Democratic Socialism is Love

By Jon Torsch

My name is Jon, and my pronouns are he/him/his. I’m an engineer, atheist, millennial, cat-dad, and democratic socialist. There, the labels are out there.

Every month, when the Southern Maine chapter of Democratic Socialists of America meets, we reserve a few minutes for a member to speak on what democratic socialism is to them. This may not be expected from an engineer, but at the risk of rolling eyes, the short answer for me is that democratic socialism is love. For the longer answer, I’ll give you some backstory on who I am and how I came to that conclusion. I’m from central Maine, which is both relatively conservative and very working class.

My father was a mechanic and my mother worked in customer service. Neither are well-paying jobs, and so my family struggled economically. In addition, in my family I’ve borne witness to struggles with addiction, sectarian evangelism, and a misdiagnosis that led to untreated cancer. As a child in primary school, I was both an advanced learner and vehemently (and actively) anti-authority, neither of which my public schools were prepared to handle. This led to truancy, suspensions, and almost failing out. When I applied to the University of Maine in my senior year of high school, I was rejected.

I dove fully into working multiple part-time jobs. I bounced back and forth between them, cumulatively working sixty hours a week, all on low wages with no benefits to fall back on. I eventually landed a management position with Blockbuster, but then a few years later they went bankrupt and I found myself laid off in my early twenties.

That’s a cliff-notes version, but these experiences all have direct ties to the issues that we discuss and assemble action around in our chapter and in our organization: unlivable wages, poor medical treatment, a lack of acceptance and treatment around addiction, under-funded and archaically structured public education, inherited poverty on a mass scale, and a lack of true labor protections. There a lot of parallels, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my chapter, my city, or my state in having lived through them.

Now I can’t earnestly insist that it was all bad. I started taking college classes a few weeks after the layoff and went on to get my A.A.S. in Electrical and Automation Technology at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor and my B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology at the University of Maine in Orono. I volunteer at my alma maters and at public STEM events, and I’ll tell anyone who will listen that my proudest accomplishment to date is having completed all of that with a 4.0 GPA.

But in telling that story, I make it clear that I don’t point to that as validation of self. To me, that success represents that even kids from homes with addiction, poverty, medical calamity, and other struggles have invaluable potential, the obstacles to which are primarily set by a society that allows capitalism to take root.

Capitalism retrenches funding for public education, rerouting it to privatized education. Capitalism spikes health care costs so that affordable care isn’t quality and quality care isn’t affordable. Capitalism diminishes the quality of life of the working class by stagnating wages down to unlivable swarf. Capitalism fights unions, guaranteed benefits, and other worker protections with no concern for humanity. The do all of these things for one reason and one reason only: Profit.

I realized that in life, these weren’t hardships that I was facing by chance, luck, or omen. These are all features of a capitalist economy that seeks to infinitely increase profit with finite resources, and they’re exacerbated by a government that at worst props that system up and at best thinks it can be “reformed.”

It’s just self-preservation to identify the blockades put in one’s own path. It’s something else entirely to break those blockades down.

That’s what Democratic Socialism is. Breaking down those barriers and replacing these capitalist “features” in with equitable, shared solutions that provide for all members of society. What do you call investing yourself in ensuring that others reach their fullest potential and happiness? I cannot honestly think of a better word than love.

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.

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:

Meg Reilly, Chair  megcreilly@gmail.com

Mikayla Damon, Vice Chair mikayla.damon@gmail.com

Kate Sykes, Secretary kate_sykes_writer@yahoo.com

Press Release: Southern Maine DSA Endorses Zak Ringelstein for US Senate

Southern Maine DSA Endorses Zak Ringelstein for US Senate

PORTLAND, ME – The Southern Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (SMDSA) voted on Monday, March 12 to endorse Zak Ringelstein for US Senate. In August, the National DSA endorsed the campaign, making Ringelstein, the only candidate for US Senate to be endorsed by the organization.

Ringelstein, a DSA member, has pledged to take no money from PACs, corporations, or special interest groups in order to be a true public servant who only answers to voters. He intends to introduce and support legislation to reverse Citizens United, end corporate campaign lobbying, and institute a federal voting holiday to make the polls more accessible to working people.

“As socialists, we are fundamentally opposed to the idea that corporate money has any place in politics, or even a fair and equitable society,” said Meg Reily, SMDSA Chair. “We’re happy to endorse someone who would prioritize reversing Citizens United and increasing voting rights, two issues that go hand-in-hand,” Reilly said.

“As a public school teacher and the son of a social worker, I am blown away by the way the DSA truly fights to increase the power of working Americans. It is not just an honor to receive their endorsement; we are now a mightier force for change because of the hundreds of passionate DSA members at our side who are ready to get money out of politics and unrig the system to create a more free, democratic, and humane society for all,” said Ringelstein.

Ringelstein came to politics from a former career as a public school teacher. As a rank-and-file union member, he helped form and lead PowerToPublic, a teacher-led campaign to expose billionaire Betsy DeVos’s attempts to defund our public schools. He wants to enact democratic socialist reform in Washington, including Medicare for All, public ownership of natural resources, including groundwater, increasing protections on public land, holding corporations accountable for their emissions, and divesting from fossil fuels. He supports medicare for all and full, publicly-funded reproductive healthcare for women, including abortion. He condemns the human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians and the US’s part in funding these actions, and he rejects the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.

Ringelstein is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face off against Independent incumbent Angus King in the Fall. Ringelstein expresses frustration at the lack of accurate media coverage on King’s voting record on gun control, as well as King’s sources of campaign financing. “One of the reasons I’m running is to force those conversations into the open,” Ringelstein said.

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.

*This press release has been update to reflect Zak’s membership status and the endorsement of National DSA.

The Roots of the Labor Movement Run Deep in Maine

By Mike Desjardins

Note: This post is reblogged from https://medium.com/@mdesjardins/what-democratic-socialism-means-to-me-f361ea98138b

In the late 1800’s, a young man named Adolphe was looking for work in his hometown of Lévis, across the river from Québec City. The economy in that area in that time wasn’t particularly favorable. To find work, he resorted to what many of his fellow French Canadians did, and followed the railroad tracks into New England to work in the burgeoning manufacturing industries.

                       Adolphe Desjardins 

Adolphe ended up working in several different factories and mills, and eventually ended up at a paper mill owned by 19th century industrialist, Hugh Chisolm. Chisolm had built a small army of paper mills in the northeastern United States, and would eventually go on to co-found International Paper Co.

In the summer of 1942, at 60 years old, Adolphe was scheduled to take his very first vacation. At that point, he was working as an assistant to the mill manager — in those days, this was called a “retirement job” because the back-breaking work of papermaking gets to be pretty difficult after forty years. He went down to the basement of the mill where trucks would unload materials for the mill. While he was there, Adolphe was accidentally hit by one of the trucks.

Things did not look good for Adolphe, so they called the local priest to administer last rights (it was, after all, a Catholic town). The priest couldn’t drive, so one of the priest’s young assistants drove him down to the mill for the somber ritual. When they arrived, to his horror, the assistant said “this man is my father.”

That assistant was my grandfather, Clement Desjardins. After serving our country stateside in World War II (his two older brothers were already overseas), he came home and married his sweetheart, Lucille. During those days in Jay, the Irish worked in the shoe shops, the Italians worked in the quarry, so my grandfather fulfilled his fate and did what all the French Canadians in Jay did; he went to work in the mill — the same mill that killed his father.

Clement worked at the paper mill until he retired in his sixties. He and Lucille had six children, and today Clement lives at a nursing home in Lewiston. His oldest son, Dennis, is my father. Dennis graduated from Jay High School, and went to CMVTI to get his master electricians’ license. He worked as an electrician for several years before International Paper built a newer, larger mill a few miles up the river from the old one. They were hiring. The great pay of those union jobs was alluring, and my father ended up working in the paper mill a few years after I was born — the same mill that killed his grandfather.

My dad, Dennis, with his father Clement Desjardins

While my dad worked shift-work and the occasional sixteen hour shift, my mother attended night school at the University of Maine at Farmington, and eventually became a public school teacher. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them, especially given that I wasn’t the easiest kid to raise. Today I’d probably get treatment for ADHD, but back then I was just a pain in the ass.

In 1987, I was 12 years old. Ronald Reagan was President. The prevailing wisdom was that labor unions were an anachronistic weight on our economy, and President Reagan demonstrated how to deal with them when he summarily fired the all of the nation’s air traffic controllers five years prior. The union’s contract at International Paper’s Androscoggin Mill was up for renegotiation. After boasting literally record profits, the company demanded eye-popping concessions from the union. There was never any intention to negotiate, it was a bald-faced attempt to break the union.

The strike started in June. Every night our town was featured on the six o’clock news, interrupted by public relations commercials from International Paper, telling “their side of the story,” and how great the greedy union workers had things.

Often the news was an update on the farcical negotiations, but sometimes it got more interesting; one time a “scab” claimed his house was shot at (if I remember correctly, it was later determined that he shot at his own home). Another story was about a high school protest and walk-out by the union kids, upset that they couldn’t wear strike-related clothing while their scab-kid counterparts wore clothes with International Paper logos. One of the biggest stories was when Jesse Jackson came to town to give a presidential campaign speech in the municipal building — Mr. Jackson was the first presidential candidate I heard speak while the crowd chanted “scabs out, union in!”

(For those who are unfamiliar with strike parlance — a “scab” is someone who crosses the picket line and returns to work. A “super scab” is a former union member who goes back to work)

Let me tell you, you don’t grow up in your formative years in that environment, and come out of it a capitalist.

Picketers from UPIU Local 14 during the Androscoggin Mill strike

The strike technically ended, a little over a year later. The union had effectively lost. The United Paperworkers International Union’s support for the locals who were fighting International Paper became tepid. But after the strike, the town of Jay wasn’t quite the same. Union members were hired back by attrition, and it took many years for them to be called back — many reached retirement age before getting their call. International Paper sold the mill to a private equity firm about ten years ago, and the machines that have not been shuttered are run by non-union workers.

I went to an engineering college in Massachusetts, but settled back in Maine to raise a family. My job today is cushy. I work in at home, in my pajamas, writing software. I am paid well, probably more than I deserve. My job doesn’t make me sweat, or make my muscles sore in the morning, or require me to work weird shifts. I don’t worry about my safety. A lot of that is because my parents made damned sure I stayed the hell away from that paper mill.

I think there are two things that have drawn me to democratic socialism. The first is a steadfast refusal to accept economic injustice and inequality. This is a personal passion that was ignited I grew up during the strike. I had a front row seat to watching corporate greed hollow out the working class. I saw International Paper spend millions of dollars on phony security systems, television ads, and public relations firms, all money that could’ve gone to their dedicated employees instead. It was all to prove a point: Capital controls labor — Know your place. I saw that the wealthy’s appetite for more wealth knows no boundaries.

The second thing that draws me to democratic socialism is a strange, almost spiritual connection with the generations who came before me — at the risk of sounding corny, these meetings are my church and the “beer caucuses” afterward my communion.

In a sense, I’ve made it. I am of the bourgeoisie. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve done relatively little to earn that. My parents helped save and prepare me for college so that I’d have a better life. My grandfather raised a family of six in the house that he built himself with his mill salary, and my great grandfather literally gave his life to the paper making industry. My maternal family line also contributed to my progressive worldview—in fact, my mother’s grandfather was also killed in a papermill.

I owe it to those generations before me to help the disadvantaged, and take direct action toward a world that is more equitable and just. There are lots of ways to taxonomize what “kind” of socialist you are, and there will always be some people who will pass judgement on who is or is not a “real” socialist. But in the end I feel like we, in this meeting, are all really seeking fairness . Regardless of whether you’re a “tankie”, Trotskyist, or a mere shell-shocked Social Democrat with nowhere else to go, it doesn’t matter how or why you want to seize the means of production. What matters is preventing the greediest among us from hoarding the means of production, and using it as a cudgel to dominate and control the rest of us.

I’m thrilled that since joining the DSA I’ve been able to march in a Pride parade, phone bank for Ranked Choice Voting, drop literature for a rent stabilization initiative, and gain a sense of solidarity with other like-minded people. Without the DSA, I probably wouldn’t have done any of those things. Without the DSA, my so-called “activism” probably would’ve been confined to reposting memes on social media. Democratic Socialism gives me a sense of purpose, and helps me identify ways to help on my “justice mission.” And for that, I’m thankful.

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.

It is Happening Here…

Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America Presents:

A Staged Reading of “It Can’t Happen Here”

Adapted from the play by Sinclair Lewis and John C. Moffitt and based on the Lewis Novel

On the Anniversary of the Inauguration: January 20, 2018

7:00 pm (Doors), 7:30 (Curtain)9:00 pm

Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St, Portland, ME 04102, USA

A donation of $10-20 is requested at the door.

Sinclair Lewis was the first American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature and also the first to decline the Pulitzer, which, in 1926, was given “for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” [1]

Best known for his critical treatment of American materialism, sexism, commercialism and capitalism, Lewis, the man, remained true to the democratic socialist ideals that fueled Lewis, the writer. “In America most of us—not readers alone, but even writers—are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues,” Lewis declared in his Nobel acceptance speech in 1930, going on to describe the country as “the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today.”[2]

Five years later, and over the course of only four months, Lewis would write the semi-satirical novel, It Can’t Happen Here, about the swindling of the American presidency by a dangerous demagogue, a so-called “man of the people” who rises to power by promising greatness for his militant followers, while vilifying immigrants, non-Christians, the poor, and the free press. Lewis was writing from a place of fear—namely that fascism, which was on the rise in Europe, could take hold in America.

His fears were not unfounded. In 1930, the country was digging itself out of the Great Depression: unemployment was up; manufacturing was down, and people were desperate to follow any law-and-order candidate who promised to restore their prosperity and self-respect. A 1939 pro-Hitler rally in Madison Square garden, attended by tens of thousands of fascist followers—all of them Americans—is a stark reminder of how close we came to the brink.

It Can’t Happen Here became a bestseller, spawning radio, theater, film and television adaptations that have reached millions. Fascism did not sweep across America in a great wave, razing all democratic institutions in its path, as Lewis imagined—but of course that is only how it happens in novels. In real life, fascism takes hold by degrees so small and incremental that we barely notice the creep of authoritarianism until it is too late to turn back the tide. Lewis understood, more than any other writer of his time, that in order to prevent fascism from suffocating the flame of freedom, we must continually remind ourselves that it can happen here.

Cast of Characters:

Doremus Jessep – Herb Adams
Mary Greenhill- Mikayla Damon
Fowler Greenhill – Krys Bigosinski
David Greenhill – Meg Reilly
Lorinda Pike – Kate Sykes
Shad Ledue – Bob Mahue
Francis Tasbrough – Kelly McDaniel
Effingham Swan – Carl Pease
Julian Falck – Kenny Lynx
Henry Veeder – Seth Berner
Mrs. Veeder – Tracy Allen
Clarence Tubbs – Vinney O’Malley
Dan Wilgus – Barney McClelland
Adalaide Tarr Gimmitch/Narrator – Cynthia Handlen
Mr. Dimmick – Meg Reilly
Jim Nickerson – Cynthia Handlen
Walt Trobridge – Zach Ringelstein
Pastor Prang – Jack O’Brien
“Buzz” Windrip – Harlan Baker
Adelaide Tarr Gimmich – Cynthia Handlen
Narrator – Cynthia Handlen
Commentator – Joey Brunelle

 

[1] The Sinclair Lewis Society

[2] John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 15th edition, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980), 791 via Wikipedia

Ask a Socialist: “What is Universal Basic Income, and why are socialists for it?”

By Jeremy Mele

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is, as the name suggests, an income that is universally provided to all persons to cover the basic necessities required to live. Conceptions of what constitutes basic necessities differ from person to person, but, at minimum, UBI would cover food, clothing, and shelter. These are things we all need in order to live.

Socialists believe that no one should have to labor for someone else in order to survive. But under capitalism, we are forced to sell our time, sell our labor, and sell ourselves so that others can profit, and so that we can keep on living. Socialists assert that life’s basic necessities should instead be ensured as human rights.

Over the course of modern history, industrialization, science and technology have increased efficiency in the production and delivery of goods and services, yet most of that benefit has gone to the capitalist class, resulting in extreme wealth inequality and the rise of an elite leisure class. Socialists believe that workers, too, should profit from society’s advances. Universal Basic Income would help to promote a more just distribution of free time and resources.

When workers’ basic needs are met, our liberty and power in society increase. No longer will we have to work jobs we hate because we fear starvation or homelessness. No longer will we work longer and longer hours while capitalists profit simply by watching their investments grow. We will be able to work as we see fit (either for others or for ourselves); thus, work will no longer be a dreadful drudgery that we have to put up with but, rather, a creative and fulfilling project that we choose for ourselves. Don’t like your job under capitalism? Too bad: work or die! Don’t like your job in a society where a UBI is guaranteed? Go do something else with your time!

Universal Basic Income would greatly increase the power of the working class, especially our bargaining power. If the threats of homelessness and starvation are no longer available to coerce workers into toiling for capitalists, then the capitalists will lose their bargaining power. The spell of capitalism will crumble as workers realize we can work for ourselves, not just for the capitalists. Workers’ cooperatives could produce what the capitalists used to, because the workers will have the necessary time and resources to invest in just these kinds of projects. If successfully implemented, the advent of democratically run cooperatives will sound the death knell for capitalist enterprises and their cruel grip on our society.

Survival, freedom, and power for the working class: that’s why socialists like Universal Basic Income!

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “Democratic socialism seems like a movement for millennials. I’m a senior. What’s in it for me?”

 

By Jeremy Mele

While socialism has seen a large outpouring of support by millennials, that in no way means that it’s only for millennials. Democratic socialism is a system for everyone. It’s a collective effort to democratize work, provide for everyone’s basic needs, and create a society that values personal well-being, not the acquisition of profit.

This last point is important for seniors now more than ever. At a time when the federal government wants to cut our social safety nets, strip of us healthcare, and do away with retirement, members of the working class of all ages need to stand together to ensure that our society is one that looks after everyone.

Socialism is a movement by and for the working class, and it aims to ensure that all members of the working class are treated to the respect, and comfort, they deserve. In Maine in particular, more and more people cannot afford to retire and so are working up until their deaths, allowing them no time to rest and enjoy their golden years. A society that works its people to their deaths is exploitative, and socialists refuse to abide by that or any other such exploitation. Workers reaching retirement age have as much to gain as anyone else in standing in solidarity with socialists in their fight for justice and material well-being for the working class.

Democratic socialism will benefit millennials, but it will also benefit the generations that came before it and the generations that will come after it. A democratic socialist society is one that is dedicated to equality, justice, individual liberty, and material well-being. These are things that everyone, regardless of age, can get behind.

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Press Release: SMDSA Endorses Marpheen Chann for Portland City Council District 5

For Immediate Release

In a meeting of the general membership on August 14, 2017 at Portland City Hall, the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America (SMDSA) voted to endorse Marpheen Chann for Portland City Council District 5. Chann is the second candidate to be endorsed by the chapter, after Joey Brunelle, who is running for an at-large seat on the Council. “I’m really excited that we now have two endorsed candidates running for City Council. But I’m especially proud of the deep democracy we practiced as we discussed and voted on the candidates as a group,” said SMDSA Chair Chris Teret.

Chann joins a growing list of DSA-endorsed city council candidates around the country who identify with the ideals of the democratic socialist movement, and feel empowered to say so by the swell of public support for the Bernie Sanders campaign. “I’m honored and humbled to receive the endorsement of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America and look forward to getting out the working class vote and making city government work for working people,” Chann said.

At 25,000 members and growing, the DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States. “People are sick and tired of politics that puts profits over people, and democratic socialism espouses the values of a government by, for, and of the people. Like many, I used to get hung up on the word socialist, but democratic socialism aims to make us a more democratic society, by fighting for economic and social justice and working people,” Chann said.

Chann’s campaign platform emphasizes consensus building and fostering community and civic engagement. He supports reforming Tax Increment Financing (TIF) negotiations so they benefit Portland’s skilled laborers and the local economy, not out-of-state workers. “We need to grow a thriving, fair economy with jobs that pay living wages and paid sick time,” Chann said.

His plan to make housing affordable includes introducing checks and balances on landlords to give renters adequate bargaining power, while also establishing a citizen advisory committee to oversee the city’s Housing Trust Fund to ensure it is being used to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing for low and median income households. “We need to make Portland truly a city for everyone, not just for those who can afford the skyrocketing rents and property taxes,” Chann said.

As a graduate of USM and Maine Law, Chann envisions the city working with our universities to help spur innovation and create high-tech and good paying jobs. Establishing a robust internship program for college and grad students will also help students get real-world experience prior to graduation. He hopes to invest in public education, while also bringing property tax relief to Portland residents, by building a broad coalition of cities and towns to hold the State accountable for full funding of all public schools.

If anyone can build such solidarity, it is Chann, who describes himself as a bridge builder and maintains close ties with the Democratic Party. He believes strongly in a democratic, deliberative process that fosters inclusion and makes sure no one is left out or left unheard. “The SMDSA empowers people from the grassroots up and we need all hands on deck if we truly want to build a city and democratic society for everyone,” he said.

The SMDSA is not a political party and endorses candidates of any political party who share the chapter’s goals of decreasing the influence of money in politics, making gender and cultural relationships more equitable, increasing the power of marginalized and working class people over corporate interests, and advancing environmental stewardship in the region.

For more information please contact SMDSA Chair Chris Teret at: christopherteret@hotmail.com

 

Press Release: SMDSA members testify against proposed changes to the Maine Department of Corrections County Jail Visitation Policy

For Immediate Release

On August 15, 2017, the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America (SMDSA) joined with representatives of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition (MPAC), ACLU of Maine, and various members of the public and interfaith communities to deliver over two hours of public testimony against proposed changes to the Maine Department of Corrections County Jail Visitation Policy, which would eliminate a mandate to allow county jail inmates to have contact visits with family and friends.

Disallowing face-to-face visits has been linked to escalations in prison violence as well as increased recidivism rates. Social scientists and the medical community assert that a person cannot be healthily rehabilitated if their emotional needs are unmet. As social creatures, human beings form bonds and forge connections that need to be reinforced through regular contact. To deny a person this contact, to physically cut them off completely from the people they love and the bonds they have together, is to play havoc with their mental and emotional health and well-being. This runs counter to the DOC’s goal of enhancing the safety of the community. Our society will never benefit from persons who have suffered such psychological abuse.

The Maine DOC proposes replacing contact visits with video calls outsourced to a for-profit vendor. “Video calls are insufficient in providing contact to inmates,” said SMDSA officer, Mikayla Damon, reading from a statement prepared by the chapter. They lack the physical component so necessary to meaningful human interaction, especially between parents and children.” Calls would be charged to the family members of inmates, many of whom live in poverty. Over a dozen letters sent from inmates were read into public record, describing how vital contact visits are to their emotional health and rehabilitation. The letters described the joy of holding children and grandchildren in their arms, and the how a simple hug from a friend restored their sense of self-worth.

Seth Berner, a Portland criminal defense attorney and elected SMDSA officer testified that many of the county jail inmates who would be affected by this policy are being held while awaiting trial, many of whom are innocent. “Subjecting innocent people to inhumane treatment while awaiting trial may further erode their faith in the system, breaking down the social contract which forms the basis of our laws,” said Berner. The price tag is not only social. “Each prisoner in the county jail system costs tax payers $50,000. We need to be thinking about our long-term investment in the health of our society, not the cost savings of short-term gains,” Berner said.

Maine state law requires that substantive changes in policy be brought before the legislature for discussion and approval. Representatives from prisoner advocacy groups questioned why the new policy, which is a repeal and replace of the former policy, is not subject to this requirement. A request was filed at the hearing to uncover what standards, if any, the DOC uses to determine if a change is substantive. The timeline for public comment on this issue ends August 30, 2017.

The Democratic Socialists of America are prison abolitionists. We believe that strong and well-resourced communities don’t require repression to keep order. Until such time as our prison system is transformed fully to a restorative justice model, we will keep vigil over the rights of all human beings who have been put behind bars, as well as the many people who love them and have a right to visit them in person.