In his July 2nd article, “Portland Style 'Conservatives' Have Chance to Shape the City” Greg Kesich puts forward a framework to try to understand the political differences which are coming to dominate the city of Portland. This discussion is an important one, especially as the differences which dominate Portland, a city almost entirely controlled by the Democratic Party, are decidedly not those that dominate the rest of the country’s airwaves. Instead of Republicans, we find that the main challengers to the hegemony of the Democratic party in Portland are decentralized citizen movements against the privatization of space, as well as fights around single issues like the legalization of marijuana, or to preserve the rights of artists to sell their art on our streets. As Mr. Kesich rightly points out this opposition has yet to fully cohere into a formal political block with clear lines of demarcation placing it in relation not only to the politics of Portland, but to the politics of the country as a whole.
While Mr. Kesich is right to assert that such lines would be helpful, the categories he comes up with leave much to be desired.
Kesich argues that we should understand the political separation in the city as ‘left-wing conservatives’ i.e. those who want to 'conserve' the city against further development such as the construction of high-rise apartments in Bayside and the sale of Congress Square park, and the ‘progressives’ of the city council and the Mayor's office who believe that such development is necessary to increase the city's tax base, despite any associated costs. But these categories confuse more than they clarify. The real differences are not around whether the City of Portland should be focused on 'progressing' or 'conserving' but on around who's interests we should be progressing for: the wealthiest 1%, out of state corporations and real-estate developers, or the ordinary people who live and work in the city.
If the Green Party and the rest of Portland's emerging left are guilty of shouting “stop” at the tidal forces of history, it is not because we are students of William F Buckley, but because we are doing our best to stem a tidal wave of privatization of the public sphere, to stop moving back to a pre-New Deal era. We don't say “stop” to the forces of history because we want to keep things where they are, we are saying “stop” because we want to stop moving backwards. On the contrary, we want things to be much different from how they are today.
Let's consider this approach with one issue that Kesich raises: the sale of Congress Square Park. We in the Maine Green Independent Party joined with the Friends of Congress Square Park, along with the many other groups and organizations in coalition to block the sale of the park, but we have never said that the park should be left as it was at the start of 2014. We have always said the crisis of Congress Square was solvable without the privatization of the park, and in many ways we proved it. With modest resources—a few tables, the support of a foodtruck and some concerts in the park—we have seen the rebirth of a vital city space. Imagine what could have been done with the full support of City Hall.
We fought to save what had been won by the generations before us. At the same time we fought for the revitalization and democratization of the space we were working to save. We believe that it is vital that public spaces and services retain their public character and that these services are expanded as public services, but we also believe that they need to be completely rejuvenated on the basis of full funding and participatory democracy.
On issue after issue our positions follow this logic. When we fight against fracking natural gas or moving dangerous tar sand oils through old pipelines we don't fight to keep energy policy as it is today, nor to bring it back to what it was ten years ago. No, we fight for a massive green jobs program to rebuild our infrastructure, implement the production of clean energy and put millions to work. When we stand with the students and faculty of #USMfuture to stop budget cuts at USM, we hardly fight to keep the university on it's so-called Metropolitan course. We fight to make it a more fundamentally democratic institution with vastly expanded resources and whole new model of participatory and democratic education.
Before we concluded, let us briefly turn to the three issues that Mr. Kesich raises as the most pressing issues facing our city. They are: First, that the school age population in Portland is growing poorer every year, by which we believe Mr. Kesich means that young working class people are using up more money in services than they are able to contribute to the tax base. Second, that Portland becomes more unaffordable for middle-class families every year. Third, that cars are still the best way to move around the city.
At first these issues seem to present a complex and interlocking set of problems. Funding services for a poverty stricken population requires the further development of the tax base, as does any attempt to change Portland's car culture. And yet as we see today, the development of the tax base by green lighting real-estate development sets off a pattern of real-estate speculation, and rising housing costs which push working families off the peninsula and out of town, making car ownership necessary for commuting to work. Yet we believe that this Gordian Knot of policy does not require a sword to be solved, it unravels all on it's own with three words: “tax the rich.”
Our state-level income taxes are essentially flat, with our top tax bracket at $30,000 per year and above. It is mind boggling but someone trying to support a family of four on $35,000 is taxed at the same rate as someone bringing home $1,000,0000 every year. As a society, as a state and as a city we have plenty of money: money for medicare for all, money for food and housing, money to transform our energy and transportation infrastructure (which will create jobs and reduce unemployment), money to pay for education kindergarten through college, but the only way to get it-- is to work against the wealthy elite and their corporations who fund the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans alike. Let's stop moving backwards, let's start voting Green and let's keep building left-wing movements for democracy and public space in Portland.