Maine Voices: Portland as a free-market playground does not help the ’99 percent’

The Green Party’s goal is to stem the slide back to the Gilded Age, where the rich inevitably got richer.

BY ASHER PLATTS AND OWEN HILL

Originally Published in the Portland Press Herald

 

In his July 2 column, “Portland-style ‘conservatives’ have chance to shape city’s future,” Greg Kesich suggests a framework to try to understand the emerging political divide that dominates the city of Portland. This discussion is an important one.

Portland, a single-party city in which the Democrats dominate, is somewhat distinctive. Instead of Republicans on the right, we find that the main challengers to the Democratic Party in Portland are decentralized citizen movements, such as the movement to stop the sale of Congress Square Park. Mr. Kesich rightly points out this opposition has yet to fully cohere into a formal political bloc with clear lines of demarcation.

While Mr. Kesich is right to argue that such lines would be helpful, the categories he creates leave much to be desired.

Mr. 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 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 tax base, despite any associated costs.

These categories confuse more than they illuminate. The real differences center on not whether the city of Portland should be focused on “progressing” or “conserving” but on whose interests we should be advancing: the wealthiest 1 percent, 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 only because we want to stop moving backward to the so-called “Gilded Age,” the pre-New Deal world of laissez-faire, work-till-you-die capitalism where the rich get richer and the rest of us are left out.

Just because we don’t want things to get worse, though, it doesn’t mean we want them to stay the same. On the contrary – we imagine a much better future than the world we live in today.

For example, consider the sale of Congress Square Park. We in the Green Party joined with many other organizations in coalition to block the sale of the park. But instead of arguing that the park should be left alone, we said that the very real crisis of Congress Square was solvable without privatization.

And we proved it. With modest resources – a few tables, the support of a food truck and some concerts in the park – we have seen the rebirth of a vital city space.

We fought to save the public space that we inherited from the generations before us. At the same time, we fought for the revitalization and democratization of the space we were working to save. On issue after issue, our positions follow this logic.

So, let us briefly turn to the three issues that Mr. Kesich raises as the most pressing ones facing our city:

 The school-age population in Portland is growing poorer every year, increasing the strain on the city’s tax base.

 Portland is becoming more unaffordable for middle-class families every year.

 Cars are still the best way to move around the city.

Mr. Kesich is right to assert that these problems cannot be solved by a “conservative approach.” But neither are they solvable through what Mr. Kesich labels the “progressive approach.” Indeed, attempting to fund the services that a poorer population requires by green-lighting major development and privatization projects sets off a cascade of market speculation, which increases housing costs.

These new costs push working families out of town, taking their tax base with them, and makes car ownership necessary for commuting. We cannot solve these problems by standing still, but we also can’t solve them by turning Portland into a free-market playground.

What we need is progress for the 99 percent: a Green New Deal for the people of Portland, the state of Maine and America. As a society, state and city we have plenty of money – we can afford to put people to work building green-energy infrastructure and retooling our transportation infrastructure; rise to meet the challenges of climate change; raise the minimum wage and provide secure, affordable housing and health care to everyone.

We are the richest and most productive country in the world. The money is there, the problem is that it’s going to the wealthiest 1 percent and not to the services, infrastructure and paychecks that the rest of us depend on to get by. Ordinary Portlanders need to fight to get that money back. We need to fight for progress for the 99 percent. We hope they join us.

— Special to the Press Herald

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Asher Platts is chair of the Maine Green Party and a State Senate candidate from Portland.

Owen Hill is a Green Party State Senate candidate in Westbrook & Portland and an International Socialist Organization organizer.

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