Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

Resisting The Alt-Right: Solidarity with Counterprotesters in Charlottesville

About 400 people gathered in Monument Square Sunday for an anti-racism rally in light of the recent clashes between anti-fascists and the so-called "alt-right." The rally was organized online by civil rights groups March Forth and the Portland's Women March, and bookended by a spirited acoustic performance by musician and Bangor Daily News photographer Troy Bennett, who sang to the crowd: "Whose side are you on?" Speakers included organizer Naomi Mayer, Portland resident Kenneth Bailey,  Muslim activist and student at the University of Southern Maine Hamdia Ahmed, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Russell, and member of the International Socialist Organization Caitrin Smith-Monahan. The ralliers' collective message was clear: there needs to be a stronger, organized response to the rising levels of racism against immigrants, minorities, and people of color they feel the Trump administration seems to passively support at best, and tacitly embolden at worst.

All images by Francis Flisiuk.

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Roles of Engagement | Pictured above is a man who identified himself as lawyer Thomas Connolly. When he arrived at the rally dressed in a satirical amagalmation of a klansmen, a circus clown, and Donald Trump, he garnered mixed reactions. While his provocative costume was met with laughter, smiles, and request for selfies by some ralliers, others were not amused. The costume was meant to poke fun at the President, he said, and highlight both his ineptitude and praise he receives from racist groups like the KKK. But several Portlanders tried to get Connolly to remove his hood, saying that the gag wasn't worth running the risk of making others uncomfortable, especially people of color. He politely but sternly disagreed, saying that "people need to understand shock humor." Connolly stayed throughout the rally, causing distractions, even after one black man approached him and said, "I get what you're doing, but this is all kinds of messed up."

 

  • Published in Columns

When Words Can Kill: Should the ACLU Have Defended the 'Unite the Right' Riot?

In the aftermath of Saturday's bloody "Unite the Right" demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia — which included hundreds of white supremacists and which the American Civil Liberties Union publicly defended — some progressives are wondering whether the organization can still be considered a valuable ally in the fight for social justice.

Before the riot devolved into a violent conflict, the ACLU took to Twitter to state that the white supremacists who organized it had a right to mobilize.

“The First Amendment is a critical part of our democracy, and it protects vile, hateful, and ignorant speech,” read the post. “For this reason, the ACLU of Virginia defended the white supremacists' right to march.”

Later, after the world learned an anti-racist paralegal woman — Heather Hayer, 32 — had died when a "Unite the Right" demonstrator drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Dozens more activists were gravely injured from the attack and other assaults from white supremacists, the ACLU expanded on their opinion in a press release stating that they were “sickened and distraught by the vile acts committed in Charlottesville.”

“White supremacy is abhorrent. Bigotry, racism, and hatred in any form are indefensible. Violence of any kind combined with any of the above is terrorism,” read the statement. “We condemn it, as we do the reprehensible individuals and organizations responsible both directly and indirectly through their words and deeds. As of this writing, this includes our president who condones today’s inhumanities by default.”

But the ACLU’s failure to condemn the rally before it started and quickly devolved into a riot, followed by their largely symbolic stance after blood was shed, earned them harsh rebukes from progressives, especially those that equate hate speech with literal violence. Because the organization defended the event but not the hateful messages it promulgated, many saw the ACLU as having its cake and eating it too. Some critics went as far as to blame the political violence on the complacency of the ACLU, and call for them to be defunded and/or sued.

One member of the ACLU of Virginia's board, Waldo Jaquith, even resigned from his position in the wake of the ACLU’s decision.

“What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. I won’t be a fig leaf for Nazis,” wrote Jaquith on Twitter. “We need the ACLU. We need it so much. But we also need it to change, just a tiny bit: don’t defend Nazis to allow them to kill people.”

Here in Portland, during a rally held in solidarity for the victims of Charlottesville, an estimated 400 people gathered Sunday night to denounce white supremacy in Monument Square. When asked about their views on the ACLU, ralliers showed mixed opinions.

“I feel like the ACLU is just normalizing fascism,” said Susan Juliette, a young resident of Portland. “It’s not about free speech, it’s an incitement to violence. When you support it, you are complicit.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling was at the rally, remarking how on many occasions when the country has been reeling from displays of hate and violence, the city of Portland gathers rapidly to reflect its values of peace and tolerance. Despite recognizing the vile nature of the Unite the Right rally, Mayor Strimling felt that the ACLU had no choice but to defend it.

“Freedom of speech is very important. It’s served those fighting the powerful for a very long time, but we have to keep things nonviolent,” said Strimling. “When words can lead to violence you have to look carefully and prosecute if it’s a hate crime.”

Ella Smith, a social services worker in Portland, said that she supported the white supremacists’ right to march initially, but that they had clearly crossed a line into a hate crime.

“They do have a right to demonstrate but they don’t have a right to try and start a race war, which is what many have stated they want to do,” said Smith. “They showed up in full battle gear and surrounded a church. This was not just a gaggle of guys in Confederate flag shirts.”

Marc Harrington, a resident of Hallowell who drove to Portland to attend the rally, agreed, saying that “unfortunately the ACLU had to let them march,” because if they didn’t it would set a dangerous precedent that could dampen the free speech rights of people fighting for good causes.

“You have to let them march, but I don’t think they should have been marching with fire and guns. The whole thing was a symbol of violence. They knew what they were doing. If a whole bunch of black people decided to walk down the street with guns and torches, you’d have the National Guard on them instantly,” said Harrington, who is black.

Before determining whether or not the ACLU’s position on this issue is the right one, it’s important to acknowledge the important work the organization has done in its 97 years of existence. Since its inception, the ACLU has championed causes and individuals that were deeply unpopular publicly, for the benefit of the greater good. They’ve typically been the target of right-wing hatred for their defense of radical communists, transgender students, atheists, anti-war protestors, animal rights activists, pro-choice people, and in some cases, even Muslim extremists.

The ACLU exists to unequivocally defend the civil liberties of all, which in this case, means the First Amendment rights for white supremacists. Their mission is a bi-partisan one; they defend everybody’s rights as laid out in the American Constitution. To them, hate speech is worth defending because it’s legal.

Others at the rally had trouble reconciling this absolutist stance on free speech, with the very real blood that was spilled in upholding it. Should ideas rooted in the oppression of non-whites remain supported just for the sake of principle?

“It’s tough to understand how to respond,” said Ryan Dunfee, the community manager at AddUp, a branch of the Sierra Club. “I don’t think we’re even equipped to make that judgment call. But I also think if we don’t have systems in place to defend free speech we begin to erode the institutions that protect all of us. I think one thing we are in danger of losing in our current time is that need to defend these universal rights, and to apply them only selectively to those who agree with us. This only invites those who disagree with us to do the same. While neither I nor the ACLU condone the violence or the views of white supremacists, we will lose something fundamental if we can't agree on the ground rules for our democracy."

“As someone who has spent a career fightingracism, I deeply believe in the ACLU’s First Amendment work,” said Cecilia Wang, a civil rights attorney.

“It's amazing how frequently the ACLU has to repeat this basic tenet of civil liberty, and how invariably mad it makes people,” wrote Michael Tracy, a journalist with progressive news outlet The Young Turks on Twitter. 

But in the cases when this “basic tenet of civil liberty” tangibly leads to violence, as it did in Charlottesville, how is it still defensible? Do the American people trust their institutions enough to distinguish between hurtful free speech and violence-inciting hate speech? 

If yelling FIRE in a crowded theatre is illegal, then it's no surprise that some think that chanting white supremacist rallying cries to a mob of angry armed racists should be too.

 

  • Published in News

Fighting Climate Change: Could carbon emissions be curbed by taxing them?

Last month the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded its first ever carbon emissions reading that was in excess of 410 parts per million, marking a milestone: the Earth hasn’t had this much carbon in the atmosphere in 66 million years.

A recent scientific study titled “Trajectories Toward the 1.5°C Paris Target” predicts that the Earth will pass the critical warming threshold agreed upon by participants of the Paris Climate Accords within the next 15 years.

The science is settled; something needs to be done to curb carbon emissions now, or the effects of climate change might be irreversible.

But many scientists, economists, and politicians on board with fighting climate change are worried we won’t be able to slow down emissions enough to have an impact on global temperature without some kind of market-based solution.

A carbon tax could be that solution.

Ed Pontius, the co-chair of the Portland arm of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan organization mobilizing around climate change initiatives, was tabling at the Festival of Nations two weeks ago, telling people how it works. He seems to think that it’s the best strategy we’ve got against climate change, saying that it “will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 52 percent below 1990 levels within 20 years while growing the economy and saving lives.” The idea is hardly new, but it’s gaining more political clout recently because it’s managed to win the approval of some conservatives, who appreciate the way it empowers the market and encourages research into alternative energy sources without too much meddling from government regulations.

Pontius’ vision of a carbon tax is slightly different than others currently being debated about. He called it a carbon fee and dividend. Here’s the way he envisions it working: any company using or selling carbon based fuels (coal, oil, gas) pays a fee that would start at $15 per ton of CO2, and then all of the money that’s collected would be distributed evenly amongst the American people in the form of dividend checks.

“This approach helps us to control carbon, and it creates jobs, and improves the economy,” said Pontius. “It’s meant to move us more steadily toward a sustainable future.”

According to Pontius, if companies are forced to pay a fee on greenhouse gas emissions, then they’d be incentivized to adopt cleaner energy practices, and cut down on carbon to save money. Pontius said that one day we need to phase out fossil fuels altogether, and this could be the economic solution that slowly weans companies off of it.

“If a company chooses to make a t-shirt using dirty fuel, it will end up costing more, and the consumer will be less inclined to purchase it,” said Pontius. “They’d more likely purchase a shirt made with more sustainable practices.”

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Ed Pontius wants companies to pay extra for the dirty fuels they use and sell. Under the carbon fee and dividend plan he endorses, the American people would get that money back.

A major critique of a carbon tax is that by raising the cost of carbon based fuels, companies will charge more for energy, raising the cost of goods and services as well. The worry is that ultimately, the financial burden will fall back on the individual consumer.

While Pontius said that about 5 percent of the population would have a rough time during the transition, eventually, “everybody would benefit.” According to him, the money received in annual dividend checks would offset the higher cost of living.

Another point of contention around this issue has to do with developing countries, where entire energy economies rely primarily on dirty fuels. Should poorer countries have to pay higher fees for energy to combat a problem they largely didn’t create in the first place? Shouldn't they be allowed to prop up their industries the same way America, China, and European countries did during the energy boom of the last century?

“When one major nation puts it in place, the trade implications is that other nations will want to follow suit because they won’t want to have fees and tariffs imposed on their products that come in to benefit us,” said Pontius.

Last June, the city of Portland endorsed a plan for a federal carbon tax, becoming the 36th American city to do so.

But as Sarah Braik, the second co-chair of Portland’s Citizens Climate Lobby, work around this issue can’t be done in silos, because carbon emissions “don’t recognize borders.”

“Cities can’t do this work on their own,” said Braik. “We need to move from climate debate to climate action.”

Today Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Chile, Switzerland, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have all implemented some sort of carbon tax, and their economies are strong. Economists and environmental advocates consider Sweden’s carbon tax model as the most successful, however, they tax their carbon at $150 a ton, far more than the figure that Pontius suggested.

Overall, environmentalists agree that a carbon tax is a good idea, but unless everybody's on board — especially the world’s biggest polluters America, China, and India — the actual effect on emissions and global temperature will be negligible.

“I am confident this could work, but the level of damage that climate change is going to do makes it very urgent,” said Pontius. “We need to act now.”


Francis Flisiuk can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • Published in News

8 Days A Week: Dead Whales, Resurrected Goddesses, and Other Hallucinations

THURSDAY 10

 

ATLANTIC INJUSTICE | The sixth screening in the Portland Public Library’s free Point of View Documentary Series commences this night, offering a break from an otherwise stressful and menial existence. Watch it, and step into the lives of others who undoubtedly have it worse off than you, but still manage to be more interesting. That’s because the film, The Islands and the Whales, follows the people of the North Faroe Islands and their high seas struggle whale hunting in polluted waters. You see, it’s hard to compare to grizzled seaman fighting for their daily survival. These native islanders have an extremely rough, unhealthy life, thanks to the dirty industries that poisoned their resources. If depressing nonfiction films about man’s relationship to the natural world are your thing, here’s a chance to observe.

| FREE | 6:30 pm | Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Sq., Portland | https://www.portlandlibrary.com/

 

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John Hodgman and Jean Grae play many characters while on stage together. 

SPIN DA WHEEL | John Hodgman’s a writer and comedian who’s a big creative force on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jean Grae’s a multi-genre artist and speaker. Apart from their race and gender, these two stage performers have a lot in common. Both can sing. Both command the stage. And both are hilarious, charming, and witty; and they’re friends that tour together! How marketable! Catch their who-knows-what's-gonna-happen variety show dubbed plainly “Jean and John,” at the Port City Music Hall. Laughter’s pretty much guaranteed. | $30 | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portcitymusichall.com/

 

MAGA MESS | You might disagree with politics, but you can’t deny that Ted Nugent can shred a guitar solo like nobody’s business. He’s playing in town — in Aura of all places — for all you gun-toting, overtly patriotic, expired rock loving, “politically incorrect” readers out there. Which I suspect is about eight percent of you. Grab a cowboy hat and rock on inside the club, or boycott the event in disgusted defiance; we’re just here to tell you it’s happening. | $35 | 8 pm | Aura, 121 Center St., Portland | www.auramaine.com

 

HEAVY LANDSCAPES | Portland’s Capture the Sun create a compelling atmosphere with their soaring rhythms and increasingly intense guitar instrumentals. The lack of vocals keeps their music distinct and focused. They’re not as heavy as the two other bands they’ll be sharing the stage with this night — Objet and Destination:Void — and squeeze in enough break sections from their onslaught of sounds to let listeners ponder where it took them. A post-apocalyptic wasteland? A mountaintop utopia? The very moment a planet formed? It’s up to you really. Let your imagination run wild when they debut some tracks from their latest, an epic sonic expanse titled Terra Ignora.

| $7 | 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/

 

FRIDAY 11

 

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Explore the cosmos inside your head with Highly Suspect's anticipated new album, The Boy Who Died Wolf.

NOISE THERAPY | Will your mind be blown by the track “Hello, My Name is Human” when Highly Suspect runs through their most recent album The Boy Who Died Wolf? It’s considered the best from their new work. We’d say it’s fast-paced punk done right; dynamic and intense, yet light-hearted and grungy. They’re joined by And the Kids, a youthful indie-rock trio that claims to transform “existential crises into pop euphoria.” | $25 | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | http://www.statetheatreportland.com/

 

TRIBAL FEMINISM | A trio of master percussionists will be channeling the energy of a Sumerian goddess through drum beats and harmonies if you want to deviate slightly from your downtown stroll and into an ancient soundscape. They’re called Inanna — Sisters In Rhythm and seem to be a welcome distraction. We’re sure you’ll hear them thundering anyway. | FREE | 6 pm | Congress Square Park, 599 Congress St., Portland | http://congresssquarepark.org

 

NEW MOVEMENT | We just had a First Friday so I imagine you’ve dipped into the New American Sculpture exhibit at the PMA by now. If not, that’s also completely reasonable; life’s too demanding these days to pay attention to every single new art exhibit. Time is precious! Regardless, this night might be the best one for a museum trip, as the staff there will pose an interesting question: what would their statues look like in motion? The immensely talented performers of the Portland Ballet Company will answer with performance, translating the raw, eternal stillness of sculpture into vivid motion and grace.

| $8 | 5 pm | Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq., Portland | http://www.portlandmuseum.org

 

SATURDAY 12

 

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On top of the Thompson's Point show, Guster will also be playing an intimate show on board a boat in Casco Bay, but there's no room for you. 

OCEANSIDE SATELLITES | In our jaded consumer culture, denouncing what’s popular and mainstream is popular and mainstream. Good bands take a lot of unnecessary heat and hate these days — even ones with a big grassroots following, and buckets of money like Guster. Maybe the haters are just envious. Although many like to mock Guster, we happen to think they should garner more respect, at least from the people that know the band from more than just references in pop culture. In any case, Guster will be fine without the support of those on the fence. Almost a thousand people will go see these Boston pop-rockers play on Thompson’s Point today, so you’ve got time to decide whether you actually care for them or not. The concert’s openers are pretty dope too: Portland’s own Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, Spencer Albee, and the Ghosts of Paul Revere. | $40 | 6 pm | Thompson’s Point, Thompson's Point Rd., Portland | http://www.thompsonspointmaine.com/

 

ROCK THE BASEMENT | The nonprofit organization Go Big For Hunger is hosting another concert in line with their ongoing mission of addressing childhood hunger in Maine, where it’s said that one in four kids experience food insecurity. Jam out to some nostalgic '90s hits courtesy of bands Syd’s Kids, Squagmyre, and Lazy Beyond Description. Throw a couple bills at these folks doing good honest work in this profoundly unjust world. | $20 | 8 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | https://www.portlandhouseofmusic.com

 

HAPPY BDAY | Tandem Coffee has proven that as long as you brew delicious java and bake great morning treats, you can sell them in an old gas station building next to an operational gas station and still be one of the hippest spots in town. (I guess it helps if you renovate it beautifully.) Tandem’s turning five years old today, which calls for a celebration. Head over to their party for booze, hot dogs, lawn games, karaoke, ice cream, and some above average mingling. Oh, and coffee too. | FREE | 5 pm | Tandem Coffee, 122 Anderson St., Portland | https://www.tandemcoffee.com/bakery

 

SUNDAY 13

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Providence's punk group the Downtown Boys are not here for your white tears.

RESIST (BUT HAVE FUN) | After learning about the political leanings of Providence’s radical rock band Downtown Boys we’re reminded of this quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This punk band would agree by saying that apolitical music doesn’t exist; in a world rife with corruption and inequalities, even when you remain silent, you’re making a statement. What a musician chooses not to create art about can say a lot about their character. And staying “out of politics” isn’t the most effective use of one’s privilege. That’s basically the ethos behind the Downtown Boys who make clear what side of history they’re on, by serving up most of their songs with a dose of social justice. Lyrical themes range from fighting racism and homophobia to police brutality and the prison system. With a no-fucks-given attitude, they’ll perform serious songs off their latest album Cost of Living, and play their small part in chipping away at the ultra-powerful establishment. These sonic activists are joined by the diamond-sharp vocalist Bright Boy, and the hardcore feminist outfit Phallus Über Alles. | $12 | 8 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://space538.org/

 

STORIES THAT MATTER | We need more movies that humanize immigrants, and accurately portray the complexities of issues around identity, inclusion, and assimilation. Although we haven’t seen it yet, judging from the trailers, the drama The Visitor seems to achieve this. It’s screening tonight outside in Congress Square Park if you’re in need of an antidote to some of the xenophobia present in mainstream media and culture at large. | FREE | 8 pm | Congress Square Park, 599 Congress St., Portland | http://congresssquarepark.org/

 

MONDAY 14

 

TUNES FOR THOUGHT| Brooklyn’s psych-folk-rock band Grizzly Bear are back after a five-year hiatus with a new album called Painted Ruins. It’s not out until the 18th, but it’s garnered some positive reviews already, with critics writing that it sounds like the same cool, weird guitar music Grizzly Bear fans are used to, but with a more synthy, stripped down approach. It’s not as dense and beautifully textured as previous works like Shields, but it still demands attention, and easily facilitates a close listening. They’ll be joined by a previous collaborator: Portland’s Nat Baldwin, a writer, academic and solo musician, who you probably know better as the bassist for the Dirty Projectors. | $45 | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | http://www.statetheatreportland.com

 

TUESDAY 15

 

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Heather Perry and Hopper McDonough sought to document the people toiling away in our collective blind spot. 

FACES AND VOICES | Maine creators Heather Perry and Hopper McDonough set up a portrait/interview booth outside the huge shipyard in Bath and waited to see who’d be willing to talk to them about what their work was like (turns out, it’s pretty grueling). Over the course of their stay, they documented stories from 50 of Maine’s gritty, hard hat wearing shipyard workers, the ones curious enough to check out the photo booth in between cigarette drags on their lunch break. The oddly intriguing portraits and quotes they procured are on display in the lower level gallery of the Portland Public Library. Perfectly lit and well composed, these shots, titled Southgate Faces offer a rare glimpse into an overlooked industry. | FREE | 9 am to 5 pm | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Sq., Portland | https://www.portlandlibrary.com

 

MAN ON THE ROOF | Portland’s amorphous electronica rocker, Dan Capaldi (who bounces between several different bands) will don the familiar one man stage persona of Sea Level at an unfamiliar spot: the rooftop of Bayside Bowl. It may be the best place to catch his polyrhythmic waves, or at the very least, the sunset! | FREE | 6 pm | Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St., Portland | https://www.baysidebowl.com

 

WEDNESDAY 16

 

IRIS REDUX | Here’s likely the biggest event happening today: the band that provided the emotional backdrop to all of your high-school slow dances is making a rare Portland appearance. The Goo Goo Dolls play the pier with their latest album, Boxes, and some classic hits. We’ve matured since the days of their radio domination, but have they? Do they still deserve that much airtime? Certainly. Tickets are steep, but many are finding the chance to revisit their youth worth it these days. | $25.75-99.75 | 6 pm | Maine State Pier, Portland | http://www.waterfrontconcerts.com/

 

THURSDAY 17

 

WATCH AND LEARN | Next week offers a lot to do, but Thursday requires some consideration, as some interesting events fall around the same timeframe. Choose wisely! First up, there’s a chance to pull the blinders off our eyes with the Portland Library’s screening of Raising Bertie, an unflinching look at growing up black in rural North Carolina. Several have  After that you’re evening could take rapidly different turns. You could head to Falmouth to the Maine Audubon and get up close and personal with our state’s raptors, eagles, and owls, during an outdoor event about birds of prey (there’s beer!). Or, you could stay in town for the Afro-Latin-reggae-fusion bonanza happening at Slab thanks to the heart-stirring talents of Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde. If you’re feeling like getting down to some reggae, but are yearning for grass at your feet (and a better view), the Eastern Promenade’s hosting the seven piece roots reggae collective Royal Hammer. Until then, enjoy life, it's the only thing we’ve got!

New Country, New Challenges: Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center Provides Much Needed Support

The Greater Portland area is changing in many ways. One of the more obvious is its demographics.

Over the past five years, the city’s seen an influx of immigrants, coming primarily from places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Congo. Catholic Charities — which provides Maine’s only refugee resettlement program — has assisted 642 primary refugees, 34 secondary migrants, and 85 asylees into new homes in Portland in 2016, and the numbers of arrivals are expected to be similar this year. Many of these immigrants come to Maine hoping to carve a new life for themselves, void of economic stagnation, famine, war, political persecution, or other forms of oppression.

But when immigrants arrive stateside, they’re often met with a different set of unique, life-altering challenges.

A new organization aims to ameliorate some of those challenges. It’s called the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, and it held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Monday at its new facility with Senator Angus King, Attorney General Janet Mills, City Manager Jon Jennings, City Councilor Pious Ali, and dozens of other business and community leaders in attendance. The center is poised to be a one-stop-shop for any immigrant — regardless of status — to visit and access a wide variety of resources designed to ease some of the burdens associated with the transition to American society.

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From left to right: Tarlan Ahmadov, director of refugee services at Catholic Charities, Janet Mills, Maine's Attorney General, and Senator Angus King. 

The center, located on the third floor of 24 Preble Street, is a new, sleek-looking modern facility decorated with art from local artists. It’s equipped with the tools and a staff capable of addressing a New Mainer’s initial goals, which, according to the folks working there, tend to be learning English, launching a business, applying for citizenship, finding a job, and/or securing housing.

The ethos behind the Immigrant Welcome Center is to connect and collaborate with those organizations already working on immigration and integration issues — places like the New Mainer’s Tenant Association, the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, and the New England Arab American Association, to name a few. The center’s mission is a synergistic work environment, complete with co-working space and meeting rooms where reps from different companies can build work off of each other and share resources, information, and assets. The IWC wants to go beyond immigration organizations working in silos.

That mission is what excites Micky Bondo, a Congolese immigrant, about bringing her work to the center. She’s the co-founder of In Her Presence, an organization led by immigrant women, that seeks to bring them “out of the shadows and on the stage.” Bondo works with women from 11 different nations and offers them classes on the English language, and health and wellness topics.

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Micky Bondo, the assistant executive director of In Her Presence.

“We find out that immigrant women are often so lost and isolated, so we created a platform for them,” said Bondo. “We want their dreams to stay alive.”

We spoke with the interim Executive Director of the Immigrant Welcome Center Alain Nahimana, who sought asylum from political persecution in Burundi seven years ago, and has lived and worked on immigration issues here in Maine ever since. He offered us the following insight into why Portland needs such a center, and what other hurdles immigrants have to go through in order to thrive and succeed in a new country.

The interview has been slightly edited for grammar and clarity.

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One of the brains behind the Immigrant Welcome Center, Alain Nahimana. 

What’s the overall mission of the Immigrant Welcome Center and why does Portland need one?

This idea came from a conversation between me and Damas Rugaba an immigrant from Rwanda. We talked about our desire to empower groups working on immigration issues and have them focus more on their programs instead of logistics. We need to focus more on opportunity.

We also asked ourselves, how do we change the narrative around immigration and tell our story and our aspirations? How do we change the narrative from what we’re hearing in the mainstream media?

What services are you going to offer?

The programming is built on three main pillars. The first is the English Language Learning Lab, which is incorporating technology into the class. It allows people to learn English very quickly, which they need to get into jobs or to do business.

Secondly, the center has a hub for entrepreneurship for immigrants. Providing them the training necessary to start a business in the United States and connecting them with lending institutions so they can access some capital. And we’ll help those already established with technical support.

Finally, we believe you can’t have an inclusive economy without an inclusive democracy. We’re focusing on citizenship by having a permanent campaign to encourage people to apply for citizenship and be engaged through civic engagement. Immigrants need to be a part of the political discourse, so they can have their voices heard. It’s very important.

What are the biggest challenges new Mainers face upon arrival?

The biggest challenge for anyone coming here is learning the language. Many people come with skills or some abilities to learn a new skill. But whether or not you want to do business, or get a job, the language is key. I honestly believe the language is one of the biggest barriers to becoming fully integrated and thrive. There needs to be opportunities for immigrants to learn English quickly.

Many immigrants I know work, their problem is not necessarily finding a job. But when you have someone that doesn’t speak English, it’s hard to get hired. You need to speak the language.

Employers want people that are ready to work. We see an aging population leaving jobs in Maine, and we need to replace those people leaving them.

Has any aspect of your work changed at with Trump as President?

Immigrant integration is a very complex issue. Before Trump, for three years I worked on the defensive. [Nahimana worked previously at the Maine Immigrants Rights Coalition.] There were already budget discussions that impacted immigrants. There were proposals by Governor LePage to cut General Assistance to asylum seekers.

The organization continued to work on the defensive; we weren't driving the narrative. We weren't telling our side of the story. Why do people want to come here? What are their aspirations? What are their dreams? And what are we doing to get our goals accomplished? Now we built a very modern and nice space where we want to tell our story. We want to thrive, succeed and become contributing members of society.

The Trump administration has triggered something positive in many members of the Portland community. We’re getting support from them. Because of his attacks on communities of color, we are seeing people coming out, fighting back and supporting immigration and integration.

By attacks, do you mean Trump’s proposed travel ban?

Not just the travel ban, but the wall, and the narrative that anyone coming from elsewhere is unwelcome. The climate of deportations we’re seeing now. The message coming out of Washington is not what people believe in.

Will the Center also help refugees?

Absolutely. We use the word immigrant because no matter where you come from, or how you’re getting here, you’re an immigrant. We’re not discriminating based on one's immigration status.

Legally, a refugee comes with a residency permit. An asylum seeker has to apply for asylum and be allowed to come into the country. When people are here and are waiting for their status, they apply for a 150-day work permit but they face the same barriers as other immigrants — [such as] language, finding a house. There is housing discrimination against immigrants.

What about Maine is attractive to immigrants?

Politically, Portland’s the best place in Maine where you have a great support for immigrants. I came to Maine to visit an old classmate that I met at the University of Burundi. When I arrived I saw that there was already a Burundian community here. That was attractive to me. It’s very important when you’re a newcomer that you find someone from your own country who speaks the same language. That’s hard to find in a very big city or rural state where you’re by yourself. People go where they can find their same communities. Naturally, immigrants help other immigrants.

I like this state. I don’t think I would be able to do what I do in another state. People are very welcoming here. There is some improvement needed of course, but I’ve seen very few people coming to Maine and then leaving. I’ve seen people leave and come back. It has a quality of life that all people can connect to.


Francis Flisiuk can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • Published in News

Bud and Breakfast: Maine's First Cannabis Inn Opens Amidst Slight Controversy

Cornish Maine is now home to a new cannabis venture that’s attracted both tourists and controversy.

 

The Laughing Grass Inn held their soft open party last week and generated a lot of buzz. Why? Well, the 200-year-old, 16 room house doesn’t just invite visitors to indulge in the region's bucolic pleasures: it offers a chance to wake-n-bake too.

 

As part of the all-inclusive package, guests at the historic, country-themed inn are served up a cannabis infused breakfast, with choices ranging from 20, 50, or 100 mg for “experienced eaters.” Fans of non-psychoactive breakfasts, can, of course, order one without a cannabis infusion.

 

Later in the afternoon, 4:20 pm to be exact, the cannabis happy hour starts, when the “bud bar” opens and visitors are gifted bowls, and joints, stuffed with marijuana grown right here in Maine. A volcano bag filled with cannabis vapors gets passed around as well.

 

Trinity Madison, the executive chef at the Laughing Grass Inn told the Phoenix there’s no smoking allowed inside, but guests are encouraged to spark up on the porch or outside on the lawn.

 

“The Inn is absolutely beautiful, my most favorite building in Cornish,” says Madison. “I got a lot of support for this, and received so many responses since our launch party.”

 

But not all the responses have been positive. Madison says she’s caused a bit of a stir in her idyllic village.

 

“There’s a lot of controversy here now because of me,” she says. “A few very loud people oppose me and are trying their hardest to stop a legal venture.”

 

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The cannabis chef at the Laughing Grass Inn, Trinity Madison.

Madison estimates that about four people vocally oppose her cannabis Inn and hold some sway over the town’s selectmen, who have been actively trying to shut it down, despite it being in accordance with the current laws. So far they’ve unsuccessfully tried to revoke the Inn’s liquor license.

 

The town of Cornish is voting on August 9 on whether or not the town would permit recreational marijuana sales. Some of the people opposed to Madison’s venture believe this will spell trouble for the Laughing Grass Inn.

 

“People keep coming at me saying ‘the vote is happening, we’re going to make sure you don’t move forward.’ But the vote doesn’t affect me, I don’t sell marijuana,” says Madison.

 

Under Maine’s current marijuana law, the Laughing Grass Inn is perfectly legal. It exploits a loophole (which we’ve covered extensively in this column) that allows adults 21 years of age and older to “gift” up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to other adults.  

 

“I’m not in violation of any laws,” says Madison, who also got approval from the town’s sheriff, and code enforcer.

 

To make sure nobody would perceive Madison’s operation as a one that outright sells recreational marijuana, she ensures guests enjoy plenty of other amenities as part of their stay. Included in the price of the stay — at least on the weekends — is live music, fire-eaters, glass blowing demonstrations, educational speakers, and cannabis cooking demonstrations.

 

“What people pay for, they get it in services,” says Madison.

 

The Laughing Grass Inn is not technically open yet, but folks there are hosting a “Bud and Breakfast event” from August 15 to September 7, as a means for locals to “get a feel for the establishment.” So far though, bookings have been completely from other states, like Georgia, California, New Mexico, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

 

“We’re interested in being a part of the community,” says Madison. “And I’m bringing some much-needed tourism to Maine, and I’d like to continue.”

 


 

Like getting stoned and enjoying the outdoors? You can book a room here: http://thelaughinggrassinn.com/  

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Ancient Highs: Cannabis' Long, Weird History

The history of humans and cannabis is a long, tumultuous love affair that you probably haven’t dedicated much thought to.

 

Nowadays, ingesting marijuana is discussed endearingly in countless forms of media. We sing songs about it, watch TV shows around it, blog about growing it, and gloat about cooking with it. The love for cannabis extends far past college campuses and music festivals — how many homes do we visit that have some sort of glassware on the coffee table? Marijuana culture is mainstream culture now, and the existence of this column is one of many examples of that.

 

But the thing is, marijuana’s been mainstream since we hunted for food and gathered around fires for warmth. Since ancient times, the plant’s been recognized for its medicinal and cerebral qualities. It was only in the last century that marijuana’s been demonized in politics, religious sermons, and culture at large. Although it seems it took a long time to exorcise the ghosts of the Reefer Madness days, (and some would argue that we haven't finished) we’ve shifted the public discourse back toward a generally positive view of marijuana.

 

This week we’ve plucked some factoids from cannabis’ rollercoaster of a historical timeline to help put into context the journey this amazing plant took from obscurity to popularity, and then from taboo to ubiquity. Here’s part one of our brief history of cannabis.

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The Original Stoners - 2700 BC

 

References to cannabis use extend as far back as 2737 B.C. when the Chinese Emperor Shen Neng mentioned its healing properties, and placed it among other staple herbal remedies like ginseng and ephedra. He called the plant “ma” and brewed it into tea. The Chinese appreciated this.

 

 

Then God Said, Let’s Get High - 1500 BC

 

If there is a God (and he’s an Abrahamic one), then he created every plant and animal, including marijuana.

 

According to historical linguists like Polish born Sula Benet, cannabis may have been referenced in the Bible. Exodus (30:22-23) includes a recipe for holy oil made from fragrant herbs, olive oil, and kaneh-bosem, which etymologists understand to mean cannabis.

 

Was Jesus anointed with oil made from cannabis extract? Maybe. Later in the New Testament (which would be around 30 AD, for purposes of this timeline), Jesus anoints his apostles with the same holy oil Exodus described. Traces of cannabis residue have been found in ancient pottery in Judea, so it’s quite possible that Jesus “the anointed one” was something of a stoner prophet. The dude loved promoting peace and walking around barefoot, so he fits the bill.

 

Pharaonic Order: Bury Me With A Kief Stash - 1213 BC

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Seshat was an ancient Egyptian goddess of record-keeping and measurement who was commonly associated with marijuana. The flowers of the plant adorn her head. 

When archeologist examined the mummy of Ramesses II, they found an ancient cannabis pollens caked on his eyelids. It’s unknown whether Ancient Egyptians revered the plant for spiritual or medicinal properties, but either way, they had it.  

 

Ancient Indians Loved Marijuana Milkshakes - 1000 to 600 BC

 

The cannabis plant made its way to India from China, and once it arrived, it never left. Ancient Indians invented bhang thandai, a cannabis reduction made with milk that was used to as a muscle relaxer and a treatment for a wide range of maladies. A couple hundred years later it appeared in the Ayurvedic (a system of Indian medicine) treatise of Sushruta Samhita noting it as a cure for leprosy. Of course, cannabis can’t cure leprosy, but it might have made users suffering from the disease more content with their unfortunate situation.

 

Centuries later ganja would be regarded as a holy plant by the Sadhus, Hindu monks who smoke it (to this day) to help lubricate their paths to enlightenment.

 

The Romans Use It For Sexual Suppression (And Rope) - 70 AD

 

Apart from the Greeks, the Romans were likely the horniest people in the Ancient Mediterranean world. So horny, that some people worried the Empire would crumble from degeneracy (it would about 650 years later). One of these people was Pedanius Dioscorides a Roman army doctor and botanist who wrote in De Materia Medica urging his countrymen to use the juice of the cannabis plant to suppress sexual longing. He probably wasn’t popular at dinner parties.

 

Later Romans would prove less of a buzzkill and use cannabis’ fibrous cousin hemp as a way to make military grade rope for their mighty legions.

 

Muslims Invent A Potent Alternative: Hashish - 800 AD

 

The spread of hashish, a powerful concentration of the marijuana's psychoactive resins, is directly linked to the proliferation of Islam throughout the Middle East.

 

The Quran forbade its followers to intoxicate themselves with alcohol, but it didn’t mention anything about cannabis. Muslims took advantage of this, despite the warning of Arab physician Ibn Wahshiyah who urged his patients to steer clear of the extract which he considered a deadly poison.

 

Despite pockets of misunderstanding, use of hashish exploded throughout the Muslim world, with the mystical Sufis encouraging followers of Allah to use it as a tool to connect with the divine. A special prophet of marijuana even emerged from these psychedelic travels who the ancient Muslims called Al-Khadir or "The Green One."

 

Today, Sharia Law condemns the use of cannabis, but back in the Golden Age of Islam, it was celebrated.


Francis Flisiuk can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Anti-Zionist ≠ Anti-Semite: Proposed Bill Seeks To Criminalize Boycott Against Israel

Senator Susan Collins is co-sponsoring a new bill that would essentially punish a person or corporation based on their political beliefs about Israel.

Backed by 43 Senators and 247 House members, the Israeli Anti-Boycott Act is an amendment to the Export Administration Act of 1979 and a response to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), a nonviolent method of putting economic pressure on Israel to protest the human rights violations their government inflicts on native Palestinians. This bill would make anybody who shows support for the international boycott against Israel potentially subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

The ACLU was quick to condemn the proposed bill as a violation of a person’s First Amendment rights.

"Boycotts, whether of a country or a company, are protected political speech,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “The government cannot punish someone for boycotting Israel any more than they can punish someone for showing their support for Israel. This is not an anti-discrimination bill. It is an anti-free speech bill."

 

The Intercept recently reported that even J Street, the pro-Palestinian but staunchly anti-BDS political advocacy group, called for politicians to rethink the bill as it would “undermine decades of US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

 

This boycott arrives amidst a long and brutal occupation of Palestinian territory in Gaza and the West Bank which the United Nations has condemned as illegal. Just last week, Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, told Reuters that after decades of occupation and degrading social services like education, health, and water, Gaza has become “uninhabitable.”

 

So why has our own Senator Collins — who could not be reached for comment on this story — thrown her support behind a bill that threatens Americans' constitutional right to protest these human rights violations?

 

The underlying forces, as they often are in these cases, are big piles of money.

 

The BDS movement, which launched in 2005, has severely impacted the Israeli economy. According to a 2013 report from Israel’s Finance Ministry, the boycott could cost Israel$10.5 billion a year. Although that figure hasn’t been confirmed by economists today, numerous companies have stopped doing business with Israel since then. According to the BDS Movement’s website, Israel has taken many economic hits in the past five years. The French multinational company Veolia withdrew their assets from Israel, costing the country billions of dollars. The state water company lost its international contracts, and Israelis ships were prevented from docking across the world. These are just the latest examples.

 

Governing agencies like the EU and the UN and organizations like Amnesty International have decried for years the oppressive nature of Israeli encroachment on Palestinian land, and have discouraged doing business with any enterprise on illegally settled land.

 

But here in America, pro-Israel legislation that inevitably fuels development in Palestinian territory and nibbles away at basic rights for the non-Jewish residents there continues to get bipartisan support. Even heroes of the progressive, anti-Trump resistance — like Democratic Congressmen Ted Lieu (CA), Adam Schiff (CA), and Eric Swalwell (CA) — have co-sponsored this bill. Apart from American politicians’ general inability to show compassion for the Palestinian people, financial interests are a major reason this bill is getting support; Israel is one of America's strongest military allies and trade partners.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the biggest pro-Israeli groups in America, lobbying Congress for decades to counter what they call “diplomatic attacks and economic warfare against Israel.” Senator Collins received over $130,000 from AIPAC in campaign donations since 2000, and she’s not the only one in Congress to have her pockets padded. It’s no wonder Collins and others are co-sponsors of a bill that their biggest donors explicitly focused on in their recent lobbying agenda — AIPAC wrote that they'd “prohibit U.S. persons from cooperating with efforts by international organizations, including the U.N., to boycott Israel.”

The advocacy group makes their position on BDS crystal clear on their website: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has emerged in an effort to stigmatize, delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel. BDS proponents seek to drive a wedge between Israel and the rest of the world—separating Israel’s government, businesses, universities and people from their partners abroad.”

 

Why Boycotting Israel Isn't Anti-Semitic

Apart from AIPAC’s concerns about the effect on Israel’s economy, there’s a lot of historically, culturally, and politically important baggage attached to the motivations behind this bill, and the boycott it responds to. Unpacking these forces for the Phoenix this week is Bob Schaible, the chair of Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights, a local group that fundraises for pro-Palestinian causes. He’s studied the conflict for over a decade, devouring dozens of books on the topic before traveling to the West Bank himself in 2010 to learn about the situation first-hand from the journalists, activists, students, youth-center directors, academics, and working-class people living there.

Schaible says his understanding of the conflict runs contrary to the mainstream narrative that paints Israeli Jews as well-intentioned settlers fleeing oppression, returning to their ancestral land and fighting against hostile Arabs who want to dismantle their entire state and push it into the sea — and anybody who suggests otherwise, or supports movements like BDS, is clearly an anti-Semite.

Schaible says that very little of this conventional perception is true.

It’s impossible to convey all the complexities of a hundred-year-old conflict that’s killed at least 10,000 innocent Palestinians since 2000, and economically deprived and displaced millions of others, in a short news piece. But many who do understand the nuanced history of Israel/Palestine relations — religious scholars, political scientists, residents, and even Jewish rabbis — stress that supporting BDS has little to do with religious differences, and everything to do with resisting a growing, authoritative, apartheid state.

For example, Schaible holds a deep admiration for Judaism (most of his knowledge on the subject comes from Jewish scholars) but still backs the Israel boycott. It’s important, he says, not to conflate Judaism with Zionism, a belief that Palestinian territories within Israel are the inalienable God-given possession of the Jewish people, and only them. Indeed many non-Palestinian people have voiced support for the boycott, including Roy Isacowitz a Jewish journalist who wrote a piece 2 years ago titled “Target me with your boycott please,” Rev. Charles H. Thomas of the United Church of Christ, who wrote last year “our quarrel is with the policies of a government, not Judaism,” and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said this in an open letter to the German Evangelical Church Assembly in 2015: “BDS is not anti-Semitism. Do your business with Jews, organize with them, love them, but don’t support — militarily, economically or politically — the machinery of an apartheid-state.”

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Schaible and his Palestinian friend Yasser Abudiah, a history teacher in East Jerusalem, whose family home and village were destroyed by Israel in its expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. (Photos Courtesy of Robert Schaible)

Plenty of Jewish people support BDS as well, according to Jewish Voices for Peace, a national organization with 200,000 members that seek to educate the public that “many Jews are opposed to the actions of Israel.”

These words greet visitors of the JVP website: “There are often attempts to silence critics of Israel by conflating legitimate criticism with anti-Semitism. Israel is a state, not a person. Everyone has the right to criticize the unjust actions of a state.”

Other Jewish voices, like ones from the Community Relations Council of Maine's Jewish Community Alliance, express vehement opposition to BDS, and support the Anti-Defamation League’s position on the issue: "The BDS movement, which rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, is the most prominent effort to undermine Israel’s existence. The BDS campaign is rampant with misinformation and distortion."

Barbara Shaw, of the Jewish Community Alliance, told the Phoenix last week that: "while members of the Jewish community may differ on major elements of Israeli government policy, we stand united in our support of the right of the State of Israel to exist. We must remember that it was a boycott of Israel by all Arab governments starting in 1948 that increased polarization in the region, encouraged overt efforts to try to destroy Israel, and prevented negotiations for years."

"Rather than boycotting a valuable ally, we should be working to promote dialogue between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors and other ways to reduce the points of conflict which have plagued the two peoples for over a century," said Shaw. "If legislation is required to expose the BDS movement against Israel for the sham it is, then we support it."

Schaible, of course, doesn't think that BDS is a sham, but a "necessary, and vigorously anti-racist movement."

"We’re really just pro-human rights for all the people in that region," said Schaible. "Groups like AIPAC are a response to a fear that there’s going to be an open, global discussion on Israel's policies.”

news DisappearingPalestineMap CourtesyofPalestineAwarenessCoalitionThis map, courtesy of the Palestine Awareness Coalition, shows how much land Israeli settlers have illegally colonized over the decades.

 

Why There’s A Boycott In The First Place

 

Today, Palestinians that live in the West Bank and Israel proper are subject to housing, religious, and economic discrimination, in what’s basically an ethnic-nationalist state that systematically favors Jews. Apart from the blatant disregard to their ancestral claims on the land, Palestinians don’t have the same access to fertile farming land, electricity, the Internet, or water resources as their Jewish neighbors. They can’t drive on major highways in the West Bank without being stopped in multiple checkpoints and searched. They are unable to move freely across borders, and to holy sites in East Jerusalem that hold immense significance to them. They don’t have an Army, Navy, or Air Force, and are surrounded by a technologically superior Israeli military, bolstered by the U.S. — Israel’s on the receiving end of a billion dollars a year in military aid for the next decade. And even the Palestinian’s own police force works in tandem with the Israeli police to enforce oppressive policies, one of those being stamping out political dissent. Protests often end in violence and later dehumanizing media reports that label Palestinians as aggressors, when often times they’re the victims —three unarmed activists were killed by Israeli authorities just last Friday after protesting against the shutdown of the Aqsa Mosque.

“Israel does have a great diversity of people, it’s just that legally speaking they only recognize one of those groups as having full human rights,” said Schaible. “The settlers have swimming pools while the Palestinians don’t have enough water for their crops. Is that justice?”

For decades, diplomatic talks and agreements have failed, protests have failed, and wars have even failed the Palestinian people. Schaible, and many others see the international boycott as a “powerful, civilized, and peaceful” way to combat Israeli oppression: not violence, not submission, but an impactful middle road.

 

“What they want is a state like America, a secular, multicultural state governed by a Constitution and laws that do not privilege any one religion, race or ethnicity,” said Schaible. “They just want to get on with their lives and live in peace.”

But regardless of your feelings about Israeli/Palestinian relations, it can’t be denied that this Israel Anti-Boycott Act is an unconstitutional threat to our ability to publicly acknowledge them.

  • Published in News

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 1912 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?

 

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