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?

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 LD308 “An Act To Increase Notification Time Periods for Rent Increases and Terminations of Tenancies at Will”

For Immediate Release
March 18, 2018

PORTLAND, ME – On Monday, March 11, 2018, the membership of the Southern Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (SMDSA) voted overwhelmingly to endorse state bill, LD308 “An Act To Increase Notification Time Periods for Rent Increases and Terminations of Tenancies at Will.”

This statewide bill increases from 30 to 60 days the notice a landlord must provide to renters to terminate their tenancy. It also increases from 45 to 75 days the notice a landlord must provide to increase the rent of a residential tenant.

A public hearing will take place on Wednesday, March 27 from 9-12 in the Labor and Housing Committee in the Cross Building, room 202 at the State House in Augusta. Fair Rent Portland (sponsors of a 2017 Portland rent control ballot question) and Southern Maine DSA will organize carpools from Portland for tenants and tenant advocates who wish to testify in support of LD308.

“Housing is a human right, and Maine is one of the least affordable states in the country to rent. This is a modest bill that will help working people stay in their homes longer when landlords arbitrarily decide to sell or renovate their properties with the intention of increasing rents or putting their units into short term rentals,” said SMDSA member and Housing Justice Committee organizer Grayson Lookner.

Eviction is now the number one cause of homelessness nationwide. Homelessness disproportionately impacts veterans, women, and domestic violence survivors. In 2012, one in every 30 children in America was homeless, a number that rises as more families lose their homes to foreclosure and become renters. A growing working class awareness of the ways in which the commodification of housing exacerbates wealth inequality between the landed and non-landed classes has led to the organization of tenants’ unions in cities across the country, forcing legislators to act on behalf of their constituents.

Representative Christopher Kessler (D) South Portland wrote, “From the perspective of Oregon passing statewide rent control, [LD308] is a modest bill that gives renters the time they need to land on their feet when they are being kicked out for no fault of their own, especially in this tight rental market.” In February, the Oregon Senate passed groundbreaking statewide rent control legislation, along with restrictions on termination of tenancy for no-cause.

LD308 echoes municipal legislation passed by the residents of Yarmouth last year. That legislation established a Rental Housing Advisory Committee and required landlords of buildings with ten or more units to give tenants 75 days’ notice for rent increases.

Southern Maine DSA was instrumental in gathering signatures to put this initiative on the ballot after the Yarmouth town council refused to address renters’ concerns over rental stock monopoly and price gouging by out-of-state corporation Taymil Partners. That referendum passed in November 2018 when a recount determined that blank ballots were incorrectly counted as votes against the measure. SMDSA members were among the group that oversaw the recount process.

Democratic Socialism is an economic system in which working people exercise democratic control of the means of production in order to bring about social and economic equality. Democratic socialists reject the concentration of state power. We are not a political party, and we welcome members of any political party who wish to build working-class solidarity across party lines. DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States. DSA endorses issues that align with its mission of organizing and empowering working class people 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:

Jon Torsch, Co-Chair Jonathantorsch@gmail.com

Kate Sykes, Co-Chair kate_sykes_writer@yahoo.com

Wes Pelletier, Secretary DSA.SouthernMaine@gmail.com

http://southernmainedsa.org/

http://www.dsausa.org/

SMDSA Calls on NPC to Defer Sanders Endorsement to National Convention

For Immediate Release, March 12, 2019
SMDSA Co-Chairs Kate Sykes & Jon Torsch

Introduction

A petition has circulated asking members and chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to call to defer the decision to endorse Bernie Sanders to the highest body of our organization – the National Convention – where delegates from every chapter have a say. Signatories already include chapters and individuals in early primary states (Iowa, Nevada), in Super Tuesday states (Alabama, California), and the entire Libertarian Socialist Caucus. Maine has not set its 2020 primary/caucus date yet, but in 2016 it was among earlier caucus states.

Our chapter organizes in a rural, purple, low-population state. We utilize multiple tactics to win both power and improved material conditions. The fights we have taken on include mandatory paid sick time for workers, increased campaign finance reporting, and increased notice for tenant evictions and rent increases. Our victories have stemmed primarily from holding to our core tenet – that everyone affected by a decision should have a say in that decision. For this reason, and others discussed further below, our chapter has voted to sign this petition.

Makeup of the NPC

The National Political Committee (NPC) of the DSA is a body of representatives responsible for guiding DSA’s major organizational goals as determined by the delegates to the National Convention. The NPC consists of sixteen (16) individuals elected at our biennial National Convention. Since election in 2017, four (4) NPC members have been replaced by individuals appointed solely by the NPC. Of the current makeup, roughly twelve (12) of the sixteen (16) members of the NPC are from large cities (populations over 700k).

The NPC appoints members to a National Electoral Committee (NEC). NEC members are not elected, and similarly, roughly eighteen (18) of twenty-five (25) members are from large cities (700k+). Still, the NEC is the national body empowered to execute the NPC’s political strategy by assisting locals and recommending national endorsements.

Undemocratic Process

In October 2018, the NPC voted to bypass the NEC and form a separate “Exploratory Committee for the 2020 Presidential Primary” consisting of nine (9) appointed members. This committee was charged with drafting a proposal for an endorsement process in the 2020 presidential primary as well as develop a “high-level” campaign plan for a potential 2020 presidential campaign, and reporting that proposal back to the NPC.

In January 2019, the Exploratory Committee reported back to the NPC, again bypassing the NEC, with their “Report from the Exploratory Committee for the 2020 Presidential Primary”. The NPC received alternate proposals and amendments but rejected all of them – including those proposing more bottom-up input, such as adding voting members from the states with early primaries – to ultimately approve their commissioned Exploratory Committee proposal.

The approved process required the NPC to vote on endorsement within a month of Sanders announcing his presidential campaign. In response to the critique that members were not being consulted in this decision, National DSA released a poll to all members. The poll is primarily flawed in that it is a “non-binding advisory poll,” but further concerns include only allowing “Yes” or “No” responses and not including decisions or feedback on implementation, level of resources to commit, whether we should do an Independent Expenditure, what the timeline is, or if the decision should be deferred to the National Convention.

Several NPC members have stated publicly how they will be voting on the endorsement. Making these statements prior to the completion of the advisory poll implies that poll results or chapter statements will not impact their decisions.

Concerns with Campaign and Candidate

The proposal itself introduces several problems that need more time to be addressed. The merits and challenges of a Bernie endorsement need to be discussed further. The Independent Expenditure campaign introduces questions of legal liability and the possibility of schisms between members who want to work with both DSA and the official Bernie campaign. We should know how much of our finances – primarily funded by member-paid dues – are going to be committed to this project. Members should be provided the National budget alongside this, which is now almost two months past-due, in order to determine how much we feel comfortable committing. DSA members have been struggling for sex work decriminalization, an end to imperialism, and immigration justice; the decision to endorse a candidate who has a complicated background with the very issues we care about must come from membership. We need to have a discussion as an organization if we even want to endorse candidates that haven’t asked us for endorsement. These are just a sample of the issues that rank and file members still don’t have answers to.

Conclusion

We feel that the NPC should implement decisions made by members, rather than the other way around. We believe we need an organization that hears these critiques and answers these questions in order to create an alternative, direct democracy. We believe in a bottom-up model of power, not in restricting power to a select few with the time, ability, resources, and connections to hold higher offices.

Southern Maine DSA is joining the call to ask the NPC to defer the question of endorsing Sanders to the 2019 National Convention. We believe, above all else, that anyone affected by a decision deserves to have a say in that decision, and we do not feel that this tenet has been a cornerstone of this process.

 

For more information about the Southern Maine DSA or this statement please contact us by email at DSA.SouthernMaine@gmail.com

http://southernmainedsa.org/

http://www.dsausa.org/

Press Release: SMDSA Releases 2018 Annual Report

For Immediate Release

January 21, 2019

Kate Sykes, Co-Chair

Jon Torsch, Co-Chair

 

Southern Maine DSA Files 2018 Annual Report

PORTLAND, ME – The Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America announced today that it has published its annual report for the calendar year ending December 31, 2018. The full report may be viewed here.

https://bit.ly/2RXpm4y

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is a grassroots, member-led organization whose goal is to build a mass socialist movement. Southern Maine DSA (SMDSA) was incorporated in 2017 and includes DSA members who live and/or work in Maine’s First Congressional District. According to our bylaws, DSA members who live and/or work in Maine’s Second Congressional District are also members by default of SMDSA until a chapter is formed in their area.

2018 was a year of rapid growth for DSA both nationally and in Maine. National membership grew from 32,000 to 55,000, with the number of local chapters increasing from 40 to 181. 2018 also saw the first two DSA members elected to the United States House of Representatives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

Southern Maine DSA started the year with roughly 120 dues-paying members in Cumberland and York Counties, growing to roughly 180 by mid-year. In July, they petitioned National for a complete list of dues-paying members in all of Maine and began outreach to these members for the purpose of organizing statewide. They had roughly 300 members statewide in July, with over 360 by the end of the year.

As a result, they formed an Eastern branch on October 15th covering Penobscot County; and a Midcoast branch on November 12th covering Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc, and Waldo Counties.

For more information about the Southern Maine DSA or this press release call 207-331-5373 or contact us by email at: DSA.SouthernMaine@gmail.com

http://southernmainedsa.org/

http://www.dsausa.org/

Poetry Report 10/27/18

By Mike Sylvester

So they’ve taken the White House, the Congress, the Courts

So what the hell are we gonna do now?

There isn’t a magic bean stalk in sight

No golden goose, no milking cow.

 

There is no handy axe

That lets us climb down off this limb

You may have hoped for Pixar

But this suckers penned by the Brothers Grimm.

 

All the streets of justice have signs that say STOP

There be monsters, there be sharks.

But comrades, when I see a STOP sign

I instinctively add a question mark.

 

Who wants us to stop? What is their goal?

Why are they afraid of GO?

Why wouldn’t we march to the place we are dreaming

Just because someone said no?

 

They (that’s the “royal” they) thinks power

Be paved with the money spent

But I promise you that every cobblestone Is laid with our consent.

 

How do we consent? How do we empower the politicians

To lie and steal and cheat?

It starts when we trust in folks bought and sold

And hope that the buyers have lost the receipt.

 

When we make our calls to people whose number

The Corporations own

And then shake our heads when they let us down

Mutter “oh dear, if we’d only known.”

 

Well, we know now. The lines are drawn

The flags have been unfurled

There is no more time to equivocate

To wring our hands or clutch at pearls

 

There is no better time

No “if only they, or they, or they.”

We are the ones who must save,

Who must do, must make, the ones who must say.

 

It is hard. We may lose things

Things we like, things we love and worse

They will tighten the strings on the already tattered

Cloth of our money purse.

 

They may have us fired or voted out

We may hear hard words from the people we know.

We can’t guess the lengths they’ll travel

So that we nod yes and stop shouting our NO!

 

So we have to ask ourselves, what will we risk?

If not us who? If not now when?

If they are going to take it all anyway

What good will our comforts do us all then?

 

We are hanging on by a finger and it looks

Like leaping is all we can do.

Can we hold hands and jump off together, compadres

Because if you can, if we can, then me too.

Get revved up about revolution this October

Happy October, comrades! It’s the month of revolution. So, what better way to spend it than by reading about a historic revolution from Octobers past?

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a major achievement in the socialist movement, a blow against capitalism and its hold over the world. It’s also still hotly debated and dissected today, 101 years later. To help you get through this time in history and the years that followed, the Southern Maine DSA Education Committee has compiled a recommended list of books on the Russian Revolution.

All of these books are available in the Southern Maine DSA library, and you can borrow any of them by filling out this request form, or by requesting one of the books from our chapter librarian, Marc Normandin, at one of our meetings or events.

And, if you would like to learn even more about the Russian Revolution, the Education Committee will be hosting a presentation and discussion of the historic event on October 22, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Community Room in the Reiche Community Center. Todd Chretien, editor of Eyewitnesses to the Russian Revolution, will lead this event.

To wrap up our month of focus on the Russian Revolution, this month’s book club entry is V.I. Lenin’s The State and Revolution. You can find this book in our library, at various booksellers, or for free online at Marxists.org. This book club meeting will be held at Quill Books & Beverage in Westbrook, ME, on November 1 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Solidarity!

Introducing the 2018 SMDSA Comrades!

The Comrades kicked off the 2018 Casco Bay League Softball season with a rainy 19-12 loss to What’s Up Buttercup on Sunday, May 6th in Portland. The Comrades started off strong with five runs in the first inning, but early pitching challenges allowed the Buttercups to surge ahead. Wet field conditions made things challenging, but the Comrades’ managed to contain the Buttercups’ lead and work on closing the run gap over the next several innings. Todd Chretien’s plate-spanking slide home was one for the record books (and also one for the first aid kit). The game was called in the 6th inning due to time. “I’ve managed a lot of teams, and this one has potential,” said Comrades manager Marc Normandin.

The Comrades face the Raging Thunder Bunts, on Sunday, May 13th at 3:30 pm at Kiely Field.

2018 Roster

 

 

 

Heavy Rotation: May Day! May Day!

By Kate Sykes

Every year on May 1st, International Workers Day is celebrated in Europe with massive demonstrations that honor an American labor uprising: the Haymarket strike of 1886, when hundreds of thousands of American workers set down the tools of their trade and took to the streets for better wages and working conditions.

In Episode 33 of Season of the Bitch, writer and labor organizer Jane McAlevey talks about how working conditions leading up to the original May Day strike were remarkably similar to those faced by Amazon warehouse workers today, and how the real aim of labor organizing is building the kind of working class solidarity that makes formerly mild-mannered secretaries plot to abduct their boss and take over the company themselves…. because there’s a better life, and you think about it, don’t you?

What’s in your heavy rotation? Email your favorite listens to us at: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Press Release: Southern Maine DSA Endorses Betsy Sweet in June primary for Maine State Governor

PORTLAND – The Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America (SMDSA) voted on Monday, March 12 to endorse Betsy Sweet for Governor in the June, 2018 primary. Sweet is running as a Democrat in Maine’s first statewide Ranked Choice Voting primary.

“I am very pleased to be receiving the endorsement of the Southern Maine Chapter of the DSA. The people-powered, special-interest-proof coalition we are building is growing by the day. With over 3,500 maine people giving $5, this campaign is about ensuring the Blaine House can’t be bought by the NRA, big Pharma or the banking industry,” Sweet said.

Sweet’s primary campaign focus is getting corporate and special interest money out of politics, something she says is foundational to making progress on other issues. She helped write Maine’s public campaign financing law, the first in the country, and is now running as a Maine Clean Elections candidate. She supports universal healthcare coverage and will work to socialize the cost of that through a more progressive tax structure, while eliminating cost inefficiencies endemic to the current for-profit system. “I believe there is a great opportunity to work in compact with the five New England states to develop a viable single-payer system,” Sweet says.

Sweet is a proponent of Ranked Choice Voting and says she hopes it will bring more civility to Maine politics. Maine is the first state to implement the system in a state-wide election. Under Ranked Choice Voting, voters may rank multiple candidates in order of preference. If no victor emerges from the first-choice round, an instant run-off commences. In the absence of a strong frontrunner, second and third-choice candidates can win a majority of votes, a factor that benefits candidates who campaign to a broad spectrum of voters rather than on divisive issues, or against one another.

“It’s time for a state government that works for the many, not just the few,” Meg Reilly, SMDSA Chair said. “Sweet’s focus on fair representation and diversity, racial and economic justice, living wages, and healthcare as a human right make her an ideal emissary for DSA’s values and goals in Augusta.”

The DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States. Its membership includes 35 elected officials around country. Southern Maine DSA is not a political party. The DSA welcomes members and endorses candidates of any party affiliation who share its mission to decrease the influence of money in politics so that ordinary citizens can participate in the many decisions that affect their lives.

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