Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

News Briefs: the Malaga Monument, Green Slime, and a Media Merger

Descendants of Malaga Island Community Honored With New Monument

A dark, once-covered up stain on Maine’s history — the systematic exile and mysterious deaths of the Malaga Island community — was made permanent and visible last week through a monument unveiling at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.  

The monument bears the names of the mixed-race Mainers who were victimized as part of the eugenics movement of the 1900s and forced to leave their homes by the state. Institutions like the state government and the local media dehumanized this community of 40 or so people by describing them as "homeless", "feeble-minded," "half-breeds," and "queer folk." Multiple decades later, descendants of the original families are subject to racial slurs like "Malagalite."

Today the new monument offers healing and closure from a time where systemic racism had deep roots in Maine.

A small crowd made up of Malaga Island descendants, Governor Paul LePage, and Rev. Holly Morrison of the Phippsburg Congregational Church gathered for somber reflection and a viewing of the new monument.  

According to Kate McBrien, a historian of Malaga Island and chief curator at the Maine Historical Society, the history of this community and its impact on descendants has long been covered up. 

"It's long been a secret, a hidden part of Maine’s history," said McBrien. "With the removal of any remaining buildings, as well as the bodies of those buried in the island’s cemetery, the State tried to erase all evidence of the people who lived there. Many in the Phippsburg area communities as well as the Malaga families themselves buried the history for generations, denying any connection to the island. But history cannot remain hidden forever. Current generations have discovered their connection and the state has accepted responsibility for its role in the removal and destruction of the Malaga community. This monument ensures that the people who lived on Malaga Island will never be forgotten again."

The monument, which stands six feet tall and cost $30,000 to construct ($24,000 of which was taken out of LePage's discretionary portion of the state budget), seeks to confront Maine’s shameful past.

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LePage speaking to the crowd in front of the new Malaga Island Monument. Photo By Adrienne Bennett, the Governor's Press Secretary. 

News of this symbolic gesture wasn’t met with widespread laudation online. Some commented that due to his history of racially insensitive remarks, Governor Paul LePage wasn’t the best choice of person to commemorate the monument, despite his office funding the project. The Governor also mentioned his Malaga 12 Scholarship Fund, managed by the Maine Community Foundation, and set up to benefit descendants of the island's residents who can prove their ancestry. It's set up from now until 2020. 

 

Back in 2012, when the Maine State Museum hosted an exhibit on Malaga Island called “Fragmented Lives,” LePage offered an apology on behalf of the state.

 

“To the descendants,” he declared, “I will tell you as a governor, I will say, we apologize for this hardship we have caused you. We did similar things to the Native Americans here. And, frankly, ten years after Malaga Island was destroyed, the largest Ku Klux Klan rally in the history of the United States was right here in Maine, against the French Catholics coming down here from Quebec. So, we understand. We have been part of it as well. So, my sincerest apology on behalf of the people of Maine to the descendants.” 

 

McBrien and others thought that LePage's involvement with the project was both powerful and necessary.

 

“I believe it was very appropriate for Governor LePage to be at the dedication ceremony today,” said McBrien. “The memorial itself was his idea and his suggestion. He also contributed the most money towards the creation of the monument. He was also the person to create a scholarship fund for the descendants of the Malaga Island community and has been committed to seeing that continue. The speech he gave today was spot on and from the heart.”

 

What turned Casco Bay green?

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Green slime all over Mill Creek. Photo By Emily Haggett of Friends of Casco Bay.

The unsightly green slime that showed up in parts of Casco Bay last year is back, earlier and greener than before.

 

Researchers from the Friends of Casco Bay have been monitoring the green slime — or as they know it, algal blooms — since last year, when they originally thought it was due to the drought conditions. Now they’re working fastidiously to determine what caused the blight this time in areas like Back Cove, Antoine Creek, and Mill Creek.

 

“We hoped last year's weather conditions made it an anomaly,” said Ivy Frignoca, the Casco Baykeeper at Friends of Casco Bay. “But our theory that maybe the drought conditions caused the blooms didn’t turn out to be correct.”

 

According to Frignoca, algal blooms are a result of high amounts of nitrogen and a significant drop in pH levels. But the underlying causes are still unknown.

 

“We don’t know now what’s causing the blooms to occur,” said Frignoca. “It could be a change in chemistry and weather patterns. It’s a symptom of a problem we’re trying to figure out.”

 

The reason why green slime concerns researchers is because it kills clams, which further impacts the overall health of the bay.

 

“All the clams were sticking their necks out, they were really stressed out,” said Frignoca. “By the second week, they were all dead. We’re just curious what the algae mass is doing to the health of the tidal flats.”

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A very stressed out clam. Photo Courtesy of Friends of Casco Bay.

High amounts of nitrogen are believed to be caused by human activity, whether it be from storm runoff or the water pouring out of waste-treatment plants in the area. Frignoca asks the public to watch out for algal blooms in other areas and report back findings to the Friends of Casco Bay so they can continue their research.

 

“If they see these blooms, I hope they let us know,” said Frignoca. “We can't be everywhere on Casco Bay.”

 

In the meantime, residents concerned about the health of Casco Bay can help by ensuring their pets’ waste doesn’t get into the water and by avoiding the use of lawn fertilizers. If these practices were more widespread, the levels of nitrogen in Casco Bay could be reduced.

 

Major Maine Media Consolidation Won’t Affect Jobs Or Final Products

 

Big insider news in the world of Maine media broke last week: Reade Brower, the owner of MaineToday Media (the parent company of the Portland Press Herald) bought out Sun Media Group (the parent company of the Sun Journal, the Forecaster and 16 other publications across the state) for an undisclosed amount, merging the companies under a single ownership and creating undoubtedly the largest media company in Maine.

 

Sun Media Group was owned by the Costello family for almost a century and spanned four generations of owners. The last owner, Steve Costello, said it was a bittersweet time, but one that felt right.

 

“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” said Costello. “We’ve partnered with Reade for the past few years in various aspects of the business. It’s worked very well. It evolved into this. We feel good about the fact that he has a very good sense of our same values: community journalism and a commitment to the employees.”

 

According to Costello, he was told that there would be no staff layoffs, and all of its 225 employees would be offered their jobs at the new company with the same level of pay and benefits.

 

It seems that readers of Maine newspapers won’t notice much of a difference from this deal, as Sun Media’s publications will still publish under the same name and continue to offer community journalism.

 

“They’re not looking to make a lot of changes,” said Costello.

 

MaineToday Media publishes the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal, with a combined weekday circulation of about 60,210. Sun Media’s newspapers reach about 300,000 people, which will presumably be added to Brower’s audience once the deal becomes final on August 1, and SunMedia turns into SJ Acquisition, with its operations kept separate from MaineToday Media.

 

Costello seemed optimistic about the future of his family’s journalistic legacy, and print media in general, so long as MaineToday Media continues to evolve with the changing habits of news consumers — something he believes that the new owners already do quite well.

 

“Print is evolving into a digital media,” said Costello. “There's still a bright future for community news. Whether it's the Phoenix or the Sun Journal, anybody that provides community journalism will still have a viable product. You just need to change the medium to a digital platform.”

  • Published in News

Wacky Cannabis News From Afar

This week, we’re taking a break from highlighting Maine-centric stories in the marijuana world, and expanding to see how our favorite plant is making headlines in other parts of the planet.

 

Are Those Epic Red Bud Shots Photoshopped?

Have you seen those photographs online of bright red cannabis flowers? They can’t be real right?

Well actually, some of them are.

Like most plants that change colors during certain months in their grow cycle, cannabis is no exception. The hairs, trichomes, leaves, and buds themselves can turn red if the plants produces large amounts of anthocyanins and carotenoids during the flowering stage. Growers can manipulate the amount of this red coloring by tweaking the pH levels, nutrients, and temperature.

However, marijuana photographers still sometimes photoshop their pics to make their buds look more colorful and intense, so seeing is not always believing. Some particularly crimson buds could also be a result of the lamp that they’re under.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little artistic license around a plant that’s sparked so much creativity in the world.

 

Did You Miss The Holiday Last Week?

Move over 4/20, there’s a new marijuana related holiday on the calendar. Corners of the Internet, spurred by initiatives from San Francisco dispensaries, have dubbed July 10th (710) as “Dab Day.”

Melting cannabis extracts and inhaling the tasty vapors is a wonderful thing, and we’re glad it gets its own day of recognition, despite some decrying it as an illegal and dangerous pastime. Science has proven that hash oil does not negatively affect brain and lung function, so long as it comes from a licensed and tested provider. It all comes down to if chemicals are used to extract the THC, and if those chemicals are retained in high amounts in the final product. Safe, quality dabs undergone lab analysis, so again, it matters where you’re getting it from.

First timers take notice: a single hit of dabs is about 4 times as intense as its flowery counterpart. Exhibit caution before you blast off.

 

The United Nations Finally Gets With The Times

Last week, the United Nations and the World Health Organization issued a statement regarding health care discrimination, in which they called for “reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes.” Many are interpreting this as a push toward cannabis decriminalization worldwide.

Several prominent organizations like the International Red Cross, the American Public Health Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP have expressed support for decriminalization.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, about two dozen countries, and dozens of U.S. cities and states, have taken steps toward decriminalization, meaning that otherwise law-abiding people are no longer arrested, let alone incarcerated, merely for possessing a drug.

A recent report in the ACLU found that of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana, and states waste a whopping $3,500,000,000 enforcing marijuana laws every year.

Federally recognized decriminalization would be a huge step in the right direction, but hopefully there can also be a push to exonerate the thousands of people sitting in jail currently for nonviolent charges like cultivation and possession.

 

People Are Smoking Out Of Balloons Now

If you’re really looking to absorb every modicum of TCH from your hits, social media posts suggest smoking out of a balloon is highly efficient.

Just hit your bong or pipe like you’d normally do, and then slowly exhale into a balloon and squeeze the end. Once you’re ready for a second hit, just inhale from the balloon and enjoy the sweet taste of recycled smoke with a hint of plastic.

 

Public Use Is Still Very Much Frowned Upon

According to an article in the Washington Post, cops in D.C. arrested 400 people for public use of marijuana last year, nearly triple the amount from years prior. The numbers of arrests are on track to remain high in 2017.

Eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia have all legalized recreational marijuana, but it seems many people in those states don’t realize that it’s still illegal to puff outside. If you’re going to spark up on the street, do so stealthily.

 

Cheeky English Cops Leave Note After Destroying Cannabis Plants

Across the pond in the United Kingdom — where cannabis is still very much illegal, just possessing it can land you in jail for five years — cops busted a big grow operation in the woods outside Oxford, and destroyed every plant. But, according to the story in the Telegraph, the owner/grower wasn’t home.

So the cheeky coppers left a note outside the plantation that read: "Ooops! Sorry we missed each other but feel free to call me on 101 so we can discuss a deal. Lots of love, TVP xx."

At least they had a sense of humor?

 

8 Days: Arctic Activism, Drum Therapy, Jungle Quests, and Exploding Heads

THURSDAY 13

 

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The cover of Miho Aida's book which features the work of several photographers documenting the lives of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic.  

ARCTIC ACTION | You should get familiar with Miho Aida. She’s a Japanese activist and filmmaker who’s devoted most of her career to amplifying the voices of women of color in environmentalism, a field where they typically don’t get a lot of recognition. Aida’s biking from Washington DC to Portland touring her latest short film The Sacred Place Where Life Begins – Gwich’in Women Speak, which documents the concerns of the Indigenous people living in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A massive oil pipeline project has been proposed by Trump to run through this huge swath of land that many consider to be America’s last truly wild place. Experts say this oil project will alter the habitats and migration paths of some 200 odd bird species, as well as the caribou which has an immense cultural and dietary significance to the Gwich’in people. This is a classic case of big corporations trying to stomp over Indigenous rights and natural treasure, which just isn’t right. Get inspired to take action, and stand up for the rights of the original Americans. Co-sponsored by the Sierra Club of Maine.

| FREE | 5:30 pm | Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St. Portland | https://www.meca.edu/ |

 

Is Portland Dying? Housing, Inequality, and the Future of Bayside

“In cities that function as growth machines, where economic growth is prized above all us, the needs of the poor and middle class are eclipsed by the desire to inflate the value of land.” Peter Moskowitz.

 

Two black youths — let’s call them Alex and John — were playing basketball in Kennedy Park last week, and musing about the neighborhood they live in: East Bayside.

It didn’t take long for their conversation to turn into statements expressing mutual anxiety. “How long will I be able to live here?” They wondered aloud. Although these immigrants from West Africa have been enjoying life in Portland for a couple years, they fear they’ll be forced to move to towns like Westbrook, South Portland, and Windham because of the rising cost of living in a growing, popular city.

“Some friends are worried about [their homes] getting too pricey,” Alex said. “We like it here, but things are getting expensive, because of places like that.”

 

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Alex shooting some hoops in Kennedy Park last week. Luxury condos can be seen in the background.

Alex pointed to the luxury condos on Anderson St. adjacent to Kennedy Park where one-bedroom apartments are going for $1,650 a month. Many like them have been popping up downtown in recent years, and in once-poor neighborhoods like Munjoy Hill.

“The city’s changing for rich people,” said John. “It’s happening here [in Bayside] too.”

John was referring to a big development deal that Portland’s city councilors are in the midst of negotiating, which in many ways will dictate the future of the Bayside neighborhood.

Last month, 11 developers submitted bids and project proposals for 4.1 acres of unused, city-owned land in Bayside. Who the Portland’s city councilors decide to strike a deal with, will potentially transform the neighborhood, alter the demographics of the city, and, depending on how they develop the land, either help or hinder Portland’s poor and middle class.  

It’s rare that a city the size of Portland has this much land available for sale and development all at once. For some, it presents an exciting opportunity to revitalize the neighborhood, by building artist studios, maker spaces, coffee shops, housing and green spaces, spurring economic growth and attracting outsiders. For others, it presents the perfect opportunity to build high-density, affordable housing for the most vulnerable in a time where housing in Portland’s getting scarcer and pricier, and in a neighborhood that’s home to Portland’s lowest earners — the median household income in Bayside was $20,700 in 2015, compared to the city’s overall median of $62,074.

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Bayside, Portland's most diverse neighborhood, has been the central focus in a lot of local conversations around affordable housing, social services, and outside development.

The neighborhood is also home to the majority of Portland’s black, brown, and immigrant residents. About 24.4 percent of the population there is non-white, 8.4 percent more than the rest of the city, easily making it the most diverse neighborhood in Portland.

Indeed, if housing development and race relations were plotted on a Venn diagram, it would basically just be a circle, as noted by one author who visited Portland last week and has been documenting the relationship for years.

 

Unpacking the G-Word

A timely conversation was held last week between city council hopeful Joey Brunelle, and Peter Moskowitz, a queer, Jewish journalist who’s written for Buzzfeed, the Nation, the Guardian, and the New York Times.

Moskowitz is all too familiar with gentrification after being priced out of the Bushwick neighborhood he grew up in New York City. Shortly after, he traveled across America studying the effects of it in preparation for his latest book, How To Kill A City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, which documents the changing landscape and demographics in cities like San Francisco, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York City.

 

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Peter Moskowitz, author of How to Kill a City. 

At his Portland appearance, held two weeks ago at Longfellow Books, he offered a succinct understanding of the term to a packed room of Portlanders: (Moskowitz made a second appearance the following evening at Congress Square Park.)

“Think of it as a collusion between city staff and developers to radically alter the function of the city away from uses for the poor and middle class and toward uses that benefit the rich.”

His journey of understanding this relationship started in New Orleans, where five years after Hurricane Katrina, the city was changing before his eyes. Moskowitz said he would walk by a predominantly black neighborhood and see a gaggle of white people occupy a block sipping lattes, which made him curious: “What had happened here?”

The governor of Louisiana at the time, a white woman named Kathleen Blanco, said in a 2015 press release that it took “the storm of a lifetime to create the opportunity of a lifetime.” Blanco made moves to rapidly gentrify the area by firing state-funded teachers, shutting down almost every public school, and demolishing every single public-housing project, most of which weren't even affected by the hurricane. Meanwhile, FEMA was caught giving more disaster relief money to white neighborhoods over black neighborhoods.

Today 95,000 fewer black Americans live in New Orleans post-Katrina as a result of this disaster capitalism.

“I saw evidence of them making the city impossible to live in for lower income people of color,” said Moskowitz.

As Bayside burgeons into Portland’s next hotspot, locals are wondering how will this affect the populations of people of color living there.

 

But What About Cool, Sexy Buildings?

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One developer, Rory Strunk of O'Maine Studios, pitched a complex with a rooftop garden dedicated to food festival events for the property on 64 Hanover Street.

Although gentrification is widely understood and well-documented, it’s still something of a buzzword that takes on different meanings depending on who you’re talking to.

Take Bayside resident Sarah Michniewicz’s understanding, for example:

“For a lot of us who have lived in Bayside for a really long time, gentrification can be defined as not having to clean up someone else's crud from your property. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.”

Dinah Minot, the director of arts organization Creative Portland, also diminished the effects of gentrification by valuing aesthetics over impact, saying that tall, high-density buildings shouldn't be built in Bayside.

“In terms of branding our collective assets in the future, this is an opportunity to create some cool, sexy buildings,” said Minot. “They can bring the community together next to Bayside Bowl and invoke a fun enjoyable community and attract people to our neighborhoods.”

These comments symbolize the disconnect between those affected by the term and those that aren’t. For people like Minot, whose focus is stimulating the creative economy instead of nurturing the street-level forces driving it, a neighborhood isn't a community, it's an asset. To those whose job it is to attract tourists to Portland, gentrification is a good thing. After all, what’s wrong with installing hip places to hang out in the neighborhood and stimulating economic growth with shiny new storefronts?

Well, according to Dawud Ummah, an immigrant resident of Portland’s Oakdale neighborhood, nothing’s wrong with it, so long as they’re built to serve the community around them. In short, who’s going to work in these businesses and where are they going to live?

“I haven’t heard anybody saying that these developments will create jobs for the residents of Bayside,” said Ummah. “If you’re planning on having affordable housing, you need to have people working, in a much more holistic way. People that live in Bayside should work there too.”

Mike Curran, identifying as a young working-class writer and artist from the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis — an area grappling with its own gentrification issues — echoed this sentiment and said that development projects, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, can have disparate effects for disparate groups.  

“I currently live in Minneapolis, where the ideas of ‘sexy and innovative’ have led to a huge displacement of immigrants and people of color,” said Curran. “I’d hate to see that here.”

Back here in Portland, some believe it’s already happening, and are organizing to raise awareness. Marena Blanchard, a black resident and activist who has protested frequently in town around issues of systemic racism, police brutality, and indigenous rights, distributed a zine last month about her vision for Bayside titled, “This Is A Call To Repair.” Later, she brought friends and supporters to the second public comment session on the issue, that took place on the last Tuesday in June in a basement conference room of City Hall. Blanchard and others were there to hear what the 11 developers wanted to do with the land, and share with them that black youth in Bayside have begun using the language “Defend Kennedy Park.”

“This idea of building sexy buildings and attracting folks that have no connection the neighborhood is destroying a community that already exists there,” said Blanchard.

“I haven’t heard anything that’s going to improve the lives of kids living in Kennedy Park,” echoed fellow protester Mariana Angelo, a Portland resident and woman of color, to the councilors and developers.

Maryan Mukhtar, an 18-year old Muslim student at SMCC, joined Blanchard for her first "Defend Kennedy Park" protest and was quick to link gentrification to white supremacy.

"I hate gentrification because it's a human right violation," she said. "Black and brown people are going to be the main ones impacted by it and have been for decades. Rich white folks creep into our neighborhood and exploit us, pushing us out then denying access to our neighborhood because the rent price increased. Fighting white supremacy is very draining because it curtails people's progress by destabilizing and uprooting."   

 

A tense public comment session

Many residents of Bayside already consider it home to a vibrant, culturally-rich, and attractive community. But the language used by some developers at the public comment session suggested the opposite perception. For them, the neighborhood represents a “new frontier,” one where a community needs to be built from scratch and made to look hip, polished, and trendy.

They see fairly new establishments like Bayside Bowl and the Fork Food Lab as trailblazers in this endeavor. The majority of the proposals appealed to young, hip, millennial trends in the city like micro-apartments, incubator style workspaces, a food studio with a rooftop garden, a solar powered office building, and industrial studios for artist and beverage makers.

 

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Bayside Bowl recently reopened after a 3 million dollar expansion that added solar panels, six new bowling lanes, and a rooftop bar to their already popular hangout spot.

The divergent visions for the future of Bayside were easily apparent after at least 15 people spoke up and said they were disappointed with the developer’s pitches.

Although the zoning in the area allows for up to 10 story buildings, only two developers called for buildings nearly that tall.

“It’s surprising and disappointing that nobody’s talking about building bigger buildings with more density,” said Peter Leavitt, a resident who’s bringing a new deli (his second one called Leavitt & Sons) to Kennebec St., across from one of the land parcels up for bid.

Only one developer — M. Nasir Shir of Community House of Maine — pitched a bid for low-income, high-density housing in the form of a six-story, 24-unit apartment building with parking on site at 56 Parris St. Although affordable housing advocates lauded Shir’s proposal, since it was only for one out of the six parcels, they felt it wasn’t enough.  

 

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One developer, Jack Soley, pitched 20 one-bedroom workforce condos starting between $178,000 and $199,900, provoking visible consternations from the crowd. Jack Soley, a former City Councilor and the son of Joe Soley, who owns many buildings throughout the Old Port, called his project the Periscope Lofts and dubbed them “affordable.”

It didn’t take long for someone to challenge Soley's definition of affordable.

“I can tell you that $200,000 for a 400-square foot space is not affordable for a family,” said Curran, the creative from St. Paul, Minnesota, who was present at the meeting. “It’s not really affordable to anyone I know.”

Affordable housing is meant to be defined as housing, either rental or owner occupied, that is affordable no matter what someone’s income is. The U.S. government deems affordable housing as anything that costs at or below 30 percent of one’s income.

Using the federal government’s standard for affordable housing, a person earning Bayside’s median income would be expected to pay at least $512 a month for rent in the neighborhood, a figure that’s drastically lower than any of the priced units that some developers mentioned.

Soley later clarified to the Phoenix that his development proposal is for workforce housing, which is defined by Housing and Urban Development as no more than 120 percent of the area median income. His goal is to build condominiums that are affordable “to many folks that work in the Portland area but have been priced out of the market by the recent housing boom” with units retailing between $178,000 and $199,900.

“I understand that there are people that will not be able to afford our units,” said Solely. “No project will satisfy the needs of everyone. Many of these potential buyers are already part of the community but have not been able to find permanent housing that meets their budget. We believe that this is an important sector of Portland’s population that is not being served by any of the new development projects.”

But others at the public hearing had different ideas as to who’s underserved in the city of Portland.

“I’m disappointed to hear there’s not a lot of talk about general assistance or people living in the Shalom House, or people living in sober houses,” said Tanya Iron Lima who lives on Preble St. “There’s a rising homeless population. People are literally dying, from addiction, from hunger, from illness. You say that we’re innovators in the United States and that Portland is one of the best places to live, but our most vulnerable population continues to get pushed off the peninsula, away from the services that they need. Building a four-story condo will not address that issue.”

Lima then urged the councilors to “do the right thing” and weigh the impact any development deal would have on the public good.

 

A (Very Short) History of Gentrification and Race

 

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A scene from a changing neighborhood.

Gentrification, no matter your definition of it, is an intersectional issue that has to do with identity, class, healthcare, and policing (as expensive developments often leave room in their budgets for an increased police presence in the area, much to ire of some minorities who fear racial profiling). And according to Moskowitz, there’s a 100-year-old reason why a certain demographic comes to mind when thinking about who’s doing the gentrifying.

“The history of housing policy is explicitly based on race,” said Moskowitz. “The reason why the stereotypical gentrifier is usually white is because their parents and grandparents were literally gifted hundreds of thousands of dollars of wealth that carried over to them. Even if white people are cash poor they hold more wealth in housing on average over their black counterparts.”

In his book, Moskowitz traces the beginning of this housing discrimination to the 1930s when American was in the middle of the Great Depression. The federal government got together with homeowners to come up with ways to stimulate the economy. What they ended up doing was creating government-backed mortgage instruments for the first time in history, allowing people to buy entire homes with just 20 percent down. But banks would only lend to people from neighborhoods with a specific set of characteristics.

“They had to be single-family homes, they couldn't be mixed-use,” said Moskowitz. “And if there were people of color living in those neighborhoods, they got redlined.”

What this did was force black communities to stay in the poor inner cities, while white families were essentially gifted wealth in the form of suburban homes.

“I hate the term white flight because it wasn’t random, it was done purposefully to spur economic development,” said Moskowitz.

Fast-forward to today, and most homeowners would tell you that there’s not much wealth left in the suburbs. We’re living in a time where business and development interests have refocused back to the inner cities in a phenomenon the Marxist economic Neil Smith described as the “see-saw of capital.” In his 1982 essay “Gentrification and Urban Development,” Smith concludes that new markets always emerge, take advantage of economic depression, reverse it, and turn a profit.

Gentrification, Moskowitz explained, can best be understood through four phases, which start organically and end with deliberate changes at the city government level.  

 

Four Cities, Four Phases

The first phase describes the migration of hipsters, artists, and other creative types into poor neighborhoods where they renovate some houses and generally spruce up the place. This new found interest initiates a second phase which attracts business owners to open up new restaurants and coffee shops in the area. Portland’s seen the effects of these first two phases for years.

 

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A worker at a development site in East Bayside.

The last two phases involve more radical changes from the top down, like big developers buying land explicitly to expand their capital in the third phase, and even bigger institutions like banks radically altering the neighborhood, sometimes even changing its name, in the fourth phase.

Moskowitz doesn’t want to let individual gentrifiers off the hook, but he said that they are mostly irrelevant when compared to the deep pockets of corporations and the super-rich involved in the third and fourth phases.

“It’s not just a matter of individual decisions, it’s about these massive political forces,” Moskowitz said.

It’s in these last phases that Moskowitz argues there’s almost always a symbiotic relationship between city government and outside business interests to chase higher property taxes and money from away, negatively affecting, and in some cases outright displacing, the community that lived there in the area originally.

“Housing and development policies are being changed rapidly to disadvantage the poor and middle class,” said Moskowitz. “Any outside money is good money, and cities are addicted to that kind of cash flow.”

Detroit went through a similar gentrification process after the city’s 2013 bankruptcy crisis. The city busted unions, closed public schools, and became beholden to banks and corporations in hopes of breathing life into the economy. In 2014, Detroit also offered tax breaks to wealthy investors and they took the bait. Today there’s an area of Detroit called Gilbertville, named after Dan Gilbert because he owns most of the buildings in the downtown area and runs his own private security force there. The result is a small rich downtown hoping to sustain the life of a sprawling but dying city around it; out of the 145 square miles in Detroit, almost every development dollar has been funneled into the same 7.2 square miles.

“It’s a very dystopian situation over there,” said Moskowitz. “It might as well be the Hunger Games. People are fighting for scraps.”

The Bronx rose to be New York’s stylish new hot spot after a deliberate attempt to displace the poor people living there. In the ‘70s, the city government there conducted a study to find out where they would have to shut down firehouses to get people to leave those neighborhoods, and then did precisely that.

“When you hear that the Bronx was burning, it was burnt by the government to get people out of there. You have neighborhoods that were purposely depressed. Then you have an entire class of people who were gifted wealth coming back into those cities.”

San Francisco is unique in the sense that it sort of skipped over the first couple phases of gentrification, and went straight to one where the government woos tech companies through tax breaks and advertisements. Moskowitz writes that the city is addicted to tech cash, and despite operating with a $10 billion budget surplus, still doesn’t build much affordable housing or enforce rent control laws.

Although these are all very different cities with their own histories, cultures, and values, Moskowitz was comfortable comparing Portland’s gentrification story to San Francisco’s, placing our city somewhere between the third and fourth phase; instead of attracting tech money, Portland chases tourism, food, and beer dollars.

But despite different transformations, the underlying causes and effects remain the same: when cities are strapped for cash, the perceived solution labels poor people who don’t contribute to the tax base as a burden and billionaires as a necessity. The prevailing philosophy espouses the fallacy that if just a couple more rich investors move into town, than their wealth would stimulate growth and trickle down to those that need it most.

“You can’t solve the poverty problem this way, it just pushes it farther away,” said Moskowitz. “It’s a lose-lose. You gain money for the riches, you lose funds for the poor, and you lose the culture that makes cities great.”

 

A demand to help Portland’s poor

According to Steve Hirshon, the president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, the area houses about 400 homeless people, but at present capacity, they can’t take care of everyone.

 

bottlecollector

A homeless man collecting bottles in East Bayside.

“God knows we’ve got enough brew pubs and coffee shops,” said Hirshon, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. “We do need housing. It gives people skin in the game and gives them an opportunity to give back to the neighborhood.”

The biggest homeless shelters in the city are situated in or around Bayside. They include the Oxford Street Shelter and Preble Street Resource Center with a combined 229 units, Milestone with 50 units, Salvation Army with 48 units, and the Portland Family Shelter with 45 units. The rest of the city’s 20 homeless shelters are scattered on and off the peninsula and range in size from 16 beds to just two beds.

According to Portland's Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee, 2,775 individuals sought emergency shelter in 2016 across the city. There may be more homeless people in Portland as the combined number of homeless people sleeping both in shelters and on the street is unknown. But what is clear is that there are not enough beds to go around, as most of the shelters run out of space on a daily basis, especially in the winter months.

The numbers attached to affordable housing in Portland are just as miserable. According to the latest report from Avesta Housing, one of the largest providers of affordable, government-subsidized housing in Portland, a total of 1,295 households sought an affordable home from Avesta.

However, due to scarce resources and limited turnover in their existing apartments, they were only able to assist 115 new households. As of two months ago, 1,864 households remain on Avesta’s waiting lists.

The stats paint a tragically obvious picture: Portland’s homeless problem is not ameliorating, and folks earning low-incomes often struggle to find an affordable place to live on the peninsula where they work.

“We’re pushing out the local residents,” said Karen Snyder, a landlord who lives on Munjoy Hilland says she rents to working-class people like teachers, firemen, speech therapists, and line cooks there. “They can’t afford to live here. Those statistics scare me.”

 

Wanna find Solutions?

Keep talking about it

Feeling despondent yet?

If you read this far, then you’ve made the first step toward challenging the pervasive problem of gentrification: building political consciousness around it.

Sadly, in many circles, the conversation has yet to be started.

But what else can the average person do about gentrification without contributing to it?

As activist Jane Jacobs wrote in her 1961 book, The Death and Life of American Cities: “Private investments shape cities, but social ideas and laws shape private investment. First, comes the image of what we want and the machine is adapted to churn out that image.”

Protests can be effective in churning out that image. For example, in Berlin, youth have protested on housing issues almost weekly in the streets and the government there is starting to take them seriously by instituting rent regulations and moratoriums on development.

Moskowitz ended his book talk with a rather grim outlook on the future but encouraged the crowd to take action anyway. He said that the market is never going to work for poor people because the land will remain expensive, and developers will never build affordable housing without government incentive.

feature HowToKillACity

Recommended reading for a much deeper understanding of the issue. 

“I think we live in dark times,” said Moskowitz. “Gentrification is the urban form of globalization which is affecting every single part of our economy. We need to rein in control over this out of control capitalism that’s been deregulated year after year after year.”

Instead, Moskowitz suggested pushing for CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) on rent and property tax, and an increase in income taxes and housing regulations. Other steps to solutions include joining the Democratic Socialists of America (who mobilize around these issues), donating to the work of Fair Rent Portland (a citizens group fighting for a referendum on rent control), and urging Portland’s city councilors to settle for a Bayside development deal that offers a healthy balance of affordable, workforce, and owner-occupied housing.

Or better yet, Moskowitz offered a “pie-in-the-sky idea” suggesting Portland place the Bayside plots in a community land trust, where it can be kept off the market and used strictly for the public good.

If not, Moskowitz warns, Portland’s going to be simultaneously too expensive to live in, and void of the diverse culture that makes it so special.

“Portland’s going to turn into a San Francisco,” said Moskowitz. “You’re going to see this city as a jewel box, a playground for wealthy liberalism, where everything becomes a mirror to itself and reality is obscured.”

This Thing Is On — Inside the Portland Maine Comedy Festival

A great comedy set is an extremely subjective experience. They come in so many different themes and styles that it’s impossible for one to be universally loved. Someone in the audience is bound to get offended, and typically, comics don’t care. On the contrary, it fuels many of them.

George Orwell’s words, “every joke is a tiny revolution,” ring true today in a time where comedy sheds the remaining vestiges of our puritan past and pushes back against the modern culture of political correctness. 

And perhaps nobody’s material balances the line between the hilarious and the socially forbidden like Doug Stanhope, the national comic making a rare appearance as the headliner for the 2nd Portland Maine Comedy Festival at Empire this weekend. Billed as one of the most controversial comedians of all time by Complex Magazine, Stanhope doesn’t hold back on unleashing questionable opinions, vulgar language, and morally outrageous stories. One of Stanhope’s bits trivializes racism, while others seem to downplay the seriousness of drug addiction, suicide, and misogyny. While some might cringe at some of these bits, Stanhope, like most smart comedians, manages to make cogent points about society by the end of them. 

And he’s also really, really funny. 

While it’s all too easy to offend someone nowadays, it’s also too convenient to write someone off as easily offended. Language, even when wrapped as a joke, can have real-life consequences. Too often, people with legitimate criticisms of performers who frequently rely on racism, sexism, and homophobia as a comedic crutch are reduced to simple, humorless snowflakes.

Is it fair to laugh at the expense of others? Should comedy exist under the notion of “fuck your feelings”? We’ve seen the outrage over “jokes that went too far” recently, both in the cases of Bill Maher casually dropping a racial epithet, and Kathy Griffin posing with a bloody, disembodied Trump head.

So with an art form like comedy that’s built around breaking taboos, where is the line drawn?

The truth is, we’re not sure. But the Portland Maine Comedy Festival might provide answers, as many experienced and talented comics will take the stage. Ian Stuart's the comic and organizer responsible for the festival and he said that something like it didn't exist in Maine and it needed to. He's been in the scene for several years and wanted to showcase the talents of the friends he made along the way. 

"I wanted to build shows on merit, get the funniest people I have available to me; so I asked 50 of my friends and we made a whole weekend of comedy possible," said Stuart. "I think it's special anytime you can celebrate and share laughter with your community, and I can't wait to do so this weekend."

In preparation for this three-night festival of unexpected ideas, we're bringing you tiny insights into the personalities of several of the performers.

Jenna McFarland – Relatable Comic, and Queen of Self-Deprecation 

feature JennaMcFarland

How and why did you decide to get into comedy?

I went to a show at the Asylum like three years ago. I signed up for this six-week long comedy workshop. Afterward, I started doing open mics around Portland and loved it.

But oddly enough, I hate being on stage. I do like the attention though. What draws me to it is that I’m able to be myself and know that people find it funny. It’s just part of my personality. I love making people laugh.

What stories do you typically tell on stage?

Really embarrassing stuff from my life.

I’m really open about my sexuality. I like to dispel the notion that females can’t be funny. But my humor isn’t gendered, it’s for everyone. It’s not girl only humor.

How do you feel about sexist jokes? Do they have a place in comedy?

I’m definitely a feminist, and I do see a lot of people rely on sexism jokes. It’s hard because there are some things that are funny and do stem from a real topic or stereotype. They’re not good, but sometimes they come from a real place.

I don’t tell jokes to hurt people. If that’s someone else's schtick, I don’t bash them for it, but it’s not my thing. I just stick with things that people can relate to, otherwise I get uncomfortable. So I just offend myself. I’m self-deprecating, but it’s not because I hate myself, it’s because it’s relatable. I joke about hiding my camel toe because so many girls have been there. Why not make a joke about it?

Are you nervous about telling jokes naked during The Adam and Eve Show?

This is actually my second year doing it! I really enjoyed it, but it was a little nerve-wracking. Originally, it was supposed to be a completely nude show, but some censorship issues came out. We just had to wear pasties and make sure no hair or bits were showing. One of the comics had a sock over his penis.

This time it’s straight-up naked, or whatever people are comfortable with. I’ll make a joke on stage, that most of that audience has already seen me naked either on Facebook or Snapchat.

Are you excited for your second comedy festival?

Yes! Portland’s comedy scene is fantastic. No matter who you’re seeing at the festival, it’s going to be a great show.

Nick Lavallee - National Traveler, Musical Comedian, and Breaker of New England Stereotypes

feature NickLavalee

What was your first foray into comedy like?

I’ve been doing stand-up for over eight years. I was in a punk-ska band for awhile and people would always say that our music was good, but that I was really a comedian. I knew it in the back of my mind. Our lyrics were too goofy. People liked my music but were always waiting to see what I’d say in between songs.

Which comics have inspired you?

I always loved comedy, growing up in Manchester, New Hampshire. Sarah Silverman and Seth Meyers are from there. The first comedy record I ever bought was Adam Sandler’s They’re All Gonna Laugh At You. We went to the same high school. I loved watching him do musical comedy on SNL.

I’m glad I started comedy later in my life after the band broke up. People starting stand up in their early twenties may not have much to talk about.

Performing at the historic Laugh Factory, what was that like?  

It’s a legendary club. It was totally surreal. It just doesn’t happen like that. For me to put a record of stand up and produce physical media at the Laugh Factory was amazing. I sent my material on a whim to Jamie Masada at the Laugh Factory, and I actually got a callback. I couldn’t believe it. This was the guy that helped usher Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey's career. It’s a cool part of my story. I own it now.

Is it hard to market yourself as a comic from New England?

There are plenty of specific jokes I can only get away with telling here, but I can sort of paint New England in broad strokes, and people get it.

As long as the New England stereotype stays a benchmark reference in pop culture, people will get it. Especially if Ben Affleck keeps putting out bad movies.

For a while, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a New England stereotype, so I try to challenge that with my act. I’m proud of that. I’ve spent the past 20 months sober, so I use that as a way to break the stereotype. We’re not all Bud Light drinking Patriot fans. We’re so much more than that.

Tell me how you use swears and curse words in your act, and its place in comedy overall?

It’s hard not to answer this without doing a bit. I swear for emphasis. People will tell me, “Nick your act is great, but tone down the swearing or you’ll never get a TV spot.” And usually, my response is “Well, fuck you.” I’m from New England, I can’t help but swear!

However, I have done totally clean sets. You do have to curb it a little. I am trying to swear less. The only time I use the word “fuck” is during that bit I just did. You’ve got to be versatile.

Mark Turcotte – Father, and unapologetic fixture in the New England scene

feature Markturcotte

What's the most amusing thing about where you're from?

I’m from Lewiston. How much time do you have?

Who’s your favorite comic?

George Carlin influenced me more than anyone. He taught me it was okay to question things I was raised not to; our culture, rituals, politics, and beliefs. Not only was I laughing at the material, I was exploring my own sensibility and personal boundaries. He could pull you in with a fart joke and leave you questioning your own existence. His career spanned five decades, evolved through multiple generations, and his final HBO special was as good as the previous 13. He died at age 71 with tour dates on his calendar. Incredible.

Do you have a favorite "dad joke?"

It’s one of my own and I’m sure it qualifies. I designed a newspaper ad for cold medicine and requested it be placed under the weather.

Why did you decide to get into comedy?

I became fascinated with stand-up after seeing Carlin at Carnegie at age 12. I always told myself I’d try it someday, but never really sought an opportunity. Five years ago I signed up for a comedy workshop in Portland. I’ve been writing, performing, traveling, and producing shows ever since.

What jokes would you say garnered the most emotional reaction from the crowd?

I have a bit on my wife Sherri and I dealing with her breast cancer diagnosis. She encouraged me to take on the subject with the rationale being if you can laugh at cancer, just for a few minutes, it loses its power and you get some of your life back. The bit is deeply personal and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. After shows, I’ve had people share their cancer experiences with me — some have resulted in tears from both sides — and express gratitude for allowing them to knock the disease down a few pegs.

Are there any themes/topics that you refuse to touch with your act? Why or why not?

No. I don’t believe any subject is off limits. I will not go out of my way to upset or shock anyone, but I enjoy a challenge. If I can find a way to construct a "controversial" joke that is true to my character, I’ll bring it onstage and hope the audience is up for the ride.

Historically comedy has been all about breaking taboos and ruffling uptight sensibilities. Do you agree with that?

To quote the incomparable Mel Brooks, “comedy is protest.” If comedians aren’t allowed to expose the dishonesty and hypocrisy of our world, who is? It’s a scary concept, but why think about that when Fuller House is on Netflix? I’ve been opening with a bit on the United States and how, for better or worse, we are number one in a lot of areas. I wouldn’t say it’s controversial, it just shines a light on a few disturbing truths and comes back around to provide more of what we all need — laughter.

 

Rachel Gendron - Thriving Montreal-via-Portland comic and impressionist

Rachel Gendron

 

Who were the first comics that made you want to tell jokes?

 
I think for stand-up comedy influences, it would definitely have to be the likes of Sarah Silverman, Jim Carrey, and Ellen Degeneres. Sketch-based comedy and characters have also had a huge impact on me. Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Kate McKinnon just to name a few.
 
Has your style changed since you first started?
 
So much! I would be disappointed with myself if my style hadn’t changed in five years. I was 21 when I first started out and I used alcohol as a crutch. It never translated very well to the stage. It was hard for me at first to communicate in a joke the weird and obscure stuff that I thought was funny, so I would pander to the crowd a lot and tell the jokes that I didn’t particularly love but thought people would want to hear. That got old fast, so now I just talk about exactly what I think is funny and care very little about what will get the most laughs.
 
 
What are the inspiring parts of the comedy scene you're in? 
 
I live in Montreal now, but I come back to Portland often and always try to get a few spots every time I come back. When I lived In Portland, the scene was much smaller than what it is now, yet still so genuine and supportive. You had maybe one or two open mics a week in the whole city, with pretty low attendance. It has grown and evolved so much in recent years, and now there are enough events, you could get up every day of the week and the rooms will be packed. Coming home to Portland now, I really am so happy to see that people want to support and enjoy live comedy — that wasn’t always the case.
 
 
What are its deficiencies?
 
Females, but this isn’t necessarily specific to Portland. It’s really a comedy thing. We’re out there, but not in high enough numbers. I actually started a show in Montreal where I curate every lineup to be 50/50 female/male. It just makes sense.

 

Kyle Ruse - Tattoo Artist and Total Ball-Buster

feature KyleRuse

Do you have a favorite comic?

It’s such a hard question to answer because there are so many different comedians these days. Clean, political, crude, impressionists — that's like asking your favorite musician; it could change with your mood. Lately, I've been on a Sean Rouse kick, along with Dave Attell and my buddy Danny Bevins.

Why did you decide to get into comedy?

I just always admired stand-up and watched a lot of it growing up with my parents. I did stand-up at the fifth-grade talent show and roasted all my teachers. I tried it in college in NJ and fell in love with it. I quit for a few years and had some personal problems adding up, got back on stage as an outlet and haven't stopped since.

Do your tattoos ever make it into your act?

Yeah, I talk about tattooing a lot — the customers, the stereotypes, the difference between this and an office job.

I’ve been tattooing ten years. It’s an industry with a lot of baggage, it's not what tattoo shows make it. We're not all divas or egomaniacs. Most of us are just kids who doodled instead of taking notes in class. Some of the funniest people I know tattoo for a living. It's like a barber shop as far as constant ballbusting and sarcasm. There's no HR department holding us to what we can and can't talk about.

Yesterday at the shop we debated what classifies as a shart. Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a wet fart. What really classifies it as a shart is the volume and sound. It has to have both. Customers in the tattoo world are hilarious. They’re not Macy’s shoppers; we deal with the bottom of the barrel most days.

How do you feel about the festival’s headliner Doug Stanhope?

One of my favorites, he's a legend in the comedy world and I’m really stoked to get to see him perform again.

How do you feel about the quote that every joke is a “tiny revolution?”

I write dick and fart jokes so this doesn't really apply. I have face tattoos; no one wants to hear an opinion piece from me. But I admire people like Carlin and Bill Hicks who were able to push their strong ideals and still present it with humor. It's just not my thing.

What's your opinion on the two comedians (Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher) that caused outrage with their jokes a couple weeks ago?

People just love to complain. I see open mic comics say far worse things weekly, the only reason anyone cares is because they're "famous." They're both boring to me, trying to make waves in a kiddie pool.

Aharon Willows-Herbert - Smart, Witty, and Totally PC

feature AharonWillowsHebert

Who are you watching in comedy nowadays?

I don't watch much stand-up on TV anymore. If it isn't live it feels really dull to me. So my favorites are usually people I have on shows. Connor McGrath and Will Green are my buds, my biggest current inspirations, and I never get tired of watching them. If we're talking real comedians, Richard Pryor, Louis CK, Shane Mauss, and Mike Birbiglia.

Why did you decide to get into comedy?

I always watched a ton of stand-up when I was a teenager but never thought about doing it. I was living in NYC and found out a co-worker, Charles Gould, did stand-up so I begged him to bring me to an open mic. I did two open mics the first night and I was hooked.

So what’s it like to be a straight white male in comedy?

I think it's about the same as ever. If you're a dumb SWM (Straight White Man) you probably think it's hard because "PC bullshit" or whatever, but if you think that, than you probably suck as a human and comic.

As a SWM that tries to book diverse comedy shows in Maine it's impossible. Having a couple white women and a person of color from out of state is usually the best you can do.

Have SWMs changed your feelings about comedy at all?

There's a lot of shithead SWMs in every comedy scene and I think that turns other people away from trying it and continuing to perform. And it's not great for shows to just have a bunch of SWMs as the only voices on stage, the crowd is more diverse than that and they want to hear different shit. When I got into stand-up I thought comedians were like brilliant mental superheroes who were the smartest, coolest people around. I don't feel that way anymore.

There are definitely topics that feel weird to talk about because I think "who the fuck am I to talk about this?" Like race and gender. But I can't act like that's a hardship. I go back and forth with some stuff about miscarriage, abortion, and rape where I'm only ever punching up, but it's easy to shut people off by triggering them in the setup of a joke. And I'm not trying to make victims feel bad. So sometimes it's best to avoid that stuff. I think as you get better as a comedian it gets easier to talk about whatever you want.

Do your jokes ever get political considering these strange times we live in? 

I don't do much political material because it's impossible to be the first person to make the joke. Between late night shows and Twitter, someone has already said what you're thinking. I mostly talk about myself, my girlfriend and things that happen between us. I like storyteller comics and people being real and honest. If I can tie a topical political joke into something bigger, I definitely will.

How do you feel about the state of the comedy scene just here in Portland?

I'm so happy Connor McGrath won the Phoenix’s Best Comedian, he's in my top 10 favorite comics in the world and he's a great person. I mostly stick to my shows at Blue and Lincolns and I like those. We get a consistent turnout every Monday and Thursday and that's incredible.

Sometimes audiences can have a few drunk shitheads in them but usually, it's really nice, attentive people that appreciate comedy. I don't stand by every show or comic in Maine. It doesn't seem to take much to convince someone with a crappy room to let you do a comedy show and put bad comics on it, and that's bad for everyone. I wish there were more good comics in Maine and more diversity, but that can be said about everywhere. What's the open mic music scene like in Portland? Mostly white guys and a lot of them aren't good. It isn't specific to comedy.

Any last minute thoughts on the direction comedy is heading in and your place in it?

This is actually my last month in Maine because my girlfriend and I are moving to Michigan. I'm looking forward to a change of scenery and Connor will be taking over my shows Worst Day of the Week and Laugh Shack. It's going to feel weird not doing those shows anymore, but I'm interested in doing it somewhere else.

There's this anti-PC fervor that's been going on for a while in comedy where people think somehow it's anti-free speech, and it annoys the shit out of me. Comedy at our level is not an exercise in free speech. Bars have comedy so people will come and buy drinks. Bars are not doing it to defend your right to be vaguely racist and overtly sexist to a group of their customers.

I think at least trying to be PC — a/k/a not being a piece of shit — is worthy as a comedian. There are a lot of progressive comedians but you'd have no idea after seeing them perform because they just seem like shitheads the way they approach topics. It seems transgressive to be like "fuck the liberal whatever the fuck" because that might ruffle some feathers in Portland, New York or Los Angeles, but "fuck the liberal whatever the fuck" is how too many people in America already think. I'd love to see more smart, PC comedy.

Bill Brock - Storyteller and Bigfoot Hunter

feature BillBrock

Who are you Bill, what do you do?

I am a storyteller. I host a show on Destination America called Monsters Underground where I go across the United States to ancient locations and try to find their connection to the paranormal and the extraterrestrial. We haven’t shot Maine yet, but we’re going to cover the Allagash abduction.

What got you into that?

I’ve always had a fascination for Bigfoot, the Mothman, and other cryptids. I’ve had my own UFO experience as well. It’s been ingrained in me since I was a kid.

Are you going to be sharing that story on stage?

Oh yeah. I’m going to be talking about some experience I’ve had, as well as other Mainers.

What legends are out there in Maine?

In the Allagash, two canoers got picked up by aliens and recalled the story later on. It’s pretty creepy stuff.

In Maine, we’ve got the Many Bumped Monster, Pamola, the Turner Beast. I approach these stories like an investigator. I try to be pretty scientific about it, but I do look into the spiritual side and bring in psychics.

Of all the myths out there, which one do you think has the highest likelihood of being true?

Aliens. It would be ignorant to think that we’re the only life in the entire universe. We can’t be the only ones. Cryptid-related, I believe there could be something to Champ a Loch Ness Monster type creature that lives in Lake Champlain, Vermont. I think it’s pretty legit.

Negotiation or ultimatum? Government shutdown over after Republicans force a conservative budget

Readers have likely already heard of last week’s political pandemonium: Gov. Paul LePage and 60 House Republicans forced a government shutdown after blocking a $7.1 billion budget compromise.

It’s also likely that readers were directly affected by this, as the shutdown left at least 9,000 state workers without a job, and slowed or halted critical services to vulnerable Mainers.

According to the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy, this shutdown cost about $2.5 million dollars a day (about a million a day in Kennebec County alone) in economic impact from government employees forced to stay home from work. Only emergency essential workers like prison staff, police, and child welfare workers will continue offering services during the shutdown, although they’re technically doing so without being paid.

The Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services staffed just four emergency staff members. The Department of Labor reported that they will provide “limited unemployment benefits,” and their customer claims center will be closed. Half of Maine’s 36 courthouses were closed over the weekend, with only open per county. 

The effects were widespread; the Portland Press Herald published a convenient list of all its impacts detailing what is and isn’t open during a government shutdown.

This shutdown, the likes of which Maine hasn’t experienced in 26 years, prompted several hundred state workers and concerned citizens to protest outside the state house in Augusta chanting “Do Your Job, Let Us Work!”, while inside, tense exchanges between Republicans and Democrats took place during negotiations.

 news protestors2

Protesters, most of them government workers from the Maine State Employees Association, occupying space in the State House in Augusta last Saturday. Photo By: Kaitlin Toto Mullen of She's a Teacher Photography 

Thankfully, as the Phoenix goes to print, Maine's government isn't shut down anymore, but what were the reasons behind the 4-day long drama?

At the center of the disagreement was a (voter approved) 3 percent tax surcharge on Mainers earning more than $200,000 a year, a move that would have injected $320 million into the public school system.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) conceded bitterly and voted for a new budget that repealed that 3 percent tax increase on the rich and the investment into education down to $162 million. While that compromise garnered support from 19 out of 20 Senate Republicans, House Republicans and LePage blocked it because they oppose a lodging tax increase from 9 to 10.5 percent.

LePage has also threatened to take the full 10 days to act on any budget that he doesn’t approve.

Late Saturday night, LePage’s ally House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) pitched a fourth set of budget changes that he said was backed by the Governor. It included even more proposals like a pilot program for a statewide teacher contract that legislative Democrats oppose, a tax reform to help commercial loggers and a registry of tax-exempt property held by land trusts.

But the Governor told reporters later that day that the budget was Fredette's, leaving it unclear whether he’d sign off on it. Democrats struggled to find out who they should really be negotiating with.

Adding to confusion, the new Republican budget costs more than the Democratic budget and arrived at the 11th hour, without the necessary time to analyze the new elements which many see as demands. Was this a negotiation or an ultimatum? It’s not far-fetched to assume that the Republicans used the shutdown as a hostage situation to force as many budget changes as possible. While this is speculation, it’s clear that nearly all Democrats voted for a budget they hated to avoid a shutdown, but it wasn’t good enough. 

Rep. Tom Winsor (R-Norway) defended his rejection of the Thibodeau/Gideon budget, telling the Phoenix that the 3 percent tax increase was the most significant issue, but was far from the only one.

“The budget we rejected contained no real significant education reforms that direct money into the classroom. It just nibbled around the edges and continues to overfund the broken status quo," said Winsor. "House Republicans also rejected the lodging tax increase, in support of no net tax increases over the last biennium. In our proposal, House Republicans lower fees on working professionals, who have been overcharged, letting balances build up. This eliminates the legislature’s slush fund and puts money back in the pockets of licensed professionals."

Diane Russell, a former House Rep. who was protesting the shutdown in Augusta all weekend, said that it's not clear why the Thibodeau/Gideon budget was rejected. 

“I have never heard of a budget where every single Democrat in the House and the Senate side voted for it,” said Russell, “They were terrified of the budget, but voted for it anyway, because they knew a shutdown wasn’t the answer.”

Winsor said that he took this shutdown situation seriously. 

"No one wants to see a shutdown and no one wants to see state workers off the job," said Winsor. "However, the 9,000 state workers who are potentially impacted are part of the 1.3 million Mainers who are impacted by this two-year budget that sets the course for our great state.”

Shenna Bellows, a state Senator representing District 14, posted on her Facebook after the first budget vote that House GOP members didn't call for a reasonable compromise, but rather, a truce. 

“As I cast my vote, I do so under protest,” wrote Bellows. “I will continue to advocate for education for every Maine child. I will continue to advocate for a comprehensive and meaningful approach to mental health services and the opiate crisis. I will continue to fight for what the people tell us they want.”

“Every time Governor LePage and House Republicans made new demands, they had to be reviewed and scored for fiscal impact. All of this took up more time,” said Ben Chipman who represents Portland in the state Senate. “In the meantime, 12,000 state workers and all of our state's residents who will want to access state agencies and services were being held hostage by Governor LePage and the 60 House Republicans who voted to shut down state government.”

Some Democrats pondered whether the rejected compromise presented an opportunity to craft a whole new budget that doesn’t repeal the tax increase for wealthy Mainers.

news MikeSylvester

Mike Sylvester, a Democratic Socialist and House Rep for Portland, rallying concerned citizens at the State House with a chant:"Show me what democracy looks like." Photo by Kaitlin Toto Mullen (She's a Teacher Photography)

“They have made the classic negotiating mistake of not recognizing a win when they had it, and that’s not going to come again,” said Mike Sylvester a House Representative (D-Portland) to protesters at the State House on Saturday. “Because those of us who had to walk through coals to get to a place where we gave up this fair tax distribution, what was right for the state of Maine, they wanted us to kneel in glass as well. But that’s not going to happen because we’re going to fight for what is right.”

But in the end, Governor LePage got what he wanted: the elimination of a $20 million lodging tax increase, and 3 percent tax increase on the wealthy. Many progressives saw the final negotiations as less of a compromise and more of an ultimatum that went against the will of the voters. 

"The voters wanted more progressive taxation to pay for public education," wrote Jon Hinck, a former House Rep. "Due to the determined obstruction of our Governor and his band of House Republicans, we got spending commitments with no revenue aside from what is raised from Maine's middle class under the unfortunate current tax scheme. The Governor's win at the game of chicken harms the people who put him in office."

For now, the question that will likely remain in the minds of many frustrated Democrats and Senate Republicans is simply why? Why did the House GOP risk the livelihoods of working Mainers to protect the financial interest of the state’s most wealthy? Why did they push so hard to cut the education investment in half? Why did Rep. Tom Windsor (R-Norway) say that there’s nothing unusual about these budget negotiations?

And most perplexing of all, why did they vote against a compromise which nearly every Senate Republican supported, and included every provision they originally wanted, without a clear explanation? 

“It’s the million-dollar question,” said Russell. “These folks got everything they wanted, but they still shut the government down and can’t articulate why they did it. It’s disgusting and unconscionable.”

“If you want to build an economy that works for everyone, you have to have a system of government that represents everyone, and right now we clearly don’t.”

SIDEBAR: Here’s the GOP’s (ever-changing) list of demands

Senator Nate Libby, who represents Lewiston, posted the full list of the House Republicans’ demands on his Facebook page and writing: “This is not a negotiation - this is the Governor and House GOP holding the state and its citizens hostage in a government shutdown.”

June 30th - 2 hours before shutdown

  1. $160 million in additional funding for education over the governor’s original proposal, $35 million more than the last proposal from House Republicans

  2. Creates a voluntary pilot for statewide teacher contract for school districts

  3. Targets funding to raise teacher’s salaries in rural districts that are currently penalized by the regional districts

  4. Restores $5 million for grants to school districts for regional efficiencies and programs for a total of $10 million in biennium

  5. Restores $2 million for grants to municipalities for regional efforts for a total of $5 million in FY18

  6. Ranked Choice Voting Repeal

  7. Introduced important reforms to the Tree Growth Program, allowing the enforcement of tree growth plans

  8. Required conservation land fee owners to register their properties with DACF to identify exempt lands

  9. Eliminates General Assistance for individuals with no legal status - provides language to allow local municipalities to provide GA instead

  10. Provides $10 million for Direct Care Workers - from FHM and GA

  11. Restores the administration’s proposal to create a new cabinet-level Department of Technology Services to position the state to address cyber security threats across the state and more effective IT infrastructure management

  12. Eliminates the lodging tax increase proposed in the Gideon-Thibodeau plan

And here’s what the House GOP added on July 1st, after the shutdown

  1. Restore 8 legal positions at DHHS that provide guidance on rulemaking, contracting, and procurement that were eliminated previously

  2. Restore the amount of savings from position eliminations to $3.5 million

  3. Add $2.5 million match in each year for hospital rebasing

  4. Remove language that allows state employee’s children to go onto MaineCare

  5. Reject the $2 million taken from property taxpayers in the unorganized territory for education

  6. Homestead ($10.4 million and $25.1 million to restore completely)

  7. Increase pension deduction from $10,000 to $35,000 over a five year period

  8. Restore proposal to move Broadband to DECD

  9. Eliminate the $4.9 Bring College to ME program at MCCS



 

  • Published in News

Maine's Ghostly History on YouTube: HauntME Launches 4th Season

With long, bright summer days in full swing, most of us aren’t thinking about themes typically associated with autumn, like haunted houses and spirits. But as one local team of paranormal investigators recognize, ghosts don’t take vacations.

A team of young Mainers — Ash Brooks, Carol Cleveland, Tyler Gowen, and Katie Webb — recently launched Season Four of a YouTube series called Haunt ME, which has them exploring what they've identified as historically haunted sites around the state and documenting signs of alleged supernatural activity.

They all wholeheartedly believe in the existence of paranormal presences, claiming that they are organized under three categories: intelligent, residual, and other. Under this assumption, the team approaches each episode as seriously and methodically as possible.

After spending several years touring Maine’s spookiest spots, any doubts about the existence of these entities were completely exorcised from their minds.

“Any bit of skepticism has been eliminated,” said Gowen, an English degree holder from the University of New England who acts as the tech analyst on the show. “We definitely believe there’s something weird and supernatural out there. What that weirdness exactly is, however, is up for debate.”

This type of reality television is of course nothing new, with seminal shows like Ghost Hunters, Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, and Unsolved Mysteries inspiring an entire genre of spectral docudrama-style reality shows since the late '90s.

But Haunt ME is unique in two ways. It’s fan-funded on YouTube and focuses solely on Maine, a state home to many legends and its own storied, mysterious history of reported haunts. 

“There are incredible stories to share in Maine,” said Gowen. “This state is steeped in lore. There’s so much here that’s undisturbed and has a level of magic to it that really makes this show work.”

The show has shot at creepy locations like the Parsonfield’s Seminary, Biddeford’s Old Mill Complex, Portland’s Masonic Temple, Fort Knox, the haunted lighthouse at Seguin Island, and Fryeburg’s Admiral Peary Inn, to name a few.

Apart from these locations, the rest of what the show features is pretty standard genre fare. The team members all have different roles — Gowen a tech analyst who searches for evidence of ghosts with a camera, audio recorder, and K2 meter; Brooks a folklorist who offers historical accounts; Cleveland the manesologist (something like a paranormal psychologist) who attempts to contact spirits; and Webb the oculist who provides “arcane knowledge.”

They research and scout each site, providing viewers with both historical and mythological context, while attempting to make contact with the other side using everything from tarot cards to electromagnetic scanners. The episodes, each about 20 minutes long, then offer a variety of creepy location shots, seemingly unexplainable sights, sounds, and objects, spooked reactions from the cast, and interviews with paranormal experts woven in between.

“Haunt ME isn’t sensationalized at all. Footage is simply captured and presented,” said Gowen. “And instead of just trying to log in evidence of ghosts, we actually try to help the people both alive and dead that are in these places that we visit.”

While many won’t likely be swayed to believing in otherworldly beings from this show, it does provide some thought-provoking entertainment, with an underlying theme of local Maine history that proves to be quite interesting. There are also meta-dramas that provide fairly exciting narratives. For example, you may not see scientifically conclusive evidence of a ghost on their Sanford Mill episode, but it’s engaging to see a group of young adults navigate completely blind in a huge abandoned industrial complex that they've never been in before. 

“Let’s just say it was a really bad idea,” teased Gowen.

Haunt ME, and the perspectives of its cast, also invite viewers to ponder an interesting, if not unsettling thought experiment: assuming ghosts are real, what if they’re not malevolent, just highly misunderstood?

Gowen believes that there’s some form of existence after death, and souls can get caught wandering on Earth unable to communicate with the living without confusing, hurting, or terrifying them. Imagine you’ve been dead for 50 years, trapped in your old house, but you can only register your presence by flickering lights or scratching the skins of the new, living, occupants.

Wouldn't you be scratching them all the time attempting to make contact? 

“I can’t imagine how isolating and painful that must be for spirits,” said Gowen. “They look shadows to us and we look like shadows to them. We could just be haunting each other.

Need a road trip idea? Visit Haunt ME’s index of Maine’s haunted sites, and send in your idea for a Season 5 location here: http://haunt-me.com.

  • Published in Art

What are you paying for? New app visualizes Portland's $340 million budget

Have you ever wondered what exactly your tax dollars are paying for?

Thanks to a new web app, developed by local activist web developers Rob Korobkin, Mike Lacourse and Joey Brunelle, you can find out through an intimate look at Portland’s revenues and expenses

Dubbed OpenMaine, the app allows users to plug in their annual property tax and receive a visually appealing x-ray of Portland’s 340 million dollar budget, where they can see what every cent of their contribution funds. 

The results will obviously vary from person to person, but the app loads with a default of $2,000, which is lower than what many homeowners actually pay in annual property tax. At 2.111 percent, property tax rates in Portland are slightly higher than the rest of the country. According to Zillow, the median price for a home in Portland is around $364,000. A citizen owning a home at that value would be paying about $5,000 in property taxes for that one property annually. The value of both property value and taxes in Portland has risen steadily since 2012, so OpenMaine’s default of $2,000 in property tax is actually quite conservative.

But using that figure as a benchmark to examine the breakdown of the city budget, the app reveals that $1,096 of that goes into the General Fund (debt service, health and human services, parks and recreation, public works, police and fire departments, parking, city employees, etc.), $609 funds Education (salaries, benefits, debt service, and supplies), and $293 collects into Enterprise Funds (used to pay for the Sewer Fund, the Jetport, Stormwater, and the Fish Pier).

Brunelle, an owner of a digital communications company and city council hopeful, said that he created this app because he wanted to increase transparency between the work done at City Hall and the people of Portland — as he’s done in the recent past by blogging about City Council decisions and occasionally live streaming meetings in their entirety. Brunelle believes that projects like OpenMaine should fall under the city’s responsibility. 

“There’d be a greater degree of trust and accuracy [with City Hall],” said Brunelle. “This is something I’m going to push very heavily if I get elected. We need to do a much better job at communicating with the public so they understand.”

Open Maine started about 10 months ago when Brunelle was lamenting with friends about how difficult it is to figure out what actually is happening at City Hall at any given time. “It’s hard to tell what’s actually in the budget,” he would complain to fellow web designers Rob Korobkin and Mike LaCourse.

"I care a lot about this town," said Korobkin. "And as a homeowner, I pay a fair amount in taxes. I believe in transparency and the potential for the Internet to transform what our society looks like. Facilitating this project just seemed like a great way to help move our community in that direction."

Brunelle, Korobkin, and their team of volunteers encountered this annoyance first hand while building the app. Their biggest hurdle wasn’t coding, it was data entry. Although all city budget information is available to the public, it isn’t digital, searchable, or easily accessible. Interested citizens must pore over dense PDFs and draw conclusions from seemingly disparate sections of data if they want to discern anything of note about the city budget. Brunelle and his team hope they have now made it easier.

news OpenMaineCrew

“We entered everything in by hand,” said Brunelle. “It took months; a major effort.” 

Because users are able to visualize Portland’s revenue stream, as well as view historical data as far back as 2015, notable trends can be observed.

For one, property taxes have increased dramatically over the past four years, while revenue from the state has also increased. Certain departments, like Waste Removal and Public Health, have seen big cuts.

Without offering specifics, Brunelle implied that he would tweak the budget if he could because a city budget is a reflection of what "people in power prioritize in society" — something Brunelle believes Portland’s leaders could stand to reevaluate.

“I have general priorities for the budget that I would love to see money more aligned with, like more support for affordable housing contracts and public health services,” said Brunelle. “Our priorities should be keeping our city affordable, and keeping its citizens healthy with access to the services they need.”

Although unclear whether inspired by Brunelle's efforts, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said that City Hall is working on promoting public transparency by offering more live-stream options for their meetings and making city data more efficient and accessible. 

"We are in the midst of overhauling our entire software and data system by implementing TylerTechnologies software," said Grondin. "This will greatly improve our ability to share data more easily, quickly, and in ways that are more user-friendly for the public to digest." 

In the meantime, see what your money’s paying for in Portland at http://openmaine.org/.  

If you have any questions about the app, Rob Korobkin can be reached at: 617-733-1780.

 

  • Published in News

'The City Can Do Better': Marpheen Chann's vision for a Portland that's truly for everyone

Last week, the local activist and Maine law graduate Marpheen Chann announced his grassroots effort to run for Portland's City Council, representing District 5 (Deering Center, North Deering, Riverton), a seat currently occupied by David Brenerman. He's running against Kim Cook, who runs a government relations firm, and Craig Dorais, a patent attorney. As a first generation Asian-American and member of the LGBTQ community with real-world experience, Chann says he's uniquely poised to tackle some to the social issues the city faces. A big goal for him is to be a different kind of public servant, one that engages in difficult conversations, and actually listens to the plight of voters across the political spectrum.
 
The Phoenix spoke with Chann last week to get a better understanding of his progressive vision for the city, and what it will take for him to achieve it. The following interview has been edited for grammar and clarity. 
 
 
Hello Marpheen, great to talk to you again. You've recently returned from living in Washington, D.C. What were you working on and what would you say you learned from your time there? 
 
I went down to D.C. to join the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as a Legal Intern and Program Assistant in the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. My job was to support the office with its statutory mandates to promote diversity in the bureau in terms of its workforce and its suppliers, as well as moving forward with assessing diversity management policies and procedures of the entities it regulates. 
 
In the spring of 2017, I was an exchange student at Howard Law, a historically black university. I studied Immigration Law, Refugee Law, and International Economic Law from the perspective of a diverse group of professors and engaged with students from all over the world — including the Caribbean and the Middle East. 
 
What was your work like in the wake of Trump's election? 
 
When Trump was elected, I walked into the office that day and it was largely empty and quiet. People feared for their jobs, but also for the future of the nation. It was palpable. 
 
While I was at Howard, I couldn't have picked a better time to study Immigration, Refugee, and International Economic Law. With the Muslim Ban, the aftermath of Brexit, and Trump wanting to negotiate via bilateral agreements (as opposed to multilateral agreements), it was all sobering and timely. My favorite class was Refugee Law, since we studied and had practical exercises on how to proceed with an asylum application. 
 
It was a great time. I'll miss D.C., but Maine was tugging on my heartstrings. This was the place that made me and I see D.C. style politics rippling out all across the nation — part of the reason why I came back was because I felt, despite being tempted to stay where a lot of opportunities were, I wanted to be a part of the solution to Maine's problem of young people leaving the state. 
 
For me, it was not enough to complain about how Maine needs to do more. I needed to come back to help pave a way for other young people to stay and return and move to live and work in Portland and Maine. 
 
Welcome back. What experience do you have with Portland politics and social justice issues? 
 
I have been involved with several Portland campaigns helping them with messaging, social media, and web presence. But a lot of my involvement on social justice issues started in spring 2011 when I was elected as the President of USM's Queer Straight Alliance — despite only being an out gay college student for six or so months. That then transitioned into my involvement in USM's student government. I served as an at-large student senator on the finance committee before being tapped to serve as USM's first Student Vice-President. 
 
In that role, I advocated for more funding for public education and public universities and colleges. It's an important issue for me because education is a big reason why I am where I am today. Education helped me break free from the doctrine that said I couldn't be gay or that it was a choice. Education helped me explore new ideas and perspectives and cultures and gain an understanding of those who I might not agree with. 
 
You're running on a platform that wants to promises a Portland For Everyone. How is Portland not already for everyone? 
 
I went door-to-door with a friend of mine in North Deering and every single person brought up the issue of property taxes. A handful of residents explicitly stated that they were moving out in one, or two, or three months to Westbrook or Yarmouth where property taxes were cheaper. In addition, the median gross rent of $946 here in Portland exceeds the national median gross rent of $926. This is largely due to a shortage of affordable housing. 
 
We have a lot of growth. And it's exciting. But too much growth, on a macroeconomic level, leads to inflation. On the local level, too much growth leads to gentrification, higher property taxes, and higher rent. It is also worth noting that Portland isn't that big from a land perspective. Our stock of open land is dwindling and more high-end condos and hotels are being built. 
 
This is pushing people out of their homes and out of the city. 
 
Portland has done a good job when it comes to embracing LGBT residents, immigrants, and refugees. But we have to remain vigilant as a city with the recent election and the rise in hate that accompanied it. Just this past weekend, during Pride festivities, many LGBT friends of mine have reported hearing derogatory slurs thrown at them from passersby. Our immigrant and refugees neighbors and people of color have also experienced much of the same. Portland has led on this issue, but it needs to remain vigilant and continue as a leader on this front. 
 
What are other big issues you'd focus on as a city councilor? 
 
Affordable housing and property taxes are a big one for me. They hit close to home. As someone who lived in low-income housing as a kid and went from foster home to foster home until I was adopted, having a place to call home and a roof over your head is crucial when raising a family or working to make ends meet. 
 
Education is another important issue and, for me, it ties into property taxes because the State has broken its promise to fully fund 55 percent of the total cost of education. This forces towns and cities like Portland to raise property taxes in order to give our kids, teachers, and schools the resources they need to succeed. Successful schools are important to Portland because it builds stronger communities by bringing people together. But it is also important because it exposes our kids to new ideas, perspectives, and cultures and helps prepare them for the real world and to be good citizens of an increasingly diverse democracy.
 
Another issue is how can Portland lead when it comes to embracing diversity. With Trump's election, there has been a wave of hate and vitriol targeted toward the LGBT, Muslim, immigrant and refugee communities. The past few years have also placed our communities of color in fear with multiple police shootings of black citizens. 
 
We have won a lot of progress over the past few decades, but that progress is being threatened by those who don't realize that the enemy is wealth inequality and those who twist the ideals of an otherwise peaceful religion to advance their own, extremist agenda. 
 
We need to lead as a city in embracing diversity by working with police and communities of color and fostering mutual understanding and respect. Police need the resources and education and training to engage in community policing and understand the fear that black and brown people have. Black and brown people also need assurances and concrete initiatives on the part of the city that shows that their lives matter, whether it is done through community outreach or creating channels and building bridges between them and the Police Department.
 
The city has taken steps in its hiring and the creation of an Office of Economic Opportunity. But, as my high school principal always said, "There is good, but there is always better."
 
On the topic of diversity, specifically when it comes to hiring and paying more marginalized folks, do you think there's a line between genuine diversity and tokenizing to enhance the perception of diversity?
 
Only thinking of diversity as hiring and paying people of color or of different sexualities and gender diversity more is a bit limiting. Diversity, from a city policy standpoint, is broader and encapsulates more than just hiring and pay. It touches on how valued our communities and residents of color feel in our city and whether we allow them to contribute to our local economy and communities without fear. 
 
Framing diversity as merely hiring and paying people of color frames the issue as merely an economic one — when really what diversity is aspiring towards is full inclusion and integration of people of color, LGBT people, immigrants, and refugees at all levels of society and city life. 
 
To do that, we need to explore and identify where barriers to inclusion may exist. Some of this will take hard work because, as I have experienced during my internship with the CFPB Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, many barriers are often buried deep in policy or not readily noticeable until the hard work is put in to find them. I think a good start is for the city to do a full review of its policies and procedures and, from there, strengthen those policies and procedures that foster full inclusion with integration and updates, repeals, and reforms for those that don't.
 

 
For more information visit: https://www.marpheenchann.com/
  • Published in News

Portland's 2017 Summer Guide

Summer in Maine reminds us how good it is to be alive.

 

Our state is peppered with beautiful lakes, miles of epic coastline, and gorgeous mountain trails that when witnessed, makes us appreciate our paltry existence. Here, seemingly sheltered from the world and its myriad problems, many of us are lucky to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, and exist a short ways away from natural marvels. As cliche as our state motto is, life really is good here.

 

That’s why with our 2017 Summer Guide, the Phoenix aims to highlight the best ways to spend our three-month stint in full sun. While we’re pretty good at comprehensively covering food, art, and music events (see our other sections for the lowdown), we’re also featuring happenings that don’t fit neatly into those categories. That’s why this space is dedicated to revealing opportunities you might never have heard of, or ones that have simply fallen through the cracks, like secret summer swimming holes, road trip destinations, nautical adventures, fight clubs, athletic events, and festivals. There are more exciting ways to soak in culture and community in Vacationland than your standard backyard barbecue.

 

Happy summer. Spend it wisely.

 

Sail off into the sunset, wine bottle in hand

summerguide SunsetSailboatCruise

This summer you could literally sail off into the sunset with Wine Wise.

At 3,500 miles, Maine’s coastline is literally longer than the rest of America’s Eastern seaboard. You deserve to tour your own personal slice of it with an Italian wine in hand. And because we’re assuming Phoenix readers aren’t sailboat owners — the cheapest one we could find in the area is going for $20,000 and costs over $400 a month in upkeep — we thought you, and your wallet, would enjoy Jack Sparrowing it on someone else’s vessel.

 

Portland’s vineyard Wine Wise is offering Sunset Sailboat Cruises all summer long aboard their squeaky clean Windjammer. The main deck will double as a wine tasting class where sommelier Erica Archer will call to attention just how little you know about the world’s oldest libation. Attendees report walking away from this floating crash course on wine with stronger, more sensitive taste buds, and a newfound appreciation for the many islands, lighthouses, and historical sites around Casco Bay. This might be the most romantic event on our list, so if you’re significant other deserves some appreciation, dish out the cash for this allegedly unforgettable experience.

| Most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the summer | $75 to $95 | http://www.winewiseevents.com/

 

Or take the cheaper tour of Casco Bay

summerguide CascoBaycruise

We recommend Casco Bay Lines because tickets are cheap, there's plenty of space onboard, and it's an effortless way to see our nearby islands, many of which have excellent restaurants on them.

If the previous event proves too pricey, there’s a cheaper and much more laid back alternative that offers just as many sight-seeing opportunities.

 

In our eyes, boarding the Casco Bay Ferry for a blissful cruise around Chebeague, Great Diamond, and Peaks Island is the quintessential summer in Portland experience, even if you’re a longtime local. Fun fact, there are over 130 islands in Casco Bay! It’s a whole 'nother world out there.  

 

Another perk of the ferry you’d be chillin’ on: it’s quite big, so if you’re looking to gaze out into the blue expanse of the ocean in solitude, chances are you’ll find a quiet spot to do so.

 

Cruises typically last 2-3 hours and are with a variety of themes, times and durations — like sunrise, sunset, and moonlight. If you want to get your party on, music cruises are planned throughout the summer with floating concerts featuring original and cover acts. And yes, there’s a cash bar on board, just in case the tunes start to grate on you.

| $16 | 56 Commercial St., Portland | https://www.cascobaylines.com/

 

In troubled times, become a ninja

summerguide discoverymartialarts

The instructors at Discovery Martial Arts have made so many realize that their bodies are powerful. Courtesy of Discovery Martial Arts. 

Maybe lounging around under the sun feeding ducks in Deering Oaks Park won’t cut the mustard for you this summer. Maybe you’re too concerned with alt-right groups mobilizing across the country, or online trolls fueling real acts of violence to get lost in carefree days of cheerful laziness. Maybe, in these heated times, you’re in need of a radical way to take control of your body and reap the psychological rewards of protection and self-empowerment.

 

Perhaps it’s time you learned how to kick some ass? Or rather, protect your own?

 

Instructors at Discovery Martial Arts are offering accessible self-defense classes for beginners (both youngsters and adults). Don’t be nervous, coaches here are very welcoming and work with you and the limited skills you walk in with. If you’re driven and dedicated enough, you’ll walk away from these classes a veritable warrior. They’ll teach you the powerful art of taijitsu and Hakken Budo Ninjitsu and strengthen your balance and physical endurance in the meantime.

 

If you want to feel safe walking down the street, and imbue your personality with some discipline (which seems to be in short supply nowadays), this may be the way to do it. And with the studio offering a free two-week trial for interested fighters, it’s a chance to seize the skills necessary to refuse backing down from intimidating jerks.  

| PRICES VARY | 3:30 pm to 7 pm | 34 Rainmaker Dr., Portland | http://discoverymartialarts.net/  

 

Portland’s forts are underappreciated treasures

summerguide FortGorges

You've seen it plenty of times from a distance, but maybe it's time you ventured inside this decrepit monolith. But we're hope you're ready for a mini adventure, because Fort Gorges is only accessible by small boat.

Chances are you’re only familiar with Portland’s historic fortifications from a distance. Take the prominent Fort Gorges built in 1858 and jutting out of the bay from its own little island; it’s impossible to miss when walking down the Eastern Promenade. What’s it like over there, anyway? We encourage you to indulge your curiosity and venture out to it, before the site falls into such disrepair that visitors are prohibited.

The eerie looking relic from the Civil War is only accessible by small boat, so your best bet of getting there is through Portland Paddle, who’s offering a 3 hour sea kayak excursion out there. Tickets costs $52 and the guides meet every Thursday and Friday on the East End Beach.

 

Other forts worth exploring in the area include Battery Steele (a World War II military outpost) on Peaks Island which proves perfect for moody Instagram shots, and Fort Williams (once part of Portland’s harbor defenses in 1872), which is free, and delightfully creepy inside — we recommend sneaking inside Fort Williams’ long narrow corridor and scaring the living hell out of unsuspecting tourists; it’s quite fun!

| FREE | Fort Williams Park, 1000 Shore Rd., Cape Elizabeth | https://fortwilliams.org/ |

 

The Portland Public Library's not just for summer reading

summerguide PortlandLibrary

Summer reading lists are one habit we hope has stuck with you since childhood. But there's also much more to do at Portland's Public Library. 

If you just need a quick reprieve from the hot sun (and the tourists that think Lady Monument is the most interesting thing to photograph), don’t forget that the Portland Public Library is a cool hideaway smack in the middle of town. With comfy chairs, air conditioning, and free wifi, an afternoon can easily slip away here.

 

Because apart from enough DVDs to fuel 3,000 summer movie nights and countless books to swing in a hammock with, the Portland Public Library also offers a number of interesting cultural happenings on an almost weekly basis. We recommend you keep their Spanish guitar concerts (first one, Torres meets Tarrega, coming up on July 11), "death cafes" (where you’ll sip tea and discuss the nature of grief the second Wednesday of every month), teen art exhibits (there’s one called Paint Your Story on July 7), and lectures on immigration and social issues, on your radar this summer.

| FREE | 10 am to 5 pm | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Sq., Portland | http://www.portlandlibrary.com/

 

Delightfully deplorable headliners at the 2nd Portland Comedy Festival

summerguide DougStanhope

What are the chances cult comedian Doug Stanhope won't break Empire's no smoking policy? Slim.

If you’re a gut needs a good busting, Empire’s a reliable place to go for laughs this summer. On the weekend of July 7th, the venue’s booked three nights worth of impressive comedic acts for their 2nd Annual Comedy Festival.

 

Things kick off Friday with local acts Kyle Ruse, Connor McGrath, Dennis Fogg, Casey Crawford, Nick Lavalee, and Ian Stuart taking the stage and exposing their vulnerabilities. Stick around that night until 11, for the Adam & Eve show, where performers will start to shed their clothing — no word yet on what exactly will provoke the state of undress, but we’re anxious to find out!

 

On Saturday, the Women of New England Comedy show takes over the 7:00 pm slot with Jess Millier, Sarah Martin, and Rachel Gendron. At 9, national opener Dan Boulger will work the crowd alongside Colby Bradshaw. The night closes with Tales of Debauchery, featuring local storytellers Mark Curdo, Peter Bissell, Spencer Albee, and Joe Ricchio.

 

And lastly, the biggest attraction for this comedy fest arrives on Sunday night to perform a painfully self-deprecating set. Somehow the folks at Empire managed to book Doug Stanhope (a notoriously picky comedian with a cult-like following) for a night we’re certainly not going to miss. There’s something about Stanhope’s comedy that makes you feel joyous, confused, and miserable all at the same time. However, don’t think we’re selling this act short, Stanhope’s 100 percent hilarious slinging those extremely clever, edgy, admittedly depressing jokes. Catch one of these shows for $10, or get a weekend pass for $30.

| Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | https://venue.portlandempire.com/

 

Sort the winners and the losers at these athletic pride events

summerguide MaineCoastMarathon

Runners at last year's Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon. Courtesy of Shipyard. 

If you’re among the group of people of that this writer will never quite understand fully — 5K competitors — don’t think you’re underserved by our righteous indignation of paying money to run. We’re here to serve you too and highlight the endurance challenges you crave to be a part of. Feel the burn!

 

Meet at Liquid Riot at 6 pm on June 29 for the Old Port Pub Run, which will have you asking, Can I really run five miles with this much beer in my belly?

 

The first big running event of the season kicks off on July 1, with Rise Up 5K, part of a string of nationwide races benefiting organizations working with immigrants. On July 8th, the 7th annual Shipyard Marathon and 5K invites Portlanders to compete for beer, swag, sweat, and glory. Gather on Thames Street at 7 am for this competitive tradition. On July 22, the sports club Runaways hosts Take the Night 5K, where runners navigate the hills of the East End and Munjoy neighborhoods in the dark. This one will be grueling, but there’s a free milkshake for those that finish. This race starts on the Eastern Prom at 145 Cutter St. at 9:30 pm. And finally, rounding out these cultural artifacts doubling as symbolic tests of social class and physical ability is the Questival Portland on August 18, billed as a race unlike any you’ve ever experienced. Placed on a team of 3-5 strangers, you’ll work with them against other teams racing through obstacles and challenges across Thompson’s Point. What’s in store for the runners is secret, but the whole shebang is meant to last 24 hours, so expect a real bid for survival. Each race offers up to $10,000 in prizes. More information at https://www.cotopaxi.com/.

 

Dance in the streets at on Washington Ave. and in East Bayside

summerguide WashingtonBlockParty

Participating organizations who plan on getting down at the Washington Ave. Block Party. 

Shop, drink, eat, dance, repeat. Street festivals are synonymous with summer. And in Portland, there are two new ones to welcome. July 1 marks the inaugural Inner Washington Ave. Block Party. The simple pleasures of life — music, booze, and food — will converge for an indulgent night of community building — and, if you want, straight-up debauchery. Participating vendors are basically the innovators helping to make the neighborhood so vibrant and lovely: Oxbow, Maine Mead Works, Hardshore Distilling, Terlingua, Izikaya Minato, Drifters Wife, Silly's, Cong Tu Bot, Coffee by Design, Flying Fox, Venn + Maker, Fiore Home, Portland Gear Hub, Portland Pottery, Starry Eyes, Root Cellar, Weather Furniture, Dale Rand Printing, and PhoPa Gallery.

summerguide NationalNightOut

Bayside's joining hundreds of communities across America for a multicultural street fest dubbed National Night Out. Courtesy of Mayo Street Arts.

Later in the season — August 2 to be exact — Portland joins a coalition of cities across America participating in National Night Out, a series of neighborhood festivals aimed at boosting camaraderie and trust between the community at large and the police that serve them. Our version takes place in East Bayside and starts with a parade from Mayo Street Arts. Mayor Ethan Strimling and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck invite Portlanders to gather anywhere between Kennedy Park and Peppermint Park for an afternoon of barbecues, music by Matt Meyer and Gumption Junction, and honest conversations. More information can be found at https://natw.org/.

 

Wanted: hard workers, history buffs, and reminders of mortality

summerguide SpirtsAlive

We swear, restoring historic gravestones can be a rather cathartic experience. Courtesy of Spirits Alive.

There’s got to be a thoughtful human out there reading this that would get some kind of melancholic kick out of spending a hot afternoon cleaning historic gravestones. Someone that fancies a time spent thinking about those whose last summers are long behind them. If that sounds like you, consider joining the Spirits Alive group; they’re looking for volunteers to tag along and photograph, clean, and generally help restore the gravestones in the sprawling Eastern Cemetery and discuss the lives of the Mainers rotting beneath them. Their conservation workdays are held every Saturday 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and it’s suggested you wear long pants to them.

| FREE | Eastern Cemetery, Quebec St., Portland | http://www.spiritsalive.org/ |

 

Mingle with the misunderstood: Pagan Picnic

 

A legitimate High Priest of Pan — the half man, half goat trickster from Greek mythology — will descend from Millinocket with his followers for the Pagan Picnic in Deering Oaks Park on July 9 when the sun is highest in the sky.  The high priest is actually a dude named Phelan, and he's quite a friendly fellow!

This event’s probably a gamble, but we say go for it. Outcasts tell the best stories, and Maine’s wilderness hides some colorful characters. In all seriousness, Maine’s pagans just want to promote harmony and build bridges between communities, and we think that’s an admirable goal in 2017. Why not learn what this highly misrepresented group actually believes in and practices? Their philosophy extends far deeper than the nature-loving, horn-wearing hippie aesthetic trope you probably picture in your head. And they’ve been organized online since 1989 on the Earth Tides Pagan Network, so it’s high time you’ve said hello. Dance, hit the drum circle, and feast on fruit. The hosts promise not to proselytize, but guidance is given if asked. Pentagrams are welcome but leave your ram's head at home.

 

Rooftop movies at Bayside Bowl

sumemrguide BaysideBowlDeck

At sunset, the view from Bayside's Rooftop Bar is even prettier. Highly recommended chill spot. Courtesy of Bayside.

After a $3 million expansion, Bayside Bowl with its 12 bowling lanes, Airstream trailer taco truck, and new scenic rooftop bar, has cemented itself as the place to hang out this summer.

 

The rooftop deck opens at 4 pm on weekdays and can seat up to 200 taco eaters and sunset watchers. No lie, it’s really pretty up there! It’s so picturesque that the owners have launched a series of free rooftop movie screenings all summer long. Here’s what flicks they’ve got lined up: Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense (June 28), Dog Day Afternoon (July 5), What We Do In The Shadows (July 12), Cool Hand Luke (July 19), The Grand Budapest Hotel (July 26), Idiocracy (August 2), Get Out (August 9), Alien (August 16), Hairspray (August 23), and O Brother, Where Art Thou (August 30).

 

Get out of town with the windows down: best road trips

 

summerguide MtKatahdin

Calling all able bodies! Hiking Mount Katahdin is basically a Maine rite of passage. Conquer the Abhol Trail this summer.

We’d be wrong not to offer you any activities outside of Portland. As nice at is here, we wouldn’t wish anybody to be stuck on the peninsula all summer. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to four wheels, these are the roadtrip experiences most Mainers cherish as honored pastimes.

 

The quintessential Maine roadtrip is the 223-mile drive to Baxter State Park, our summer paradise. True Mainers conquer the mile high peak of Mt. Katahdin at least once (I’ve done it three times — catch up), and the boldest among them push themselves to creep through the dangerously narrow Knife’s Edge. Not up for an adrenaline-draining hike? There’s plenty else to do, from moose-watching, swimming, fishing, rafting, and camping. This 200,000-acre wilderness park is literally in the middle of nowhere, and we love that. Drive time: four hours.

 

summerguide GreatNortheasternWar

Joining the Society of Creative Anachronisms for their annual battle, the Great Northeastern War, always proves a surreal and fantastic experience. 

If you drive to Western Maine sometime between July 6 and 9, and squint your eyes across the Hebron Pines Campground, you’ll think you stepped into 500 years into the past. Hundreds of ancient and medieval reenactors will be there setting up old-timey war tents, and beating each other senseless with swords and spears for the annual Great Northeastern War. It’s quite a sight to behold in 2017. For the uninitiated that can’t take part in the war games, it’s so worth the roadtrip to just watch the clash while gulping down period-appropriate mead and feasting on turkey legs. Please note, you do have to make some attempt at pre-17th-century dress in order to get in, but the hosts do accept basic tunics crudely fashioned from bed sheets. Admission is $10. Drive time: 58 minutes.

 

Maine’s got a lot of lakes to swim in, but if you’re concerned about leeches, ticks, and questionable water quality, then many of them prove suspect. Luckily Sebago Lake is super clean, very safe, quite warm, and an absolute delight to dive into. Open sunrise to sunset. Admission is $6. Drive time: 45 minutes.

 

People suck sometimes, right? If you want to spend an afternoon away from mouth-breathing humans, and instead want to share air with iconic Maine creatures like the lynx, raccoon, black bear, moose, and deer, then head over the Gray Wildlife Park. Bring some food and charcoals to start a barbecue amidst adorable critters you may have never seen so close up before. Open daily 9:30 am to 6 pm. Admission is $7.50. Drive time: 30 minutes.

 

sumemrguide MaineLobsterFest

The biggest festival in the state is a heaping pile of Maine stereotypes. It's also a lot of fun.  Courtesy of the Maine Lobster Festival.

One big event that most tourists and longtime locals can get easily drum up excitement for is the 70th annual Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland. About 30,000 people attend each year! This five-day extravaganza goes from August 2nd to the 6th and celebrates all things lobster with a carnival, a parade, seafood cookouts, hundreds of arts vendors, costumes, a lobster crate race, and a sea goddess beauty contest. It’s so Maine, it’s almost lame. Expect to consume massive portions of the sweet red meat that put Maine on the map. There’s also live music by way of Smashmouth, a rock band I thought only existed inside Shrek movies.

For this roadtrip, we recommend you take Route 1 North, so you’re able to soak in miles of that beautiful coastal scenery. Drive time: 1 hour and 45 minutes.

 

Summer nights in Longfellow’s Garden

longfellowgarden

The Longfellow Garden behind the Maine Historical Society is a beautiful and quiet refuge from any Congress St. disturbances. It's also a fantastic place to crack open a beer and talk about history. 

Ducking into Longfellow’s Garden on Congress Street to escape the sun, sounds, and other annoyances on Monument Square is another time-honored Portland tradition. There amidst the chirping birds, bubbling fountains, and myriad of the poet’s beloved plants, one can find peace, even if it’s only for a minute. But what does the secret enclave look like at night? Even more beautiful? The folks at the Maine Historical Society invite you to find out during their monthly Beer In The Garden series which combines drinks, snacks, and historical artifacts (that’s got a nice ring to it eh?) for a night of smart conversation. Monthly themes and dates are as follows: July 18 – The Founding Fathers; August 15th – Botanical History; and September 19 – Historic Firearms.

 

| $5 | 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm | Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland | https://www.mainehistory.org/ |

 

Life Happens Outside Festival

summerguide LifeHappensOutside

Where can you go white water rafting in Maine? Find out at the Life Happens Outside Festival.

We dig the central theme of this festival: life happens outside. It’s easy to forget in our screen-obsessed world, but it’s probably (and ironically) the one collective message we all had hammered into our heads as children growing up in Maine. Back when we played sports more and avoided digital distractions, simply being outside was our entertainment. This two-day Life Happens Outside Festival from Trails and Teens encourages today’s youth to play like we did: with rope swings, bicycles, and paddleboards. Adults can wander around the grounds enjoying live music, craft beer, food trucks, an L.L.Bean presentation, and over 40 vendors selling quality sports, fitness and outdoor adventure equipment.

| August 25-26 | $30 | Thompson’s Pt., Portland | https://www.lifehappensoutside.org/

 

Don’t pay for beaches, go here instead

colonybeach

Colony Beach in Kennebunk at sunset. 

And because enjoying nature is such an integral part of summer, how could we end this feature without mentioning the best beaches to wiggle our toes into? Sadly, many of the biggest beaches with the best waves (like Popham, Old Orchard, and Scarborough) are also plagued with huge crowds, limited parking, and gate fees. But if you’re after swaths of sandy coast that are just as beautiful but free and twice as accessible, consult this list:

Willard Beach - 30 Willow St., South Portland

Pine Point Beach - Pine Point Road and East Grand Avenue, Scarborough

East End Beach - Eastern Promenade, Portland

Fortune Rock’s Beach - Biddeford

Colony Beach - Kennebunk

 

     
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