Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

Planned Parenthood says the fight is far from over

A victory was won last week when the GOP pulled their flawed health care reform bill from the House floor after acknowledging they wouldn’t be able to drum up enough votes.
It was a victory particularly for women, who hours before the bill died, saw a room full of men (in that tone-deaf Freedom Caucus photo Mike Pence tweeted out) make decisions on cutting maternity care, hospitalization, and other essential health services.
“Friday was good day,” said Amy Cookson, the communications manager at Planned Parenthood Maine. “24 million people are keeping their healthcare coverage and 2.5 million patients still have access to Planned Parenthood.”
According to Cookson, if it wasn’t for the incredible grassroots organizing and activism of Planned Parenthood supporters, “the worst bill for women’s health” might have passed the House.
Volunteers met with Senators Angus King and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and delivered more than 1,200 letters to Congressman Bruce Poliquin’s office. This level of civic engagement was echoed across the country.
But that moment of light in a dark battle for women’s right to accessible health care was only temporary.
Last Monday President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that they’ll be looking for “other opportunities” to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization that so many depend on for low-cost reproductive and sexual health services.
Staff at the Portland branch of Planned Parenthood are poised to keep their growing supporter base politically activated, as they anticipate more threats to their member's funding in the future.
“We know politicians will try again,” said Cookson.
Staff are worried that Congress might try to block Medicaid patients from accessing their services, which range from a multitude of sexual and reproductive health needs that every woman will need at some point in their lifetime. (They do far more than just abortions, which amounts to just three percent of the total services they offer and can’t be federally funded anyway because of the Hyde Agreement.)
And if Trump’s White House does succeed in blocking Medicaid patients from using Planned Parenthood’s services (like STD/STI screenings, contraception, pap smears, etc.), it’s not clear they’ll find care anywhere else because Republicans haven’t proposed a plan that guarantees that the surrounding facilities could absorb the demand for those services. Often times a Planned Parenthood clinic is the only one of its kind in a community for miles.
“There has already been a bill introduced to restrict family planning funding,” said Cookson. “Judge Gorsuch has an extremely troubling record on women’s rights and reproductive rights, and there are bad bills to fight right here in Maine, too.”
Although Democrats would unite against it, there’s an upcoming spending bill that could include a defunding provision.
Despite the moral outrage over the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortions, not many people are actually putting stock into that argument. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans actually support government funding of Planned Parenthood, including 50 percent of Trump voters.
“It’s interesting when voters are informed about what we do and the care that we provide,” said Nicole Clegg, the Vice President of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood.
For Clegg, that Freedom Caucus photo that went viral symbolizes everything you need to know about the Republican’s disregard for the needs of women.
“I will say that 99 percent of women will use birth control at some point in their lifetime, so this is basic health care for women,” said Clegg. “To try and carve out the argument that somehow this is special or unique, speaks to how deeply disconnected these politicians are from the reality of women’s lives. They’re out of touch.”
“We feel like we’re pawns in a political game right now, and women are the ones that are going to pay the price,” said Jessica Dolce, a resident of North Yarmouth and volunteer at Planned Parenthood.
Dolce said that she’s relied on Planned Parenthood for over 25 years as a safety net service for when she didn’t have health insurance. As a teenager in the ’90s growing up in New Jersey, Dolce relied on the local Planned Parenthood for STD testings and learning about contraception. Later she would depend on them for annual check-ups and cancer screenings.
“I was given accurate informations that kept me healthy,” said Dolce. “People don’t understand that birth control pills are medication. It’s a medication that’s prescribed to me for really debilitating menstrual cramps. The men in that room don’t understand why people use these medications.”
“It’s a tremendous relief to know that you’ll always have that care,” said Dolce. “You can’t put a price on it.”
Stories like Dolce’s can be found thousands of times over across the country, and are the reasons why there’s such a push to support Planned Parenthood.

  • Published in News

A future progressive city leader? Joey Brunelle lays out his vision for Portland's future

Getting people to understand the importance of local government starts by convincing them it isn’t boring or intimidating.

 

That’s what the local digital communications specialist Joey Brunelle wants to do. Besides designing print ads and podcasting, Brunelle has been engaged in a lot of civic-related activities, and he hopes you will too.

 

Last year, he was part of the movement to help save the India Street Health Clinic. He was also the Secretary of Portland Democrats. More recently, he’s been live-streaming from inside Portland’s City Council meetings and blogging bite-sized bits of related info from them later. He’s active on social media, attempting to drum up early support ahead of his run for the at-large city councilor seat in November. His mission lately has been to get people more involved and educated on local civics in general, but also prime them for what he hopes to be future progressive reform, and direct action on several key issues in Portland.

 

Earlier this week Brunelle spoke to The Phoenix about a range of big issues as he laid out his vision for Portland’s future.

 

First things first, where are you at on the political spectrum?

 

I’m definitely on the left. I’ve been using the word progressive on my branding but I'm not entirely sure if I align with the term; we’re at a strange point in history right now where we’re not really sure what it means anymore.

 

I’ve considered using the term Democratic Socialist instead. I believe strongly that we shouldn’t leave anybody behind and that we all need to collaborate to do that.

 

What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the Portland City Council right now?

 

It’s really amazing how diverse the council is. There’s an incredible array of people and backgrounds there this year. I think they all do a pretty good job of bringing their own experiences to the table.

 

As far as weaknesses, there’s the elephant in the room: whatever disagreement is going on between Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings. Without assigning blame to either one of them, it’s made the whole environment difficult to work in.

 

The councilors also don’t do a good enough of job of looking to see what other cities are doing in terms of policy. Whether it’s housing, the environment, or civic participation. They have this mentality of ‘Oh, this is the way we’ve always done things.’

 

Why did you decide to run for city council?

 

To be honest, Bernie Sanders was a big part of it. When he said that he can’t change anything because the movement starts with the people. It was a kick in the pants to do it myself. I always had ideas on how city government should work.

 

But also the India Street situation played a role.

 

As a gay man, the discussion around that clinic was infuriating to me. Councilors and city staff obviously didn't understand the importance of that clinic to Portland’s gay community, because they’re not gay.

 

I thought to myself that if there were a gay person up there we wouldn’t be having this discussion. So I said, ‘Hey, I’ll be that person.’

 

What are your thoughts on the outcome of the India Street health services situation?

 

The city has done a less than stellar job of communicating what the current state of it is.

 

The 230 patients that were part of the program that got shut down found care elsewhere. They went to various places. The remaining three parts of India street are still there, but staff has been reduced to about four or five people, so they’re kind of running with a skeleton crew.

 

A substance abuse treatment clinic now shares a place with the India street clinic as well. It’s good in the sense that they do great work, there will opportunities for the services to integrate and overlap, but in the other sense this place that was part of the LGBTQ community is now been refocused towards something else, like the opioid problem — which is worthwhile, but it’s still a loss of the LGBTQ community.

 

Do you go to each city council meeting?

 

I do try to go to all the meetings. I believe very strongly that the city needs to do a better job of communicating to citizens what the hell it’s doing. They should have an agenda that’s more understandable.

 

Can you talk about why you’ve been trying to increase transparency through your blog and podcast?

 

People are interested in what’s going on in city government but they're having a hard time interfacing with it, and the city’s not making it easier.

 

The school board does a better job of explaining what it’s doing in a way that people can understand.

 

OK, so on your website you write about a bold, innovative progressive vision for the city of Portland. What is it?

 

Providing more affordable housing. I lived in San Francisco for five or six years, at the height of the housing crisis. I saw first hand how destructive it can be. It got to the point where teachers couldn’t live in the city. It’s still going through a teacher’s shortage. Restaurants couldn’t find people to work in them. It offed its cultural economy. The artists and musicians left.

 

I see the affordable housing issue as the most pressing one. I see us on the same path. I see glimmerings of the same phenomenon happening here.

 

We need to look at what other cities are trying to combat this problem and experiment and apply those strategies here. Not enough was done last year on housing, not enough is done this year. I have friends everyday that say I can’t live in Portland because the rents are too high. That’s a big loss.

 

What else do you see as pressing issues in Portland?

 

Property taxes are a big issue. Where rent prices are an issue for musicians and families and working class people, property tax is an issue for elderly and retired people. We need to address their needs as well.

 

Portland has an opportunity as the largest and most liberal city in the state to lead on a bunch of issues. We should be leading on climate change. We’ve just been sitting on our hands for the last couple of years.

 

South Portland is way ahead of us on pesticides, tenants rights, composting, and that shouldn’t be.

 

I would want to see us grow into our role and have a city government that reflects the values and desires of the people in the city. The people are hungry for it.

 

How do outside interests relate to the housing crisis?

 

We’re in a bit of building boom right now, which is great, but it creates interesting situations. There are decisions that come before the city council almost every week where some real estate developers profits are put on the line.

 

For example, there’s a meeting later on this week on the economic development committee for parcels of land that the developer wants for something that they're going to build, and the city is either selling it to them or swapping land with them. I don’t want the temptation to be influenced by the real estate developers. I’m glad they’re building housing, I just wish they were building affordable housing.

 

How do you feel about the trend towards privatization, like in the case of waste services?

 

I don’t think it’s always true that the private sector can do a better job. San Francisco runs a world class, city-run public health system, that provides way more services and is a huge asset to their community. There are plenty of cities that have public waste departments that do great work.

 

Privatizing them would trade away non-unionized jobs. Private companies will tell us what we want to hear in the proposal stage, and then 5-10 years down the line the costs will go up by surprise. Once we sold all the garbage trucks, and the private companies hold all the negotiating cards, they’ll start putting the screws to us financially.

 

I’m worried that privatization would lower the quality of these services because the management won’t be local anymore. One of the companies they’re looking at for garbage collection is based in Massachusetts.

 

Where do you stand on the school bond debate?

 

I’m definitely in favor for the school bond because we’ve been having this discussion for 20 years since I was in high school. There are other schools that are going to need fixes as well. If we’re going to look for state funding, we’re also going to need them for high schools, and we’re going to have to be thinking about that very soon.

 

Nobody can guarantee that the school board will find funding. We could wait and see, but we wouldn’t know until 2019, and then the councilors will say ‘Oh, we need another ad hoc committee, another study, another set of 10 votes on this,’ and we’re right back to where we’re at now. It’s disingenuous; nobody can say what future city councilors will do.

 

 

What are the biggest challenges ahead?

 

We need to do a better job of making collaborative decisions. There’s a real sense that City Hall doesn’t really give a damn what people think and it’s going to do what it wants to do, and you can speak all you want to public comment, but they’ve already decided what their decision is.

 

I want to change that mentality. I’m seeking people to help me develop a platform on these issues. I want to give people a voice on a local scale.

 

Bernie was right, we need to start locally. For too long we have felt that local politics was too boring, and we’ve avoided it to our detriment. If you look at a lot of the Republicans who are controlling our national government, a lot of them started in city government. The Democrats don’t have that kind of pipeline.

 

If I can help people see how campaigns work and how city government works, and bring them into the process that’s not intimidating or boring, I will have considered this a success.

 

If you want to learn more about Joey Brunelle and where he stands on other key issues, go to: http://brunelleforportland.org/

  • Published in News

A quick Q and A with Zoo Cain

The prolific artist and longtime Portland resident Zoo Cain shared some wisdom with the Phoenix ahead of the local premiere of "Peace, Love, and Zoo," an award-winning film by Reginald Groff that chronicles his road to recovery and shows that when you give to the universe, sometimes it gives back. 

 

What have you been up to lately? Where is your energy focused?

 

Walking the wilds of Cape Cod with my wife Cindy.  Staying close with my art, visual art, while doing some cool reading and writing.  Spending a lot of time with my three new friends, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kokopelli and Shirley Jackson.

 

How do you feel about the reaction to the film Peace Love and Zoo so far?

 

Well for a person more drawn to flying under the radar the film is somewhat daunting and exciting at the same time.  I am grateful for people's great vibes towards me.     

 

What has been the most reoccurring piece of advice you've offered people struggling with addiction, or any type of ailment or anxiety for that matter?

 

Never give up. Folks that are suicidal simply have run out of hope. One of the few survivors of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge said that all his insurmountable problems actually had solutions other than the fact he just took that fateful leap. Like almost everyone that has survived an attempt to die, they are so happy to have another chance.  Life is precious.  Transform and be at rest inside yourself.        



How does art factor into that?

 

Art enables you to think with the whole brain. You can at once be on and in tune while creating. Also it's real fun. Going to plays, movies, reading, and listening is grand.

 

Art can definitely help a person paint their way out of a very dark place. Making things, poetry, songs, drawings, vessels, other than all this constant destruction active using involves, is very good for the soul and psyche. It can actually change patterns in the body, imprinting positivity rather than the negative. Enrich your insides and the outsides will look after themselves.        

 

What advice would you impart on any struggling artists out there? 

It surely is not easy being an artist wanting to get by in a place that is being bought up and sold for many tens of thousands. What happened to our beloved Munjoy Hill for instance? New fire department interest in places that house the artist, since a very tragic fire, also adds strain to the less than rich and middle class. One has to really want to create to make art.  Its never been an easy road, especially if selling out is not a personal option.

 

How do you feel about Portland's art scene currently?

 

Portland is a wonderful place to live and work.  It will only get better.  A rock and roll band will sooner than later put Portland center stage.  People should be ready for that big sure change.            

Myles Bullen urges Portland to Wake Up in latest music video

It’s probably easy for you to show compassion to someone who’s similar to you, pleasant, or successful. But are you willing to offer someone support when it’s difficult or uncomfortable? Most of us consider ourselves to be good people. To those that virtue signal on social media, or claim to be filled to the brim with positivity, do you extend those good vibes to a homeless person on the street or a refugee that can hardly speak English and stops to ask you a question?

 

Those are among the questions that arise from interpreting the first single, "Wake Up Century," off the upcoming album by the same name, by Portland songwriter-artist Myles Bullen.

 

Bullen's music video was just released on YouTube last week, garnering positive feedback from the circles in the art scene. It doesn’t stray too far musically from Bullen’s past work — an ambient, slowly uplifting hip-hop beat behind his signature poetic style of rapping — but it does feature some sweet aerial shots of Portland, and layers of poignant messages, one of them being: the arts scene is vibrant in Portland, partly because working-class grind hard for their passions, and support each other when no one else does.

 

Or as Bullen raps in the video: “we’re artists with insomnia, working we don’t sleep.”

 

“We don’t ever clock out,” said Bullen in an interview with The Phoenix. “The song resonates with the artist community. We push hard. The arts scene here is blossoming because community empowers each other.”

 

Myles Bullen has been a central part of the youthful street art scene in Portland for the past three years. When he's not encouraging others to pursue their passions, he's bouncing between his own which include teaching yoga, spoken word poetry, and creative writing. Bullen, a short, fair-skinned dude who's prone to rapping and grinning at just about any moment, focuses his energy on motivating new generations of artists; he's taught at prisons, addiction recovery centers, schools, and youth detention centers. Although he loves to talk about the power of pursuing creative passions, he doesn't shy away from serious topics, as evidenced in the Wake Up Century video. 

 

It begins in Bullen’s apartment studio, where he’s putting the finishing touches on the song and marking up a cassette tape with the words Wake Up Century. Everything is in black and white, except for the boombox that Bullen pops the tape into and takes to the streets: an old school aesthetic. It’s also emblematic of what Bullen and his fellow artist friends try to do almost every day: bring art out of the “cage of the gallery,” and place it right in front of people, encouraging interaction and conversation.  

 

In between some fantastic aerial drone shots of Deering Oaks and the Old Port, the video reveals its main subjects: Myles Bullen, the spoken word poet, rapper, and youth educator, Earth Person, a local electronic music producer, and Cory Tracy, a diehard hip-hop fan (whom you may recognize as the dude who sits in Congress Square with signs).

 

“He’s a local legend,” said Bullen. “He’s always smiling and bringing happiness to someone’s day.”

 

Who didn’t have a chuckle when Tracy sat all day in Congress Square Park during last year’s presidential campaign with a sign that read “They Both Suck”?

 

As the troupe meanders through familiar streets in downtown Portland, the chorus rises and the main point of the song appears instantly: You have to lose to learn to love, pick yourself off the ground, anything's possible. It's this light and hopeful message that's sung pleasantly on the track and lies at the core of Bullen's life philosophy. 

 

In the video's bleak, black-and-white version of Portland, where Bullen’s scarf and radio are the only splashes of color on screen, the first verse rolls in: Pleasant and kind, love is incredible / Your hate speech is unneeded, unwanted, and unacceptable / We leveled up, invest in growing vegetables, confession / We are a collective of the source that everyone’s connected to / a new generation that’s breaking through.

 

Later in the video, we get appearances from the local rapper and community organizer Stay on Mars, who plays a homeless man with a sign reading “Love, Listen, Learn,” and Abbeth Russell, a visual artist, fixture of the First Friday Art Walk, and founder of the Hidden Ladder Collective.

 

We see Russell in the middle of painting her recent work, “Gem and Eye,” an acrylic that features two of her creepy ladder creatures, one orange-skinned and one blue-skinned, coming together and forming a heart with waves from their mouths. The image, conveying “balance between differences,” would later be used as the single art for Wake Up Century.

 

music artbyabbeth gemeyes

"Gem and Eye," by Abbeth Russell. 

“Abbeth’s art is beautiful because it’s so dark,” said Bullen. “It’s important to show the beautiful parts of people that aren’t trying to be happy.”

 

“My art usually contrasts the light and the dark of the world,” said Russell. “We all have both. None of us are bubbles of positivity.”

 

The themes explored in Wake Up Century certainly don’t tread on any new or exciting ground.

 

The song embraces a Beatle’s philosophy of “All You Need Is Love,” an idea that’s been played with in just about every artistic medium for decades. Sure, Wake Up Century flirts with the sort-of-tired truism of “opening up your heart,” but it does localize the message in an engaging way. It forces one to think about small-scale altruism and community building on the streets of Portland, instead of just in conversations around social issues or online circles centered around the big news of the day.

 

It urges action and conversation instead of passivity. It calls for viewers to wake up, and offer something, anything, to those that might need help.

 

Wake Up Century  The Wake Up Century troupe: (from left to right) Abbeth Russell, Stay on Mars, Myles Bullen, Earth Person, and Cory Tracy.

“A stranger is just a friend that you haven’t met yet,” said Bullen. “Give people your time.”

 

Russell agrees with this mentality, telling me “some are just afraid of people that are different. Just say hi to them.”

 

For Russell and Bullen, reaching this utopian social vision of a community that supports not just artists, but anyone who’s struggling in life, requires us to talk honestly and openly about pervasive issues: racism, sexism, homelessness, addiction, oppression, and suicide. Otherwise, we can’t grow as a community without at least starting on the same moral foundation, as verse two suggests, “Strong move along, uprooting our feet / Confronting our ego, hear our spirit when we speak.”

 

“I know a lot of positive people that don’t actually have the depth to be positive humanitarians,” said Bullen. “Show love when it actually matters, when it’s difficult. You have a choice to ignore, or open up.”

 

You can watch Bullen and Earth Person’s love-letter to Portland’s street art scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFumuTSs0Yg

 

  • Published in Music

Seaweed tea: the next big drink trend?

If you go to the Arabica coffee shop on Commercial St. close to the pier, you’ll find a curious offering on their drink menu: seaweed tea.

 

What impressions first come to mind when you think of seaweed tea anyway? A mouthful of salt water, but piping hot? The company name behind the tea is “Cup of Sea” after all.

 

Arabica patrons that day simply said that it “sounded interesting,” but maybe they’d try a cup next time. Instead they ordered matcha green tea lattes and macchiatos, like usual.

 

Seaweed tea has a long history in Asia — it’s known as kombu cha in Japan, not to be confused with the fermented yeast drink from Russia — but the person behind this latest addition to Arabica’s beverage menu, Josh Rogers, is the first one to bring it to Maine, and quite likely New England.

food cupofsea

Josh Rogers holds a plate of dried kelp, bladderwrack, and floral petals.  

“I’ve always loved cooking with seaweed,” said Rogers. “One day I had the idea of mixing kelp and green tea, and I pitched it to a friend. She said, ‘you know with all the crazy drinks out there, yours could taste terrible, and people would still buy it. But I don’t think it would be terrible.’”

 

Rogers took that backhanded compliment and ran with it, later “inventing” three blends of seaweed tea. Last week, I tried them all.

 

The first one, Great Wave, is a mixture of kelp and green tea. After steeping it in boiled water for five minutes, I brought the cup to my nose. It smelled faintly reminiscent of the air outside Commercial Street, and unmistakably seaweedy.

 

But you know what? It’s subtle. Unlike a great wave smacking you in the face while swimming at a Maine beach, the tea doesn’t taste bitter or salty. I learned later from Rogers that the process of seaweed harvesting entails an immediate cold rinse to wash off any excess salt. Hints of ocean brine are present in the brew, but they’re equally balanced with the familiar taste of green tea.

 

The next tea I tried was an interesting one. Rogers described it as his version of genmaicha tea, typically a mixture of green tea and roasted rice. Genmaicha has been around for centuries in Japan, originally drunk exclusively by poor farmers who added brown rice to dwindling tea stocks to increase its bulk. People began to develop a taste for it and the practice spread worldwide. It’s much more popular today and is colloquially known as “popcorn tea.”

 

But Rogers made it his own, swapping out the green tea with kelp. The result is a tea that’s very drinkable, and my favorite of the three; it’s got notes of toast and seabreeze.

 

The last of Rogers’s creations is called “Sea Smoke,” and is arguably the most intense. It’s a blend of lapsang souchong (a Chinese black tea that’s dried over burning pine cones for a distinctly smoky flavor) and dulse, a fiber-rich snacking seaweed. Brewed together, the tea presents itself for adventurous sippers.

 

“Some think it’s way too intense,” said Rogers. “But others have said it’s amazing and very nostalgic. I just want to create teas that are interesting and drinkable.”

 

As a former editor at Zagat, and writer for The Portland Phoenix way back in the day, Rogers says he’s familiar with the foodie world and anticipates seaweed to be “the next big thing" in terms of culinary trends. In parts of the world it already is. Apart from marketing to people with an affinity for sensory experiences related to the ocean, Roger also thinks his teas will catch on with people that consider themselves explorers in the food world, consumers eager to try the next weird thing.

 

And in a country dominated by offbeat food trends like rainbow bagels, dessert pizza, sushi burritos, and bottled cactus water, it’s hard not to believe there’s space for a seaweed tea to carve its own niche of popularity.

 

“I want to celebrate the seaweed in these teas,” said Rogers. “It doesn’t exist elsewhere.”

 

One could call these teas adventurous because they’re the only type of easily accessible hot drink that activates our umami sense. In its most reductive definition, umami means savory flavor. It's found in foods like beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, soy, carrots, and shrimp. But the “Cup of Sea” teas are special in that they don’t come close to tasting like a salty broth. The flavors are robust but emerge in delicate ways, like most teas do.

 

And because seaweed isn’t a plant (it’s an algae), the teas can’t be classified as floral, or herbal either; they exist in their own category entirely.

 

The story behind Cup of Sea starts with Rogers missing the Maine coast while working in New York City. Rogers lived in Portland during the ’90s but spent the last six years in NYC, first as an editor at Zagat, and then as a content strategist at Google. During that time he would visit Maine often, most notably for the Maine Startup Week and the Seaweed Festival.

 

 

“I always wanted to come back to Portland,” said Rogers. “I’ve always wanted to do something that’s connected to Maine.”

 

So eventually, he did. Rogers quit his job at Google and recently moved back to Portland, partly to provide a more comfortable environment for his two young daughters, but also to launch Cup of Sea with the intention of working with as many Maine connections as possible.

 

So far it’s working out for him. Roger buys tea from Little Red Cup, a company based in Portland that imports loose leaf teas from China, that’s guaranteed fair trade, organic, and high quality. His logo was done by Patrick Corrigan, a Portland musician and visual artist. And his seaweed is sourced from Maine as well, at the Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company situated on a tiny island seven miles off the coast of Stonington.

 

Micah Woodcock works there, and has been commercially harvesting edible and medicinal seaweeds for seven years. He also has been hosting “seaweed appreciation” classes to inform the public around the state that consuming seaweed provides benefits to both the body and the natural environment.

 

“Seaweeds hyper-accumulate the trace minerals in ocean water and make them available to us in dietary form,” said Woodcock. “There are about 60 trace minerals considered essential for the human body, and seaweeds have all of them. They are the best dietary source of iodine, have a broad spectrum vitamin content, are low in calories, and contain unique beneficial compounds found almost nowhere else in nature, like Laminarin, Fucoidan, and Algin.”

 

Micah WoodcockA screenshot from a Youtube video that features Micah Woodcock, the owner, and operator of the Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company, talking about the process of harvesting seaweed and sustainable resource management.  

 

Woodcock said that interest in seaweed is on the rise, and that he’d like to see us interacting with it more, but that growth needs to happen thoughtfully and considerately in order for it to be sustainable.

 

It’s true that growing and harvesting seaweed can be a net-positive for the environment (often times growing seaweed restores life to dead zones, and helps combat beach erosion) but Woodcock stresses the importance of ensuring the 5 companies harvesting wild seaweed in Maine consider the long time viability of the industry.

 

“Responsibly harvesting and growing seaweed improves water quality, creates habitat for other marine organisms, and produces some of the most nutritionally dense food in the world,” said Woodcock. “For those reasons and more, I would like to see the industry continue to grow, albeit slowly and responsibly.”

 

But Rogers doesn’t want his teas viewed simply as an alternative health trend, although seaweed is packed with hard to pronounce minerals. He just wants to attract people that dare to mix up their routine and try something out of the ordinary.


“People don’t know what it is,” said Rogers. “That’s the challenge; putting it in front of people and getting them to try it.”

You can try your own "Cup of Sea" during the next tasting session: Wednesday, April 12th at Arabica on Commercial St., 2-4pm or Sunday, April 23rd at Dobra, 2-4pm. 

A chat with the vaporwave wizard behind Lyokha

James Cooper is a self-described sonic alchemist and electronic music producer of the otherworldly trio Lyokha. Specializing in a dreamy, synth-and-sample heavy style of music borne out of a close-knit but all-inclusive subculture, Cooper creates sounds as amorphous and layered as the people listen to them and the culture that surrounds them. Everyone reacts to his music in his or her own unique way, pulling from personal memory banks to connect to whatever nostalgia the music evokes, or doesn’t evoke. Is it ambient electronica? Easy-listening music? Atmospheric chill-hop? Lyokha is all of those things and none of those things; trying to define vaporwave would be akin to trying to explain the Internet (or at least the 10 percent of it that’s accessible) to someone who’s never touched a computer. You just gotta dive in and experience it for yourself. Cooper spoke with The Phoenix this week ahead of the fundraising concert for the Prism analog studio. It’s the next time locals can ride out his Internet-inspired audio waves — at the Urban Farm Fermentory on March 25th.


How did you get involved with the Prism Analog Recording studio fundraising concert and why?

Well, I found out about Prism through the grapevine of social media and was immediately interested in the project and location. Analog recording has always intrigued me, and I’ve always been interested but lacked the means and funds to acquire the expensive gear. I got ahold of Nick Johnson and went down and checked out the spot and the build-out, slapped some Sheetrock up with the boys and started following their progress. Nick asked Lyokha to play the fundraiser as we are an analog (no computers) band and feel it fits the spirit of the studio.


How do you feel about recording music entirely in the analog domain? Would you ever consider doing it?
I think there are sounds and levels of depth and warmth in analog that you can attempt to re-create digitally but only come relatively close, a lot of character and “artifacts” that really give you a certain level of limitations in the process that are focusing compared to the millions of options in Ableton or digital recording. I would (and will) definitely record in the analog domain, not just because I have never been able to in such a serious intense setting (recording noise sets to a half-broken reel-to-reel doesn’t count... or does it?) with such beautiful gear. I think Lyokha will definitely be putting out a record recorded at Prism in the future.


So what are you up to these days? Is most of your energy focused on Lyokha?


Lyokha has been my primary focus. Now that we have our feet off the ground and have played a few shows, we’re settling into some writing time and working on a full length to put out this year sometime. I have a few solo projects in the works and a few collaborations also, but I don’t wanna give too much away.
What’s the biggest misconception about vaporwave or electronic music in general?


Well, vaporwave in itself is an ever-changing, growing genre with endless subgenres. I think the biggest misconception is that there is a finite conception. The beauty of vaporwave music is that you really can make whatever the fuck you want and adopt certain aesthetics and apply visual nostalgia to music to give it more of an otherworldly feel; maybe that sounds naive, but vaporwave has become more of a culture and representation of youths interested in finding cultural identity in a world where we spend most of our consciousness glued to screens on the world of the web. Vaporwave was born on the Internet so it has no geographical bounds. It belongs to everyone and is less of a genre than an Internet sub-culture.


What’s the most challenging part of the production process for you?


Smoking just the right amount of weed to write bangers without getting distracted by the vast collection of “Malcolm in the Middle” on my computer. Nah, I mean I guess I sometimes find it challenging to put a piece down and call it final. There’s always that tweak you wanna make a week after you’ve listened 200 times, or pushing the layers till the shit’s incomprehensible and then dialing it back, and wasting time. I guess the process is always a learning experience and I try to learn something new everytime I write and mix. I try to portray and push a vibe that is accessible but new and fresh to the ears, without being too obvious.


What does the name Lyokha mean?


Lyokha was a boy who was raised by wolves in Russia. They discovered him and tried to assimilate him into society, and he ran away back to the forest and was never seen again, I guess to me that is relative to how society and people in our generation tend to feel about it.
How do crowds react to your latest EP Two? Because it doesn’t seem to lend itself much to dancing as much as it does for straight contemplation.
To be honest, I never really pay much attention to the crowd. If I look away from my gear I tend to daydream and fuck up.


To me I guess I feel refreshed playing visceral emotional wavy shit; there’s plenty of dance music around, and I usually have to get pretty tipsy to even think about dancing and not about people looking at me. I think making music you don’t have to be hammered to enjoy is nice sometimes, but I guess it’s ultimately not my goal to give anyone a particular “experience.” I think including as many aesthetic aids and visuals to a performance hopefully makes it more captivating and more of an experience, but I like to think most of the perception and ideas come from the listener being taken just a little further from their reality and having to think, especially with instrumental music.


Is there a venue in Portland that’s most conducive to the listening experience you provide?


SPACE Gallery is dope; we like lights and fog and projectors. But we also like free shows; the Jewel Box is probably my favorite place in Portland to play. So comfy and cute, ya know? And Nanl really takes care of a lot of local musicians. He puts on a lot of local talent and is always out supporting artists, and it feels more like a boiler room session than a “concert.”


What are your future plans?


A wife, kids, a dog, and maybe a big red Ford truck with mud flaps and not one but two cup holders because I like to have options.

  • Published in Music

Measure to put school bond issue on city ballot defeated

Measure to put school bond issue on city ballot defeated

 

After 8 hours of deliberation and hearing dozens of public comments, three city councilors voted against a proposal to put the $64 million school bond on the city ballot, effectively defeating it (for now).

 

The borrowing plan asked for $64 million ($92 million in debt after interest) to pay for much-needed upgrades at the Lyseth, Presumpscot, Reiche, and Longfellow elementary schools. These schools grapple with a host of infrastructure problems that include: cramped workspaces, closets that double as offices, leaky roofs, asbestos contamination, and a lack of accessibility for the disabled.

 

“The 4-School bond will not only provide our students with the tools they need to succeed, but also our hard-working city staff and teachers who have done amazing work with the funds they have had to work with,” wrote Spencer Thibodeau, City Councilor for District 2 on social media. “It’s time to make this critical investment.”

 

Outside of City Hall, a local artist and photographer Randy Roy Hazelton projected a message in light across the building: Rebuild All 4 Schools.

 

“It was simple way to convey an important message; it caught people’s eye,” said Hazelton, who teamed up with Progressive Portland to put on the light installation. “Education is really important to me. We have to raise money for our children.”

 

Although Hazelton doesn’t have children himself, he’s seen the poor conditions of the schools first-hand, and believes that an increase in sales tax is a small concern if it means creating better learning environments for Portland's youth.

 

“I get the money issue, I myself have crushing debt,” said Hazelton. “But we can’t just put this off like it’s not our problem; it’s all of our problem.”

 

Hazelton and others were disappointed that the push to get the school bond on the ballot was defeated after councilors Belinda Ray, Jill Duson, and Nicholas Mavodones voted against it. Parents, teachers, and other community members gathered outside during the meeting with stickers saying “Replace all 4 schools,” and chanting “Let us vote!” once the meeting ended at 12:30 am on Tuesday.

 

The following evening, Progressive Portland quickly organized an "emergency rally" outside City Hall urging others that “the fight is not over,” and demanding that the three councilors “end their obstruction and finally allow the public to vote on whether to fix these schools.”

 

The three councilors who voted no agree that the schools are in desperate need of upgrades, but they wanted to preserve the possibility of securing state funding to pay for them. A handful of people also expressed concerns about the bond raising property taxes, and potentially pricing out residents on a fixed income.

 

Initially, Ray, Duson, and Mavodones suggested the option for Portland to vote on two bond packages of $32 million each instead; the first bond would pay for Lyseth and Presumpscot, while the city worked on securing state funds for Reiche and Longfellow. If they failed to get state funds, they would put the second bond before voters.

 

This “2 + 2” proposal did not sit well with the rest of the city council, who were concerned with the timeline of repairs. The plan was rejected.

 

Most of the community members inside and outside of the city council meeting agreed that waiting for state funding is not a viable option and that these schools need repairs now, as the poor conditions are actively inhibiting the children’s education.

 

Some complained about a failure of leadership within the city council to prioritize Portland schools and obstruct the will of the people. One city councilor, Jon Hinck, took issue with this combative rhetoric and posted this to social media:

 

Portland should recognize that the city councilors — all of them as far as I can tell — are working hard to get our schools upgraded on an expedited basis (the work cannot be done at once no matter how much money is made available).”

 

The city council will vote again on this issue on March 28th.

 

Maine’s Craft Beer Industry Contributed $228 million to the economy

 

According to a report released by the Maine Brewers Guild (a part of the University of Maine School of Economics) craft breweries added $228 million dollars to the Maine economy. And their popularity seems to be growing.

 

Maine had about 15 brewers in 2006, and since then the number has jumped up to 80.

 

That shift in culture away from drinking mass-produced beers like Budweiser and Coors, and supporting local breweries has percolated to areas beyond Portland and Lewiston. Both Penobscot and York counties are seeing a surge in beer entrepreneurs launching successful ventures. In fact, there’s only one county in Maine, Piscatiquous, that doesn’t have at least one craft brewery.

 

Sales tax coming for Maine shoppers on Amazon

 

Shoppers on the e-store Amazon will be subject to a 5 percent sales tax, according to a report from WMTW.

 

Although the retail giant hasn’t confirmed this news for Maine, Amazon did start collecting sales tax from 10 other states earlier this year.

 

“Amazon’s decision to collect and remit sales tax to the state of Maine is an important first step in leveling the playing field,” George Gervais, commissioner of the department, said.

 

So buy what’s on your wishlist now, before it gets more expensive in a couple of months!

  • Published in News

Trump EPA Budget “declares war on clean air, clean water, and public health”

Last week the Trump administration revealed what some are calling an “anti-environment agenda,” by releasing their proposed federal budget.

President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion, a figure that’s not too far away than the entire defense budget of Russia, according to a recent report by Quartz.

The budget also directs $2.6 billion to pay for the first stages of Trump’s wall on the Mexican border, $314 million to Homeland Security to pay for more border patrol and immigration agents, and $1.5 billion to detain and remove undocumented immigrants.

To pay for this massive increase in defense and security spending, Trump has proposed cuts, and in some cases complete eliminations, of institutions and programs that many Americans consider vital — check out our sidebar for a brief overview on the all the potentially affected organizations and services.

There’s a lot he wants to take the chainsaw to, but we’re going to focus on the Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump has singled out for the deepest cuts. The EPA stands to lose 31 percent of its funding, resulting in the loss of 50 programs (including everything related to climate research) and over 3,200 jobs.

The budget says that slash in funding is necessary "to ease the burden of unnecessary Federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits."

In a recent press release, John O’Grady the head of the union that represents EPA employees, said that the organization is already on a “bare bones budget.”

"It is a sad day when a group of millionaires and billionaires in Washington can decide what's best for America's health and environment," said O'Grady. "How can this administration tell America that we will have clean air and clean water with a 25% reduction in U.S. EPA's budget?"

 news environment

Clean air and water is vital to the health of Maine's community and economy. 

The budget cuts could have profound effects here in Maine, a state where the economy is directly linked to the health and sustainability of its environment and natural resources. Progressives and environmental advocates across the state have condemned the proposed $1.12 trillion budget  and urged others to put pressure on Maine’s delegation to denounce it “dead on arrival,” once it makes the rounds in Congress. If this happens, Trump’s final version of the budget is due in May.

 

“The EPA budget that threatens the health of Maine people, our environment, and our economy,” wrote Lisa Pohlmann, the executive director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine in an email statement to The Phoenix. “In proposing to cut EPA’s funding, President Trump has declared war on clean air, clean water, and public health.”

 

According to Pohlmann, the effects of the budget cuts will literally kill some of Maine’s ecosystems where EPA grant funding provides restoration work; send more asthmatic kids to emergency rooms; create more polluted waters that will be off-limits to swimming, fishing, and drinking; and spur more climate-disrupting pollution that will escalate the threats to Maine’s lobstering, fishing, and coastal communities.

 

news environment2 Maine has more than 6,000 lakes and ponds, that need to be protected from non-point source pollution. 

“The list of potential damages goes on and on,” she said. “If these cuts are allowed to stand, then the consequences for Maine, the nation, and the world could be extremely dire.”

 

I spoke with Pete Didisheim, the advocacy director at the Natural Resources Council, about the winners and losers in this “war on the environment.”

Loss starts with the Maine Department of Energy, which like all state environmental agencies depends on EPA pass-through grants. In 2016, the Maine DEP received $11.4 million (21 percent of DEP’s overall budget) from EPA, which covered 99 staff members. DEP has already experienced cuts over the years, down from a staff of 460 in 2004 to 373 in 2016. Under Trump’s proposed budget, the DEP could lose even more staff, and funding for programs that clean up industrial sites, and monitor air, and water quality.

“Laying off 3,200 employees would have absolutely devastating impacts for the nation as a whole, and particularly for state-level programs here in Maine,” said Didisheim. “The cuts to the environment will cost lives of American people. They will have a significant impact on the Maine economy.”

 

Didisheim explained that because Maine is a nature-based economy, ensuring the cleanliness and sustainability of our state’s lakes, rivers, and beaches doesn’t just promote good community health, but it boosts property values for land and home owners, and encourages tourism. After all, who would want to swim in a pond that may hold contaminants, or buy property in a location with poor air quality?

 news WinterinOgunquitbyJamieDorr NRCM

Winter in Ogunquit; marshes and coastal dunes are delicate ecosystems. Photo by Jamie Dorr/ NRCM. 

Examples of environmental restoration helping the economy can also be found at Maine’s numerous “brownfield sites.” It’s a term used to describe abandoned industrial sites like paper mills that contain asbestos, radon, lead-based paints, or other hazardous materials. Brownfields are all over the state, and federal funds go to the DEP to clean them up, and restore their economic viability. The Maine Street Station in Brunswick serves as a recent example — the DEP spent $750,000 from 2004 to 2006 to clean up the site, and now it’s an economically thriving real estate and transportation hub.

 

But the grants used to pay for these operations, and other environmental restoration projects, may be pulled.

news brownfield Bucksportpapermill

The Bucksport Paper Mill is now a "brownfield site." 

When it comes to public health there are concerns with the part of Trump’s budget proposal that frees up $100 million by discontinuing Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an initiative that imposes carbon regulations on power plants. Didisheim believes this (and climate change in general) should be viewed as a national health and security risk because of their widespread impacts.

 

According to him, most of Maine’s air quality issues come from power plant pollutants that travel upwind from southern states with laxer regulations. In a future where power plants aren’t beholden to emissions standards, the prevailing winds could bring even more instances of breathing problems to Maine’s elderly, children, and those with asthma and other respiratory issues.

 

“Coal-fired power plants could pollute at higher levels,” said Didisheim.

 news airquality

The red signifies historically poor air quality. Most of our air pollutants travel upwind from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. 

In short, the Maine DEP does a lot. Environmental restoration work is done across the state, from protecting Maine’s 6,000 lakes from non-point source pollution, to managing and enforcing wastewater permits, to cleaning up hazardous waste in places like the Callahan Mine, a site in Brooksville that’s contaminated with arsenic, lead, and thallium. But with the appointment of Scott Pruitt a climate change denier as the head of the EPA, and details on Trump’s budget, the new White House has revealed its anti-environment agenda, and much of the sustainability work done in Maine over the years, is threatened to be rolled back.

 

Didisheim sees a link between Pruitt’s dismantling of environmental regulations and the fossil-fuel interests that helped put him in power.

 

“Pruitt is in the middle of a quid pro quo,” said Didisheim. “He’s fulfilling the fossil fuel companies greatest wish of dismantling the agency that imposes regulation on them and literally saves lives and avoids premature deaths. But the fossil fuel industry isn’t interested in that.”

 news scottpruitt

Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA has said that the "science isn't settled" on climate change. Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr. Creative Commons.

According to Didisheim, another motivation for these cuts could be to deplete the resources of state environmental agencies to the point where they’re simply unable to enforce their regulations and local laws of the land. That would allow businesses to increase their pollution and  cut corners to decrease costs. I guess an increase in profits now is desired over avoiding health risks in the future.

 

But, it’s important to note, that this budget, as devastating as it is for some, is still just in its first phase; it’s got a long way to go before it becomes a reality, and many believe it won’t.

 

The budget outline was quickly subjected to criticism in Washington from both Democrats and Republicans. Maine’s delegation isn’t too happy with the budget either. Senator Susan Collins is concerned with the cuts to clean energy technology and said that “as the appropriations process moves forward, I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a revised budget.” Senator Angus King was quoted saying, “I have a hard time seeing how eliminating heating assistance, cutting medical research and ending economic development funding do little more than harm people, families and businesses across Maine.”

 

news angusking

Senator Angus King keynoting a day-long conference on climate change at the University of New England in Biddeford. 

Although it’s likely that this budget will go through a major revision, it’s worth paying attention to because it reveals where future battles over policy will be fought. It shows what the new administration considers national priorities, and Trump’s preferred size, shape, and role of government. It paints the picture of a nation committed to beefing up its military and perceived sense of security, lifting environmental regulations that protect that land and its people, and providing less assistance to the country’s most needy.

 

For Didisheim, the fight is far from over, and he urges other to call Congressman Bruce Poliquin and encourage him to reject the budget. Poliquin hasn’t yet taken a strong position on Trump’s budget and released this lukewarm statement on his website: “I want to make sure we maintain support for programs and agencies that serve our families and communities, help protect our environment and provide quality programing for children. I’m specifically concerned about making too significant reductions for programs like LIHEAP, Community Development Block Grants and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I would also need to closely look at any changes to environmental services that directly impact Maine.”

 

I wanted to ask Poliquin why he needs more time to assess the environmental impact of a budget the completely eliminates climate change research and the Clean Power Plan before taking a strong position like King, Collins, and Pingree did, but every attempt to reach his offices in Maine and D.C. were unsuccessful. Maybe others are already giving him an earful.

 

“We’re hoping is that Maine people understand the seriousness of this risk,” said Didisheim. “Contact your senators and congressmen. Environmental protection never used to be a partisan issue.”

 

SIDEBAR:

Although what was released last week was just a “skinny budget,” meaning that it will likely go through some major revisions, it’s worth taking a second look at. Treat it like a forecast of where future battles over funding and national priorities will be fought. But as dramatic as the changes are, nobody can say that that this budget comes as a surprise. Trump has dropped hints on where he’d invest, and where he’d cut funds throughout last year’s campaign. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney even said that his team reviewed the President’s speeches to help craft this budget proposal.

So what's in it? Here are the highlights of a fiscal policy that features the biggest cuts and changes since World War II.

 

The Defense Department got a $52 billion boost, along with $2.8 billion to Homeland Security, and $4.4 billion to Veteran’s Affairs. This is to increase the number of armed forces, jet fighters, and nuclear weapons technology, and provide the funds for Veteran’s health services and the construction of the wall on the Mexican border.

 

The EPA will lose 31 percent of its funding, or $2.6 billion.

Because the Trump administration believes that too many regulations hurt business, and efforts against climate change are a “waste of money.”

 

The Department of Agriculture down 21 percent, or $4.7 billion.

To eliminate loan and grant programs for water and sewage systems, and reduce funding to the National Forest System.

 

The Department of Transportation’s budget is down 13 percent, or $2.4 billion.

To, among other things, privatize air traffic operations, and eliminate funding for rural airports in soon-to-be, literal “fly-over states.”

 

The budget eliminates funding for all climate change research at NASA and the UN.

Because the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, isn’t convinced that the climate change is accelerated by human activity.

 

The State Department would be down 28 percent, or $10 billion.

Diplomatic aid, cultural programs, and peacekeeping operations in foreign countries will take a hit.

 

Facing the biggest cuts in dollars, is the Health and Human Services Department — down 16 percent to $12.6 billion.

 

The Department of Commerce faces a 16 percent reduction, or $1.5 billion.

Goodbye grants for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s not like our marine ecosystems and resources need to be maintained.  

 

The Department of Education is down 14 percent, or $9.2 billion.

This guts before and after school programs and reduces Federal Work-Study and other forms of financial aid.

 

The budget does add a $500 million increase to the health and justice department to address America’s growing opioid epidemic.

 

To save $2.7 billion in federal funds, the budget proposes eliminating 20 programs and independent agencies entirely including: the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the United State Institute of Peace, and Legal Aid for the Poor and Low-Income Heating Assistance.

Source: http://www.npr.org/2017/03/16/520379061/read-president-trumps-budget-blueprint

  • Published in News

Stories from the edge: Exploring what unites us with the Maine Jewish Film Festival

When Gabrielle Zilkha arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana, she didn’t expect to find any fellow Jews there.

 

She travelled to the West African country to work at a women’s rights NGO for six months — a Canadian Jew awash in a sea of African Christians. Although Zilkha felt welcome, she also felt isolated, like a fish out of water; feelings that were intensified by the fast-approaching Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

 

“The thought of finding another Jew seemed completely absurd. I resigned myself to spend the holidays alone,” recalled Zilkha during a phone interview with The Phoenix. “I longed for a connection of familiarity and my sense of self.”

 feature gabrielleheadshot

Gabrielle Zilkha, the producer and director of "Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana."

Apart from volunteering her time promoting women's rights, Zilkha is also an award-winning filmmaker, whose work often marries humor and creativity with issues around identity and social struggles. She didn't know it at the time, but her persistence in finding fellow Jews in Ghana would lead her to an incredible story, and the topic of her latest media project. 

Zilkha asked the Ghanaians in Accra if there were any Jewish communities in the vicinity, but most scoffed or laughed at her inquiry. After a tip from her mother and little online research, Zilkha learned of a rural village called Sefwi Wiawso an hour's drive away, where a group of Ghanaians circumcised their babies, upheld strict Kosher diets, and studied from the Torah. There were Jews in Ghana after all; a group of Africans that believed they descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel.

 

Zilkha leapt at the opportunity to travel to the Jewish village, and learn about how their faith took root, in what she originally thought was an unlikely spot.

feature2 doingjewishinghanaA production still from "Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana," where a young Jew prepares for a Bar Mitzvah.  

“There’s something to be said about people who cling hold to their tradition and culture in the face of almost zero community around them, in total isolation,” said Zilkha. “Their story blew me away.”

 

Over the course of the following five years, Zilkha began to piece together that story by spending time with an African rabbi named Alex Armah, directing and producing a documentary that challenges mainstream perceptions of Jewish people and where they belong.  

 

Zilkha’s film, Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana, is one of 30 films screening at the 20th annual Maine Jewish Film Festival, a lineup that offers insight into how multi-faceted the Jewish experience can be. Like others in the schedule, Zilkha’s film forces viewers from all backgrounds to ask questions that she feels are incredibly pertinent today: What binds the Jewish experience across different cultures? Once you understand the nuances of a shared faith, how can you bond with people outside of it who hold vastly differing beliefs about the very nature and purpose of life itself?

feature doingjewishinghanaGabrielle Zilkha (left) said that she reaffirmed the commitement to her faith by connecting with African Jews in Ghana.  

Judaism’s not winning over many new converts; with just around 12 million followers worldwide, it’s only the 12th most followed religion. But despite declining numbers and a myriad of different cultures and sects (orthodox, reformed, and conservative) within Judaism, many of its followers report feeling closely bound to the experiences of other Jews. Many like Zilkha describe fellow Jews, no matter where they might be living, as family.

 

Despite this sense of kinship, minority status makes it hard for some Jews to shake the feeling of being “the other.”

 

From the Outside

 

Chances are, if you’re non-white, non-Christian, or both, you’ve felt “othered” at some point in your life. According to Zilkha, some Ghanaian Jews feel like outsiders in their own country, even though there’s no visible marker for being Jewish.

 

Ghanian Jews eat the same food, practice the same etiquette, and follow the same politics as their Christian and Muslim counterparts, but they form close groups with fellow Jews, and because of their shared faith in the Torah, feel strength in small numbers. Zilkha's film follows these people as they strive to be accepted by Jews worldwide, try to understand their place within the shared faith, and struggle to unite and encourage their tiny congregation. Zilkha's affection for these people shines through the film; she becomes an integral part of the story herself as she too questions what it truly means to be Jewish in an inter-connected world.

 

Zilkha felt these contrasting emotions of isolation and belonging both in Ghana and in her hometown of Toronto, where sometimes she’s the first Jew her peers and colleagues meet.

 

“I feel a little taboo about being Jewish sometimes,” said Zilkha. “I don’t feel personally threatened, but my back is up.”

 

Zilkha's feels like the lessons she's learned about her identity could also be applied to followers of another Abrahamic religion who sometimes feel a similar sense of exclusion from a culturally amorphous, and generally progressive Western society: Islam. Despite 1.3 billion followers of Islam worldwide, Muslims in America and Canada are still the religious minority. According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. That minority status, combined with the current political temperature come with some anxiety-inducing social realities. 

 “Considering the politics of the day, I want to see Jewish people standing up for our Muslim brothers and sisters, who are undergoing the same vile treatment that led to our persecution,” said Zilkha.  

In the first couple months under President Trump, his xenophobia-fueled travel ban, and the surge of religiously motivated hate crimes we continue to witness in the wake of his election, many Jews and Muslims struggle to feel truly welcome in the West. And despite their widely different interpretations of the stories surrounding God, followers of both religions are starting to feel a sense of kinship and solidarity with each other.

 

 

A heightened sense of anxiety in the Trump era

 

Recently, hate crimes against Jews and Muslims have shot up in Canada, America, and Europe. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been the go-to source for compiling data on race and religious based crimes. So far, they’ve reported 1,092 incidents in U.S. just in the first month following the election. At least 100 swastikas have been graffitied across the country (sometimes accompanied by the words ‘go Trump’). Police in New York city told Politico that instances of anti-semitism have doubled there. Just last week on Capitol Hill in Washington, someone scribbled “the Holocaust is fake history” on a synagogue wall. Jews in America have seen their community centers face over 50 bomb threats, and their cemeteries desecrated by vandals.

 

Muslims have been the target of alt-right hate as well. The Huffington Post recently tracked at least 385 Islamophobic incidents, including threatening notes sent to imams, mosques set on fire, and disturbing interpretations of the Koran distributed in communities.

 feature travelbanprotest

Last month, Portlanders joined thousands across the country to protest Trump's controversial travel ban. Their message was clear: immigrants are welcome here.

According to Zilkha, she’s seen a rise in hate crimes in Canada as well, and mentioned the shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six Muslims in January. One Canadian newspaper recently asked if the "Trump Effect," of bigoted attacks against minorities are spilling over into Canada after a consecutive string of hate crimes.

 

But interestingly enough, who has been standing up in solidarity with Muslims and Jews in the aftermath of these crimes? Often fellow Muslims and Jews.

According to The Washington Post, when vandals damaged Jewish graves in St. Louis last month, Muslim activists raised over $130,000 to repair them. Twice, in fact.

 

Jews showed their allyship to Muslims when several of them, including the President of Israel, prominent rabbis, and directors at Jewish centers, expressed outrage when a gunman opened fire on that mosque in Quebec City, while many Christians, including President Trump, kept their lips shut.

 

Could it be that Jews and Muslims feel a stronger kinship with each other than they do with their Christian neighbors? Considering both Muslims and Jews have both been historically labeled outsiders by Europeans, perhaps their alliance is bound by a stronger glue?

 

 

Finding common ground

 

Pious Ali, a native Ghanaian and Muslim who’s been living in Portland for the past nine years, can speak to this. He said that although the issue of identity is very complicated, generally there are more religious and cultural similarities between Judaism and Islam than Christianity and Islam.

 feature piousali

Pious Ali speaks to The Phoenix on the similarities between Islam and Judaism at the Muskie School in Portland. 

For starters, both are monotheistic religions whose followers descended from Abraham, but to be fair, Christianity is too. But according to Ali, unlike Christians, Jews and Muslims both ritually wash before prayer, and have special dietary restrictions — kosher and halal, respectively. Orthodox Jews don’t shake hands with members of the opposite sex, and their women wear head coverings, much like conservative Muslims.

 

But beyond religious tradition, which some modern Jews and Muslims don’t even observe, the two faiths share similar values and experiences. Both exhibit an emphatic importance on protecting, propagating, and emotionally investing in the family unit. And of course, as mentioned earlier by Zilkha, both Jews and Muslims share the same experience of being the religious minority in white-Christian dominated spaces.

 

As the first Muslim elected to Portland’s City Council, Ali knows what it’s like to, as he puts it, “live in a place where you feel like an oasis, or an island.” Ali says he will attend the Maine Jewish Film Festival, taking questions from the crowd about this experience and life in Ghana, right after the screening of Zilkha’s film.

 

Ali said that affirming your identity as a minority in Maine can be complicated because “one can have a shared faith with someone, but not a shared culture.” Muslims exist all over the world; but a Somali Muslim will likely have nothing in common culturally with a British Muslim. Similarly, a Jew from Israel might live a very different life from a Canadian one, but their shared faith and sense of family might bind them together.

 

In Maine, Ali balances his identity by sticking to his faith, and absorbing aspects of both American and Ghanaian culture.

 

“You have to respect the culture of where you are, but also stay true to your own culture of where you came from,” said Ali. “If someone has a unique identity, there’s still a way to connect with them. We’re all human beings.”

 

The Jewish community in Maine

 

There are a couple "islands" of Jewish faith and culture serving the 8,000 Jewish people that settled in Maine following the diaspora of the last century. One of them is the Maine Jewish Museum and Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue in Portland. Inside is a beautiful place of worship surrounded by three floors of visual art (paintings, sculpture, photographs, dreidels) that boast both a Maine and Jewish connection.

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The first floor of the Maine Jewish Musuem, where curators aim to solidify Jewish history in the public consciousness. All art displayed here has both a Maine and Jewish connection. 

On the first floor, a colorful and imaginative showcase of art by a South African Jew named Mirlea Saks is displayed: tongue-in-cheek impressions of life in New England. On the third floor, powerful portraits of Holocaust survivors who settled in Maine (three are still alive) hang alongside text of their harrowing accounts spent suffering in Nazi-occupied Poland.

 

The curator of the museum and lifelong Jew, Nancy Davidson, takes pride in putting “Jewish history on the map,” and solely featuring art with a Jewish connection on her walls. She had much to say about the kinship that Jews feel amongst each other, and those of different faiths.  

 

“I can go into a room, and communicate with somebody simply and know if they’re Jewish or not,” said Davidson. “It’s an intuitive thing. I always knew I was Jewish.”

When asked what binds the Jewish experience together across different cultures, she called on the local Jewish scholar Jerry Sherry who answered simply: the Torah.

 

“Whether you’re in Ethiopia, Israel, France, or America, there is one Torah, the scroll, the law,” said Sherry. “The commentaries will differ, but we are all children of God.”

  

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At the Tree of Life Synagogue in Portland, all are welcome. 

Despite how much being Jewish has encapsulated Davidson’s identity, her museum has always been welcoming to everyone. Christians frequent the museum. Muslims have come to support events. Meditation meetings are held at the synagogue by people of many faiths. Even transgender and AA meetings have been held there. Although religious disagreements can cause the deepest of social divisions, Davidson, like everyone interviewed in this piece, doesn’t judge someone on their beliefs, and instead focuses on the aspects of their common humanity.

 

“I find common ground with people from very different backgrounds,” said Davidson, who also has a degree in sociology. “If you had to describe the Jewish Museum, the first word I would say is inclusiveness.”

 

Who hasn’t heard the platitude that “our common humanity has more similarities than differences”? Who hasn’t had the golden rule of “treat others the way you wanted to be treated” hammered into their head by parents and teachers?

But despite timeless lessons of basic human decency towards each other, hate persists. Religious intolerance exists. Political campaigns fueled by elitism, nationalism, and traces of ethnic superiority, win elections.

Which brings us back to the Maine Jewish Film Festival, which organizers feel can serve as an antidote to the poisonous rhetoric swirling around certain political and social spheres nowadays. 

 

How art and film can help

Zilkha said that her film is targeted to anyone who has never seen a Black African Jew. Without banging dogma over the heads of viewers, the film aims to engage people emotionally, subtly but persuasively. It’s also meant to ease viewers into empathy and humanize the “others of society”, and show three dimensions to both the Jewish and Ghanaian experience. For Zilkha, art can help start conversations that are typically doomed from the start, and tear down the walls that some minorities feel boxed into.

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Jews exist all over the world and practice a myriad of cultures, but what binds them together is the Torah. 

 

“I feel like dialogue these days in the Trump era has become so difficult,” said Zilkha. “What’s beautiful about film is that you can’t talk back to them. You have to listen.”

 

And even if you’re reading this and having trouble believing that you’ll find anything to relate to during a documentary about African Jews in Ghana, there are 29 other films screening at the Maine Jewish Film Festival, that will showcase just how complex, human, and diverse the Jewish experience can be. The executive director of the festival, Barbara Merson, said although most of the films show very personal stories, and specific themes, there’s an incredible sense of universality to be absorbed from the films. In other words, you don’t have to be Jewish to love these movies, and find an idea, character, or experience that resonates deeply with you.

 

“When it comes to great films we all speak the same language,” said Merson. “These films are important because they help people think about deep issues, without be stuck where they are. A good film can transport you.”

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Barbara Merson, the executive director at the Maine Jewish Film Festival, said that the "Women's Balcony," (still pictured here) will be a standout film this year. The film centers around a group of Jewish women fighting for their rights against a fundamentalist in the wake of an accident at a synagogue. 

Among the places viewers will be transported to include Tel Aviv, where Sudanese asylum seekers joined hands with Israelis to protest injustices in Demonstration in the White City. Another, titled Bogdan’s Journey takes place in the Polish city of Kielce, where a Catholic psychologist confronts the community about anti-semitism. Then it's back to Israel in Bar Bahar to explore the Jewish experience through the eyes of three young Palestinian girls. Freedom to Marry takes viewers to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the battle for marriage equality was fought. London sets the stage for the film Who’s Going to Love Me Now, where a Jew comes out as gay to his orthodox family. And The Last Laugh takes viewers across comedy clubs in America to ask Jewish comedians if it's ever okay to joke about the Holocaust.

 

Clearly the Jewish experience will be approached through a dizzying amount of angles, but it’s important that they do.

 

According to Merson, the films at the Maine Jewish Film Festival are examples of art that can break down that “us vs. them” mentality. They can help you see life through wildly different lenses, and force you to find similarities between experiences that would otherwise be disparate. They can change the way you think.

 

“Generally speaking, when people are so set on a certain mindset, it’s because they feel threatened in a very existential way,” said Merson. “Their happy existence is threatened. The ‘other’ becomes demonized as a threat, which probably has no basis in reality. But when you feel threatened you might not be thinking in the most rational way. We’re trying to get people out of that mindset.”

 

In the end, perhaps there's something secular folks can learn from the level of solidarity between followers of Judaism and Islam. The people interviewed in this piece would argue that you don't need to be religious to appreciate a strong family, peace-promoting traditions, and values steeped in respect and kindness towards everyone. If followers of all three of the Abrahamic religions stuck to the core truth from each of their holy books, and everyone else abided by the Golden Rule, would we finally see a just world?

 

“Can I explain the Torah on one foot? Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to you. The rest is commentary,” said Merson. “That’s the essence of Judaism. We’re passionate about community and how we treat other people.”

 

“We have one thing in common: we are all human,” said Ali. “We don’t have to agree on everything.”

 

SIDEBAR:

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a secular person, a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a pagan, or a worshipper of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; you could stand to read and absorb into practice these three religious passages. It doesn’t matter who you are, obey each one; they’re pretty much interchangeable!

 

And if you happen to be a conservative Jew that condemns homosexuality, an Islamist who doesn’t believe in gender equality, or a Christian fundamentalist who promotes white supremacy, you really need to re-read your respective holy book, because something’s not quite right.

 

Judaism

 

“Do not be scornful of anyone, or doubt that anything can happen, for there is no person without his hour, no thing without its place.” – Mishnah, the oral redaction of the Torah

“Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” – The Talmud, an ancient collection of prayers.

Islam

 

"O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted." – Qur'an

 

“Whoever wishes to be delivered from the fire and to enter Paradise should treat the people as he wishes to be treated.” – Sahih Muslim, a collection of hadiths (traditional sayings)

 

“Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess [the slave]: For God loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” – Qur'an

 

Christianity

 

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – The Bible

 

“They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.” – The Bible

 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” – The Bible

News Briefs: Talking trash, fixing schools, paying panhandlers, and resisting the Supreme Court pick

Petition started to urge city council to renovate schools

 

Most parents in the area are well aware that the four elementary schools Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot, and Reiche, are in desperate need of an infrastructure upgrade.

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The Reiche School has seen better days...about 30 years ago.

Many have pointed out in local news articles and city council meetings that the schools have been falling into dilapidation; leaky roofs, asbestos, heating problems, and a lack of modern amenities all plague the learning centers. A major investment in the schools hasn’t been made in 25 years, and the state has rejected renovation applications three times.

 

Most in the city don’t disagree that the schools need repair, but the debate over how to pay for it rages forward into another year, with critics of a proposed 64 million dollar school bond citing rising property taxes and financial priorities in other public areas as chief concerns. Progressive Portland, an organization dedicated to mobilizing grassroots support for progressive issues, has started circulating a petition to urge the City Council to pass the 64 million dollar school bond and let Portland vote on the issue.

 

In a written statement, Progressive Portland wrote: “The schools are so old and outdated that students are taught in hallways, broom and mechanical closets, and dilapidated trailers. But the issue is not just about educating our city's children. It's also about developing our workforce, investing in our neighborhoods, broadening our tax base, and ensuring our city is a vibrant community with young families committed to helping Portland's small businesses thrive.”

 news longfellowschool

The Valentine's Day bandit left this heart at Longfellow School last month, when he should have left some classroom supplies. 

So far, many local businesses have stepped up to the plate and signed, including: Coffee By Design, Rising Tide Brewery, Zootility Tools, Local Sprouts Cooperative, Arcadia National Bar, Bonobo Pizza, The-Ink-Spot Tattoos, Vena's Fizz House, Black Cat Coffee, Jet Video, and Think Tank Coworking.

 

"Access to quality education is a fundamental human right and the foundation of economic, social and cultural development in our community," wrote Heather Blier from Dirigo Consulting after signing the petition. 

The final public hearing and vote on the school bond will take place on March 20, 5:30 p.m., at City Hall.

 

Portland considers privatizing its trash services

 

They used to say that there’s no partisan way to pick up the trash, but here in Portland, waste services just got political.

 

The City of Portland has begun accepting bids to privatize the city’s solid waste collection services. In an effort to balance budgets and cut costs, cities often consider sub-contracting out these essential public services to private businesses. According to an R.W. Beck survey conducted in 1995, about 50 percent of U.S. cities had privatized their trash services. But according to ITPI, and other local progressive groups, whether or not the city will actually save money, is debatable.

 

The Maine AFL-CIO, a federation of 160 local unions, opposes this measure, and wrote in a petition to the Portland City Council that privatization would result in lower wages and benefits for the workers, less accountability for residents, and less transparency for taxpayers. Some argue that privatizatized waste services are less safe, and might result in more accidents.  

 

If the city finds a qualified bidder with an efficient plan, privatized services could start in July, proving that not even garbage can escape the capitalist machine.

 

Conservative values condone bestiality, draw the line at homosexuality

 

Since we’ve featured news of at least two petitions in this week’s Phoenix, why not another, particularly wacky one?

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This is the future that conservatives want. 

A petition to boycott (and ban from theaters in some versions) the new Beauty and the Beast, on the grounds that it pushes a “harmful sexual agenda on children” by featuring Disney’s first gay character, has been circulating and spinning heads of liberals across the world.

 

Tens of thousands of people have signed the thing arguing that the movie pushes an LGBT political agenda on children by featuring a male character named Lefou, who occasionally fantasizes of giving his sidekick Gaston a smooch on the lips.

 

What a shocker! However, petitioners didn’t seem to exhibit any moral quandaries with the fact that the movie centers around a romantic relationship between a woman and a massive buffalo creature. Points for tolerance?

 

Portland might address panhandling proactively

 news panhandling

Most panhandlers in Portland would jump at the opportunity for a job cleaning parks, as it would be much less demoralizing than what they already do. 

Perhaps the best way to address the problem of panhandling in Portland, which some view as an eyesore on an otherwise beautiful city, is by treating panhandlers less like issues and more like human beings. One initiative aims to do that by offering them work off the street.

 

City officials hope to hire a team, dubbed the Portland Opportunity Crew, that puts panhandlers to work for 36 weeks, cleaning up roadsides and city parks for $10.68 an hour. A social worker will drive around in a van and offer jobs to panhandlers where they are. If accepting of the offer, the individual will be driven to the job site and get paid at the end of the day.

 

Not all panhandlers are homeless, and many beg because they’re unable to find work because of medical conditions or a criminal record. In an informal survey of 30 panhandlers in Portland, 85 percent of them said they’d be interested in participating.

 

Senator Angus King heard concerns over Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch

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At least Senator Angus King has the guts to face his consitutents, unlike some of his colleagues in Washington.

Senator Angus King did what some Republican lawmakers have been too scared (looking at you Mo Brooks) to do recently: hold a public forum event to hear an onslaught of Trump-related grievances from his constituents.

 

A big crowd filled the seats of an auditorium at the University of Southern Maine last week to let Senator King know that they reject President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and asked King to vote no against his potential confirmation.

 

Democrats that are still reeling over Republicans blocking Obama from making his own Supreme Court appointment during his last 11 months in office, now plan to meet Gorsuch with tough questions at the upcoming Senate Hearing in Washington, and Mainers want Senator King to channel their concerns.

 

Although Gorsuch has impressive legal experience, progressives don’t like him because of ideological splits and conservative values (such as anti-abortion rights) that they feel threaten, among other things, women’s reproductive rights. Gorsuch also has a record of supporting corporations over workers, opposing the rights of people with disabilities, donating to anti-choice candidates, and ruling against rights for transgender people.

 

"Neil Gorsuch's rulings on women's access to basic health care services are extreme." said Eliza Townsend, Executive Director of the Maine Women's Lobby. "We need a Supreme Court justice who will value the American people over corporations. His record shows us that Neil Gorsuch's views are out of the mainstream."

 

“A rogue Supreme Court could undermine all of progress we have made on climate protection and other air and water health standards,” said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director. “We are counting on Senators King and Collins to use their constitutional responsibility to prevent President Trump from placing unqualified extremists in positions of power that can affect us for decades.”

 

 

Many progressives consider thwarting Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court as the most important way to resist Trumpism right now. It all goes down on March 5, when the Senate Hearing commences. Progressives feel if they lose the Supreme Court battle, they’ll lose everything.

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