DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE CHANT? The Democrat-led Maine Legislature has support for progressive reform. Will they use it?
"If they keep grinding the common man into the ground, they'll be nothing left of us," said Bob Guethlen, from the wilds of Tomhegan Township on Moosehead Lake. He was referring to what used to be called the Monied Interests and the Occupy movement calls the One Percent.
Guethlen, 65, a retired woodworker, was a participant at a State House rally January 8 organized by a new coalition, the Alliance for the Common Good, a child of Maine's Occupy groups — which appear to be turning from pure protest toward political action.
The rally's intention was to "help motivate legislators" to do things for "issues affecting the 99 Percent," Guethlen said.
The 100 participants at the high-energy get-together of 15 or so of the state's most progressive groups wanted to motivate legislators toward a grassroots viewpoint alternative to that of the corporate lobbyists streaming into the legislative corridors by the scores.
Business-suited lobbyists were, in fact, literally streaming into the State House on this first business day of the legislative session, passing alliance members who first congregated outdoors at the public entrance under the governor's office.
In sunny, cool weather, a few of them danced in a circle, drummed, and chanted "We are united for the common good." The dancers tended to be young and counter-cultural, but others were older and L.L.-Bean-attired. All were less-prosperous-looking than the lobbyists.
The alliance's broad target is "corporate dominance in our government," Lew Kingsbury, of Occupy Augusta, declared later in a rousing speech in the Hall of Flags.
Stimulated by the Democratic Party's takeover of the Legislature, the alliance specifically aimed to point Democrats toward protecting Maine's environment from corporate exploitation, protecting poor people from health-care and other social-service cuts, and eliminating the tax cuts for the rich passed by the Republican Legislature two years ago.
A rally sign posed the question: "Maine's Choice: Cut Health Care for the Needy or Cancel Tax Cuts for the $200,000+?" Cuts proposed by Republican Governor Paul LePage to health and welfare services and municipal revenue-sharing reflect state-revenue shortfalls that are to some extent due to the tax cuts. Democrats have hinted they might try to repeal the tax reductions for the rich. (The governor points out that his tax cuts also benefitted the middle class and the poor.)
On economics, the activists are not just against things. "Supporting the local economy" is a new direction for them, said Steve Burke, of Warren — meaning supporting environmentally sustainable development, the benefits of which go to local people instead of to the distant corporate One Percent.
In his speech, Kingsbury called the coalition "the core of Maine's progressive activist movement." But there were few establishment groups at the rally.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the state's most prominent environmental organization, wasn't represented, although it's opposed to what people at the rally cited as three big environmental threats: the East-West Highway project, the open-pit mine proposed for Aroostook County's Bald Mountain, and the potential of Alberta tar-sands oil flowing through the Montreal-Portland pipeline.