It’s a sign of the political times here in Portland when the Green Independent Party isn’t considered progressive enough. Bethany Mulkern, a social worker employed by the state, was a Green for three years. She volunteered for Ralph Nader’s campaign when he ran on the Green ticket in 2000. Before that, she was a Democrat. Since 2001, she’s been a Socialist. And now she wants you to join the people’s party.
In late October, Mulkern, 29, held the first organizational meeting for the southern Maine branch of the Socialist Equality Party. The meeting was held at the Glickman Library at the University of Southern Maine, where Mulkern is an alumna. She says four people showed up to learn about the modern US Socialist platform — which includes dissolving privately-held corporations and distributing ownership among the people, ending the war in Iraq, and stopping domestic spying — and why it’s time southern Maine is offered a real alternative vision to capitalism.
“I had been involved with the Green Party in the past but really just got very disillusioned with the disorganization and the fractured nature of the party,” says Mulkern. “And I really felt that the Green Party wasn’t calling for enough change and that socialism really offered a viable alternative to the system we have today, which I feel is really not working for the working class and the middle class.”
So far, Mulkern has found launching a proletarian revolution is no protest in the park, especially since the party has struggled for decades to shake negative associations with the darker days of communism. The second meeting, held last weekend and including a speaker from a national Socialist Party newsletter, only attracted two people. But Mulkern suspects that meeting’s attendance was low because most budding Trotskyites are juggling busy holiday schedules (what with shopping to support the capitalist system and all).
The southern Maine Socialist group joins the Bangor committee of the national Socialist Equality Party. The Bangor committee ran a candidate for state senate in November; he received 294 votes, just over two percent of the total, which was a strong showing relative to the five other Socialist Equality candidates running for state or congressional office nationwide, some of whom barely eked out one percent of the vote. And though Socialist Equality hasn’t performed well enough in statewide elections to qualify as an official party, Mulkern believes her alternative to the oppressive two-party system of Greens and Democrats currently ruling Portland will attract some support in this part of the state. After all, in this political atmosphere, what choice does a fringe voter have anymore? The Republicans?
“There’s certainly a sense in this country that socialism isn’t something you talk about, let alone attend a meeting about,” Mulkern says. “Even though the Democrats did win [the US House and Senate], today’s political climate is still more to the right than it has been in years past. So I am very pleased with the turnout so far. We certainly will keep having speakers, we’ll keep having meetings, and I’m hopeful that our presence will grow.”
Mulkern hopes the southern Maine Socialists will eventually be organized enough to put forth candidates for municipal, state, or congressional seats. Her immediate goal, however, is simply to educate voters about socialism. The next meeting of the southern Maine Socialist Equality Party has not been scheduled. Contact Mulkern at email@example.com for more information.