. Underfunded from the start, Manager Jennings sponsored an amendment to deny new applications to the fund beginning July 1, 2019. Councilor Pious Ali and Mayor Ethan Strimling will sponsor a motion at the June 17th City Council Meeting to strike that amendment, but we must do more.

For too long, our housing stock has been commodified and compressed behind exclusionary zoning walls to cater to the needs and profits of the wealthiest in society. Massive corporations have been sold swaths of public land at below market value. Hoteliers and short-term landlords have made fortunes by flipping our depreciated and depleted housing stock. The council has enacted affordable housing zoning in name only, and voted down any efforts to strengthen it

We make the following demands:

We demand that arbitrary deadlines not be set upon asylum seekers to sign up for benefits.

We demand that finding sanctuary for new arrivals not be limited to “affordability” logic, in which the end goal is profit, but rather where is best for them. For example, the schools that are best funded (often by affluent white populations) should not escape consideration

We demand that corporations like Wex, Unum, and Maine Health, be required to pay into the Community Support Fund.

We demand that hoteliers be required to donate a number of rooms in times of housing shortages.

We demand that while our city of 70,000 is unable to house one-to-two-hundred new neighbors in need, short-term rental licenses be rescinded.

We demand that our city’s “inclusionary” zoning rules be made truly inclusionary, by removing the ability to build affordable units off-site.

We demand that our city’s inclusionary zoning fees be at minimum doubled and the required affordable units be raised to at least 25%.

We demand that our city begin a good faith dialog about building public housing.

We demand that the media, those tasked with governance, and those citizens who engage in discourse do not restrict themselves to the narrow thinking of neoliberal austerity. The question should not be, can we afford it? But rather, how do we accommodate all that are made homeless?

We Stand with Preble Street Workers

The workers of Preble Street are currently organizing for better working conditions in order to do their jobs with as much focus, care, and compassion as possible. Southern Maine Democratic Socialist of America (SMDSA) stands in solidarity with the workers of Preble Street and strongly urge management and the Board of Directors of Preble Street to recognize their workers’ efforts and to stay neutral in their efforts to form a union.

Preble Street’s mission is to provide accessible, barrier-free services to empower people experiencing homelessness, housing issues, hunger, and poverty and to advocate for solutions to those problems. Preble Street’s work encompasses twelve programs with statewide reach. The work Preble Street workers do is essential to the livelihood of people experiencing homelessness, housing issues, hunger, and poverty here in Maine.

Democratic socialists affirm that housing is a human right. As long as there is homelessness, Preble Street workers provide necessary services to our communities. Their work is challenging and can be emotionally and physically taxing. These workers don’t draw a line at the workplace exit; you can also find them at rallies and public hearings fighting for their community day-in and day-out. Like all workers, these are the individuals who best know the system in which they work and how to make it operate as effectively as possible. In their organizing effort, they deserve a fair process – not only for themselves as workers but for those that they work to support.

SMDSA is a member-led working class organization fighting for ownership and control over the systems that affect us. We firmly believe that workers are stronger when we organize together, and we should have control over our working conditions and pay. Workers have the right to be free from coercion, restraint, or interference in this process. We are also entitled to engage in a fair process and good faith negotiations with our employer.

You can sign the petition to support these workers here:
https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/we-stand-with-preble-street-workers-united

You can read more about the efforts of the Preble Street workers here:

Free abortions, on demand, without apology!

Abortion rights are under attack, and these attacks are accelerating. Alabama recently signed into law a bill to outlaw all abortions and imprison medical professionals who perform abortions with a sentence of up to 99 years. Georgia has outlawed abortions after six weeks – a window of time so limited that the majority of people wouldn’t be able to tell if they are pregnant until it is too late. Missouri’s Senate passed a bill that would outlaw abortion after eight weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest, and would imprison medical professionals with a sentence of up to 15 years. Kentucky and Ohio have also signed into law bills outlawing abortion after six weeks, and Louisiana currently has a bill in front of their state senate to the do the same. The effects aren’t just limited to the United States, either. Abortion access is under attack worldwide thanks to the United States pulling aid to humanitarian groups that provide abortions.

Many previous attempts to pass similar bills have failed, even after states have passed them, because the Supreme Court has overturned those decisions on the foundations of Roe v. Wade. However, the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade now looms closer after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump-appointed anti-choice advocate, thanks in-part to Maine’s own Senator Susan Collins.

Even in Maine, where we have a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, as well as a Democratic Governor, abortion rights still face obstacles. The Maine legislature recently passed LD820, which requires Mainecare (Maine’s Medicaid program) to fund abortions for all who rely on the program. While this law does help ensure access to abortions for many working Mainers, it grants an exemption that allows employer-based health insurance programs to deny coverage for abortions on “religious” grounds. This demonstrates the limits of private health insurance, which puts workers’ right to healthcare at the whims of employers. As such, many Mainers could still be denied abortions, regardless of a Democratic trifecta.

We in Southern Maine DSA believe in free abortions, on demand, without apology. We stand in solidarity with our comrades in Alabama and Georgia, whose rights are being taken away. We stand in solidarity with our comrades in every state, whose rights are under attack. We stand in solidarity with our comrades in every nation, whose rights are not secured. We stand strongly against this blatant push to overturn Roe v. Wade and strip away the right to abortion.

Upholding Roe v. Wade and keeping abortion legal is only half the battle. The Hyde Amendment, which was passed shortly after Roe v. Wade, prevents federal funding from being used for abortions. This is a huge barrier for low-income people who need abortions, making it so abortion rights are really only protected for those wealthy enough to afford them. We need universal healthcare to even the playing field so that everyone can receive the care they need. Until then, we need abortion funds to help those with immediate medical needs.

Southern Maine DSA raised funds throughout April for the National Network of Abortion Funds. Our members raised awareness of the existence of abortion funds while raising a grand total of $3,030. In addition to fundraising, we hosted two workshops alongside Maine Family Planning. These workshops provided the facts on abortion procedures and the history of abortion advocacy in Maine. Anti-choice activists use misleading information and scare tactics to push their agenda. Understanding how abortions really work is critical in a world where our rights are being attacked by lies. If we are going to fight for bodily autonomy, we need to be armed with the truth.

We must continue to fight against the anti-choice movement. As a socialist organization dedicated to human liberation, Southern Maine DSA is committed to organizing to ensure that all people have their rights to healthcare and bodily autonomy respected, and that includes free abortion, on demand, and without apology.

Response: All we have is our voice.

The editorial board of the Bangor Daily News (BDN) this week joined calls for the working class to be polite and calm while the rich rob us and our politicians fail us. They quoted a post we made on Facebook that poked fun at the Portland City Councilors who voted against the right of their constituents to earn paid sick leave. They decried our lack of “civility,” and even compared us to Trump.

For them and other media outlets, it’s not about substantial issues like whether Trump deserves impeachment; it’s about the swear-word Congresswoman Tlaib used when she called for it. It isn’t about the horrors of the Israeli apartheid against Palestinians; it’s that even mentioning it is somehow anti-semitic. And now it’s not about how denying paid sick leave will affect families struggling to make ends meet; what’s important is that the DSA called these heartless councilors names. In all of this, the media misses the point. And if a lack of civility is all that we, the public, are actually resisting from the Trump administration (and the one percent who hold his puppet strings) we’re missing the point, too. When we focus on how “civil,” “electable” and “well-spoken” a public figure is, we gloss over what really matters: their policies.

We understand that people do have a knee-jerk reaction to name-calling, but as working people, we’re angry that a modest bill, which held so much promise for working people like us, was shot down by those in power. We’re angry and hurt that our city government chose profit over people, labeling us “outsiders” and telling us to “stand down” when we object to this denial of workers’ human rights. The Council’s decision will in no uncertain terms sicken and kill working people and our families. And so we punched up because we can’t afford to respect leaders in business and government who continue to show us none.

The state of politics in this country reflects the level of frustration felt by poor and working people from all political walks. Politicians, financial elites, and their captive media disenfranchise us and belittle us for daring to speak the truth with emotion. Demanding decorum around political discourse is designed to prevent meaningful reform by sanitizing the voices of the oppressed. Most of us don’t have the money to run for office or the free time to organize against oppression. All we have is our voice. The working class is uniting; we will not be silent, we will speak from our lived experience, from every identity that we claim, while rejecting the vocabulary of the ruling class.

We say it’s “uncivil” to force a parent to choose between staying home with their sick kid and making rent, to destroy our planet in search of profit, to tell us what we’re allowed to do with our bodies. On the scale of civility, being rude to elected officials on social media should barely register, and yet the editorial board rushed to their defense. Asking us now to return to a pre-Trump era of false civility is like trying to put a lid on a boiling pot. The pot is already overflowing and heat is on high.

Respectability politics will not solve the problem of wealth inequality. The Democrats have followed these rules for decades and all it got us was Trump. We followed these rules for 18 months while the Council slow-walked this ordinance through two flu seasons, all the while getting chummy with the Chamber of Commerce and the CEOs of Maine’s largest corporations who opposed it. We have been civil while the news media gave preferential treatment to billionaires and refused to even publish Southern Maine DSA’s involvement as a strategic partner in the Keep Portland Healthy coalition.

The BDN’s editorial asks us to make a choice, “will we push back against the slide into gutter politics, or will we be part of it?” Our response recalls a famous quote by American socialist Eugene V. Debs who was sent to prison for speaking out against American imperialism: “while there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” We in the DSA can now add that “while there’s a gutter, we will fight from it.”

If you’re angry that your boss can force you to come in sick, that your landlord can jack your rent, that our schools are underfunded, or that billionaires like Bezos and Zuckerberg make more in a day than most make in a lifetime, join us in the DSA. We fight from the working class, with the working class, and for the working class, because we’re angry too. We’re not concerned about being rude, and we refuse to apologize to our oppressors.

Press Release: Southern Maine DSA Endorses Earned Paid Sick Time for All Portland Workers

For Immediate Release

July 12, 2018

Meg Reilly, Chair

Southern Maine DSA Endorses Earned Paid Sick Time for All Portland Workers

PORTLAND, ME – On June 18, the Southern Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (SMDSA) voted unanimously to support the proposed Paid Sick Time Ordinance currently being debated in the Portland City Council’s Health and Human Services subcommittee. The proposal, written by the Southern Maine Workers’ Center and the Maine Women’s Lobby, and sponsored by Mayor Ethan Strimling, seeks to guarantee paid sick leave to all Portland workers.

An estimated 19,000 Portland workers do not currently have paid sick leave. The proposal as it is written would allow all workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum requirement of 6 days accumulated per year of employment. The proposal includes a universal definition of family, giving Portland workers the ability to used paid sick days to care for loved ones as they define them.

The Portland ordinance is crucial to keeping Portland workers healthy as well as economically secure. “All workers, regardless of age, seasonality of work, or other factors should be able to rest when ill or take care of ill family members without the repercussions of missing a paycheck. Daily in my clinic, I see how economically and emotionally stressed patients are when they have to miss work for medical needs,” said DSA member and local primary care physician Krys Bigosinski, MD. “This proposal will go a long way toward allowing greater access to medical care for working families, and will also decrease the spread of illness to those who may come into contact with individuals who are working while ill. In a city like Portland, where so much of our economy is based in the caregiving and food service industries, this type of legislation is important for public health,” Bigosinski said.

There are now 8 states and over 30 cities that have similar paid sick leave ordinances. Recently, the Austin, TX chapter of the DSA was instrumental in bringing the first such legislation to a city in the southern United States. SMDSA is proud to become a partner in the campaign to bring the city of Portland into the leadership circle on this issue.

The DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States. Its membership includes 35 elected officials around the country. Southern Maine DSA is not a political party. The DSA supports issues that align with its mission of organizing and empowering working class people in Southern Maine to stand together to improve our material and social conditions.

For more information about the Southern Maine DSA, this press release, or its endorsement process, contact DSA.SouthernMaine@Gmail.com

 

http://southernmainedsa.org/

http://www.dsausa.org/

 

My Socialist Roots

By Ken Bailey

My parents were children of the Great Depression, living on government cheese and powdered eggs. Dad was a WWII vet who worked in the Post Office. Mom was a nurse who started as a Nurse’s Aide and went to night school at Bellevue Hospital in New York City to complete her R.N. degree. Dad was a rank and file member of the fledgling U.S. Postal Workers Union, and Mom worked with the Hospital Workers Union in the early 1960’s. In my neighborhood, the Pullman Porters Union had three members within a block of my house. They voted for Democrats, except when they voted for Eisenhower in 1952.

It was the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War which made me see the necessity of an alternative to the Democratic Party. People like W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP, and A. Philip Randolph, President of the Pullman Porters Union, were Socialist. And I read about Eugene Debs in college. They convinced me that the Democrats were too compromised to advance the country.

Ken Baily speaks at an anti-war demonstration in Columbus Ohio, 1970

I learned about the Veteran Bonus Marchers of the 1930’s and how they were beaten by soldiers and trampled by mounted police. The Republic Steel Strike Massacre of 1937: 10 dead, 30 wounded by police gunfire, all white. The Civil Rights workers, killed in the 1960’s: black and white comrades, martyrs for a better America. It became clear to me that the working class, white and black, had the same class enemy.

We have to unite – whether it’s at the border in Texas, at the Keystone Pipeline, around women’s choice, gay rights, or Black Lives Matter. It is the same corporate forces aligned against our interests.

I want to leave you with a quote from a fallen comrade named Fred Hampton, Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, who was murdered by the Chicago police:

“You don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with water…We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We’re gonna fight capitalism with socialism. Socialism is the people. If you’re afraid of socialism, you’re afraid of yourself.”

Every month, we ask a member to share their story of what Democratic Socialism means to them. If you’re interested in telling yours, please email the chair.