Sultana Khan

Sultana Khan

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Responding to Charlottesville — The Fight-or-Flight of Activism

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Alaska. Or maybe we’ll all be dead by then, reduced to ash thanks to a man who can’t bring himself to condemn Nazis, but can wage war via Twitter. At this point, I’d honestly just like some type of resolution. Are we going to be obliterated or not? I’m exhausted from worrying about our imminent doom all the time, and it’s creating dark circles under my eyes. Concealer can only do so much.

Alaska?,” you might be asking. Yes, Alaska! I’m headed out for a week of solo adventuring as I type this, so I’ll admit to a little senioritis — I don’t want to be writing about Nazis any more than you want to read about them. But Alaska, land of salmon and bears and humpback whales, seems like the perfect place to remind myself of the promise our country once boasted.

The plan for this trip came about in less than a week. I managed to find cheap fares to Anchorage and pulled the trigger as soon as the first frisson of fear crept down my spine. I’d already gotten a confirmation email before awareness set in. I’m not ashamed to admit I panicked as soon as the notification popped up on my phone.

Part of the fear stems from the fact that the Alaskan wilderness is so all-encompassing there is no word for it in Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit) — it simply is. Part of the fear factor is due to … well, bears. But mostly it’s the knowledge I’ll be 4500 miles from everything I know, by myself.

The funny thing, and it would take years of knowing me and/or psychoanalysis to understand this, is that overwhelming feeling of lightheadedness — the way my body processes fear — is exactly why I’m going. It’s the way I’ve made most of the major decisions in my life.

Jumping off a cliff into an abandoned quarry at 16? Sure! College in New York City? Why not! Moving to California at 22? Cool! Skydiving? But of course! Buying a sailboat in San Diego even though I didn’t know how to sail? OK! Writing about my mental illness? Check! The greatest growth spurts in my life can be directly attributed to this desire to outlast my fear, and I’ve never been disappointed with the results.

When I called my mom to let her know I’d booked tickets to Alaska, the first thing she said was, “I’m so proud of you.” The second thing was to ask if I was frightened. When I related that I was terrified, she told me a story about her own trip to Nepal — her first time out of the country — and mentioned that she started sobbing the moment the plane took off. Of course, she was on six week-long trek to hike Base Camp One of Mount Everest, but that’s neither here nor there.

Currently, I’m watching a video of a Nazi intentionally ramming a car into protesters in Charlottesville play over and over on the news at the Dallas airport. It’s 2017 and white supremacists are employing the same tactics as ISIS. So when I think about what it means to be an ally today, and tomorrow, and every day after that, I think the most important component of the resistance will be our ability to keep moving forward despite our fear. What could be more terrifying than Nazis? 

Months ago, Melissa Harris-Perry wrote an excellent New York Times piece about how the NAACP could keep from becoming irrelevant. She called for the organization, a historically powerful agent of hope and progress, to return to its roots of radical resistance or face a slow death at the hands of bureaucracy. She pointed to the NAACP’s pivotal role during “the bloody times,” as the height of their influence. It was a compelling argument, and it’s prescience is almost chilling with the images of tiki torch-wielding assholes splashed across my news feed.

I would love to be wrong, but a bloody time has come. One can only hope that the resiliency we’ve been building to our fears, through a variety of less dangerous means, will continue to serve us in the face of actual Nazism. Fear not, comrades, we will overcome.


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

Do Maine Dems Understand the Stakes?

I’m writing this column from the oppressive heat of Washington, D.C., so I hope you’ll excuse me if this comes off a little cranky. I was born here, at the private, non-profit Columbia Hospital for Women in 1985. Originally founded in 1866 as a charitable hospital for the desperate, pregnant wives of missing Civil War soldiers, the hospital closed permanently in 2002. You can now buy a two-bedroom for 1.5 million bucks in the wing where Duke Ellington was born.

It feels strange to be here, reminiscing about a hospital that has been turned into condos, while a health care bill that considers womanhood to be a pre-existing condition flounders on the Senate floor. But it doesn’t seem like the city has changed as much as you might imagine under the new administration. I can’t tell if that’s because I’m crossing the street to avoid people wearing red hats or if I’m still reeling from our own state’s recent catastrophe.

Given the number of hot takes written about the recent government shutdown, it would be self-indulgent to bore readers with further discussion of our spectacularly inept Democratic leadership. Luckily for all of us, as an only child, I’m entirely comfortable with a little self-indulgence. And I’m still spitting mad. Perhaps we take a moment to talk about what it means for progressive politics when you capitulate to conservative hostage tactics.

As the daughter of a longtime Republican campaign strategist, I’m intimately familiar with the lengths to which politicians will go to subvert the will of the people in favor of their own vested interests. But in the current climate, as Trump cronies try to coerce the Republican National Committee into footing the legal costs of the Russia investigation, the bar seems to have been lowered even further. Politicians no longer even pretend to follow the will of their constituents — when you fail to pass a budget because it incorporates a voter-approved tax increase, to whom, exactly, do you think you’re accountable? It’s obviously not Mainers.

But worse than conservatives who have been willing to let their loose-cannon governor “play chicken” for months are the progressive leaders who couldn’t negotiate a compromise budget that continued to promote public health, education reform, or wealth equality. With the local news writing op-ed after op-ed making it clear the shutdown was the result of a crude measuring contest, how did Democrats fail so miserably to stand up for the people who voted them into office?

The short-sighted nature of this budget is going to come calling on Mainers, and I think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. In addition to reinforcing conservative theories that we’re more afraid of being labeled bad guys than holding firm to our principles, we’ve re-emboldened a majority-held Senate to demean and mock our values. Poor people? Who cares, they can just work harder! The mentally ill? Fine, we’ll keep the same, poorly implemented programming we had before! Prevention services designed to improve public health? Cut ‘em — public health is a made-up term anyway!

Here’s the thing — Maine is dying. The median age is 43.5 years old. We can’t retain young people, and our workforce could face a 50,000-person shortage within the next 15 years. One Mainer per day, on average, is lost to the opioid crisis. One-fifth of our children are living in poverty. It means nothing to post signs proclaiming we’re “open for business” when we’re literally shut down, and figuratively governed by a ruler-wielding clown.

Maybe I mean literally in both instances.

I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the political arena, as we know it, is dead. As I was watching the drama unfold at the State House on July 3, I kept coming back to a conversation I had with a friend who lobbies on behalf of progressive causes. She asserted over and over that nothing was certain, that nothing could be guaranteed — that the old ways of governance are dying, and that our fight to reclaim any semblance of democratic process is futile.

Part of me thinks that’s an easy cop out for a woman who bills by the hour. But a greater part of me thinks she’s right. And if the fight is futile, isn’t it time for progressive politicians to change the battleground?


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

Hold On To Your Humanity

About a decade ago, I made a conscious decision to try and be more kind. The choice came on the heels of a particularly nasty argument I’d had with a friend from college, one where my words were so thoughtlessly cruel even I had a hard time being around myself in the following days. In the misery of my self-imposed exile, I decided that I couldn’t continue as I had been, and promised myself I’d work harder at curbing my tongue and deepening my capacity for empathy.

Changing the outward-facing self is hard, and I’ve made terrible mistakes along the way. Additionally, my ability to make substantive changes to the ways in which I approach the world has been tempered by the fact that I was born with an evil super power. Even as a child I was able to see the fault lines along a person’s character — the way a casual, cutting comment about someone’s deepest, obvious insecurity could win an argument while reducing the other person to tear-stained rubble. It’s not a skill I’m proud of, but I’ll admit I’ve used it to great effect when my temper has gotten the better of me.

Over the last several months, I’ve had a tough time keeping the promise I made to myself so many years ago. The instinctual desire to lay waste to everything and everyone around me makes me feel like I’ve reverted into the girl who flayed her friends one by one until she didn’t have many left. It’s a deeply depressing feeling, especially as it seems the external factors influencing this rage are unlikely to change in any meaningful way soon.

Occasionally, though, I’m reminded of the real reasons I made this vow in the first place. It wasn’t just because I felt lousy about myself, although that’s a perfectly fine reason to have made it. Instead, it was due to a larger awakening about my place in the world, and how my little jigsaw piece affects the greater puzzle.

A few weeks ago, I attended a party for some extremely woke folks who are hellbent on changing the world. The discussions I kept overhearing as I wandered around the room were centered around the philosophical obligations to do good, which made it all the more shocking that I found most of the people in the room to be, frankly, mean as snakes. The juxtaposition of high-level conversations about improving the state of our society coupled with almost comically exaggerated sneers and gossip was jarring.

Later that night, I was texting with a friend about the bizarre nature of the meetup, and the disconnect that seems to be growing, rapidly, between political liberalism and personal responsibility. There seems to be this pervasive, pernicious mentality that if you vote and volunteer and write your senator on behalf of disenfranchised communities, you’ve gained enough extra credit to behave like a trash can in your personal life.

It’s nothing new, I know. But if we’ve gained literally nothing else from this spray tan dictatorship, it’s the knowledge that our personal lives do matter. Kindness matters. Empathy matters. The relationships we build with others matter. The ripple effect of our actions have consequences.

Conservatives have long held that a politician’s moral fiber is as important as their ability to govern. Despite their seeming disavowal of that statement — and the intent with which it was once said — I think there’s something to be gleaned from the sentiment for liberal politicians and non-politicians alike. As were mudding our way through this catastrophe, don’t forget the importance of our humanity. In the end, it might be all we have left.
 


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

Why Are Women Still Looking for Witches to Burn?

A few weeks ago, I went to Augusta for “Women’s Day at the State House,” an event presented by the Maine Women’s Alliance. After scouring my closet for the suggested red article of clothing—I found one, but latex is not State House or even outside-of-my-house appropriate—I settled on a black dress and black coat and black leggings because, honestly, that’s just where I’ m living these days.

I think this perpetual mood is best described by a sign I saw at the Women’s March in January. A young woman, whose half-shaved h ead mirrored my own, was carrying a piece of cardboard that read, “We are the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn.” I remember making sligh tly pained eye contact with her,  the way in which only women who are so tired of this shit can.

But the phrase has stuck with me, and I’ve talked about it at length with most of my acquaintances. A few weeks ago, my best friend, who has recently taken up embroidery, proudly showed me a tote bag she’s been making for me with the quote stitched on one side. (My love for the bag, and my friend, is not lessened by the fact that her beginner stitchwork reads closer to, “We are the dogwalkers of the witches you didn’t burn.")

Back at the State House, one of the first panel’s speakers was a lobbyist whose credentials were better than average. She spent her allotted five minutes going over a series of talking points on how to best reach and influence your elected representatives. It was a useful topic, and I thought she delivered her spiel well. A woman sitting next to me, however, pointedly kept her hand raised despite an earlier explanation that a Q&A period would have to wait due to time constraints.

The lobbyist, weary of pretending not to see the raised hand, took the woman’s question, which ended up being more of a snotty statement that disagreed with the speaker’s position on whether to contact state representatives outside your own district—the lobbyist said this wasn’t a good use of time, and could backfire, which is a true and reasonable thing to say.  The woman asking the question, however, found the answer less practical than I did, and muttered under her breath to her friend, “Don’t womansplain to me.” I listened to them cackle in horror.

I’ll freely admit, I laughed out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Our speaker, a progressive woman with plenty of practical experience, offering her expert opinion, couldn’t even find a wholly welcoming audience among the liberal women gathered to support the (now failed) constitutional amendment hoping to enshrine gender equality. The sheer idiocy of the situation, juxtaposed with the reality that liberals are failing miserably to consolidate power, much less halt conservative policy initiatives, nearly left me hysterical.

It’s enough to wonder why, in the middle of one of the most insanely batshit presidencies this country has ever witnessed, liberal women are still finding ways to rat each other out to the Inquisition.  I can’t stomach any more talk about women who voted for Trump, but I can focus on the women with whom I’d hoped to align post-election. Thus far that focus has been particularly disappointing.

Later in the day, it was revealed that Kellyanne Conway was in the building for a discussion with the Governor and Secretary Tom Price about Maine’s opioid epidemic. The Hall of Flags, buzzing with angry women, was suddenly alive with energy. Planned Parenthood signs were distributed, and chants of, “Shame!” could be heard echoing through the State House. In my black dress, I watched the sea of red find solidarity against a new foe.

At least these daughters can recognize a dark witch when they see one.


 

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

 

 

 

Finding Hope With A Seat at the Table

At the end of March, I applied to attend a dinner event promoted by the Treehouse Institute.

As part of a three-month long series known as A Seat at the Table, a concept invented and implemented by Portland's Chanel Lewis, the dinner represented an opportunity to engage in difficult dialogues with fellow Portland residents concerning a variety of issues. The series featured several meet-ups open to the public, occurring in casual spaces with an emphasis on discussing complex social issues. On the final Thursday of the month, an invitation-only dinner was hosted at the Press Hotel.

I met Lewis last year at a networking event for people of colorsponsored by her now-shuttered organization, Represent. Unsurprisingly, there was a small, but vibrant community in attendance. That particular evening introduced me to a number of well-known Portland residents of color, including City Council member at-large Pious Ali, and Roberto Rodriguez, who serves on the Board of Education for Portland Public Schools.

At the time of the networking event, I was freelancing for a national digital outlet, focusing on cultural commentary. Since then, I’ve taken a consulting position at the Maine Youth Action Network (MYAN), hoping to help improve public health by creating opportunities for youth engagement in social justice initiatives. It feels important to mention this only because my approach toward activism has transitioned from personal to professional, leaving me with less incentive to dedicate my free time to activist meetups. A Seat at the Table reminded me I can do both.

Shamefacedly, I’ll admit I only attended one meet-up by Represent. There’s something uniquely awkward and depressing to me about a group of colored folks striving to create a sense of camaraderie in New England, a place that prides itself on being open and affirming while its minority citizens consistently feel alienated and underrepresented. I recognize the importance of the community, but in the wake of the election, I lost most of my drive to do anything other than sulk.

This dinner was different. The topic of conversation was sex, gender, and identity. My friend Shane Diamond, the Executive Director and founder of Speak About It, an organization I recently wrote about for their involvement in directing a service industry-based bystander intervention training (see "Are Portland Bars Safe For Everyone?" in the April 13 issue), was the facilitator.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the dinner felt so successful, but I left rejuvenated in a way that felt almost spiritual. The attendees, chosen by offering seats to people of differing socio-economic status, religion, age, political affiliation, and race, were a group of people trying to have a conversation based on the assumption that all had something to learn at a table with such diverse view points.

The sense of cautious hope I left with has persisted despite this country’s efforts to stamp it out. At the start of the dinner, Lewis mentioned the importance of breaking bread with one another as a symbol of friendship and family, but left out the details of the dinner’s conception. So I asked her a few questions about how she’d come up with the idea, in hopes it might be replicated.

SK: Where did this idea come from?

CL: The idea came from feeling like I was only talking to people [who] thought the way I do. I wanted everyone to have seats at the table.

How is this series being funded?

We have a private funder for the operational costs. Union Restaurant has donated the space and meals for our dinners. We've also received funding from Red Thread!

What are the goals for this series?

To break down silos, talk to people you normally wouldn't about issues that matter to all of us, and to practice listening to understand, rather than listening to agree.

How many people have attended the public meetings so far?

Approximately 70!

Advice for people interested in hosting their own version?

Hit me up! This model is totally replicable and I make all our materials Creative Commons so folks can use it!


For more information about how to host your own event, contact Chanel Lewis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Sultana Khan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Are Portland Bars Safe for Everyone?

“Where are you guys???” The extra question marks at the end of the text are the first hint that something might be wrong.

 

A friend is waiting for us at a bar by himself, while his wife and I amble down Congress Street. We’re late (as usual) but when he meets us outside The Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, his face is marked by a different sort of anxiety, not simple irritation.

 

“There’s a drunk guy who’s been harassing me ever since I got here. Let’s just go somewhere else.” It’s February. My friend has just officially begun using male pronouns, accompanied by a legal name change and a first dose of testosterone.

 

This is a suggestion that does not sit well with my friend’s wife. She is ready to hand me her earrings and teach the man in question a lesson. I am ready for a cocktail. We compromise and head back inside to ask the bartenders to eject him.

 

As we walk inside, my friend scans the crowded room to point out the culprit while a strange hand intimately caresses my buttocks. I turn around, and a man I don’t know is leering at me. A few seconds of disbelief pass before the rage I carry deep inside as a woman has me forcefully pushing him away and yelling at him not to touch me. I am in his face and furious, pounding his chest in an effort to make him understand the singular ownership I have over these fists and every other part of my body.

 

The man is asked to leave shortly thereafter, although the bartenders' initial hesitancy means I’m close to swinging at his smirking face by the time he walks out the door.

 

Throughout the entire ordeal, not a single bar patron intervenes. A week later, a different man calls my friend’s wife a “fucking dyke,” after she politely rejects his repeated advances. She and another female friend are both punched in the head during the ensuing bar fight, this time at Brian Boru.

 

So what is Portland, one of the most restaurant-dense cities in the country, doing to prevent sexual violence and harassment in bars?

 

Unfortunately, not enough.

 

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Last month, at a privately booked fundraising event, an incident at Empire involving a patron and a bouncer made the rounds on social media. According to the patron, a bouncer wouldn't let her close the door to a single-stall bathroom, insisting it was strictly for men, and afterward physically removed her from another part of the bar.

 

The woman in question declined to be quoted when reached for comment, citing social media harassment after her initial post about the incident was widely shared. A manager at Empire requested anonymity, but disputed the sequence of events, claiming video footage cleared the bouncer of wrongdoing. The manager mentioned some possible shifts in policy following the incident, with a focus on improved de-escalation training and gender-balanced shift crews. (The manager also said the bouncer involved is no longer employed by Empire.)

 

In the course of chatting with folks about their experiences with sexual violence at establishments in Portland, I found this kind of discrepancy to be routine. Few people wanted to be quoted, and while rumors of bars where multiple women claimed to have been roofied were shared with me, no one was willing to go on record.

 

It’s hardly surprising, given the small community and competitive nature of Portland’s food scene. Furthermore, particularly when alcohol is involved, it's hard to separate truth and liability from whitewashed public relations strategies. Unfortunately, sexual violence prevention-training is so chronically underfunded that sometimes the best opportunities for change are reliant on corporate branding.

 

Andrew Volk of The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club claims he’s tried to create a culture in his establishment that supports both staff and patrons to intervene when situations arise. “It’s not just a social justice issue, it’s a business issue. Management has to be the one to cultivate this culture of intervention," he says. "If workers are afraid to intervene, for a customer, or themselves, that hurts a business’s ability to create a safe space.”

 

Volk and his wife, Briana, with whom he co-owns the bar, have been trying to bring Safe Bars, a D.C.-based organization dedicated to “training bar staff how to stand up to sexual violence,” to Portland. They are currently fundraising and seeking corporate sponsorship to defray costs for a Safe Bars training.

 

Cara Courchesne, Communications Director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA), says this lack of prevention-based training is definitively linked to the funding structure that exists within the world of anti-sexual assault advocacy.

 

Many federal and state grants, including substantial funding from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, are intervention-oriented — specifically for victims of crime, and responding to their immediate needs. That leaves affordable prevention-based services in high demand, but with limited capacity.

 

In the meantime, one local organization is stepping up to the task. Shane Diamond, founder and Executive Director of Speak About It, a Portland-based nonprofit that partners with high schools and colleges to educate and empower students and their communities to create healthy relationship practices and prevent sexual violence, offered a bystander-intervention training to Volk’s staff and other members of the United States Bartenders Guild last month.  

 

Diamond says it was a no-brainer for Speak About It to facilitate this kind of training, given their focus on equipping students with the tools to talk about consent. A dozen service industry professionals attended the workshop. Both Volk and Diamond hope to offer more trainings.

 

Courchesne pointed out that bystander-intervention and prevention-based trainings are spiking nationally in the wake of the new administration, but they’re mostly for elementary and high school-age students. Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM), one of the most active advocacy organizations in the Portland area, is “booked months in advance” for the educational programs it offers schools.

 

This offers upcoming generations a powerful tool in fighting sexual violence, but it means that many who have aged out of those programs have never even heard about “bystander intervention.”

 

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Late last year, the service industry at large was rocked by the allegations of more than a dozen female service industry workers who shared their stories of sexual violence at the hands of a well-known West Coast barman through a blog, “The Reality of Sexual Assault in the Cocktail Community.” Although the man was never named, the blog became a national clarion call for women in the hospitality industry to expose the rampant sexual harassment and assault they face daily.

 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the restaurant industry is responsible for 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims. According to a report from Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, 80 percent of women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment from customers.

 

Of that 80 percent, more than a third reported it happened on a weekly basis. Two-thirds of the survey’s respondents had been harassed by managers. Transgender and minority workers reported substantially higher rates of sexual harassment and assault.

 

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“Imagine the statistics of sexual violence are an upside-down triangle. At the top, the wide base, are all of the incidents surrounding sexual harassment and assault — street harassment, assault in bars, rape, attempted rape, flashing, groping, etc. The level below that, much smaller, are the incidents that are reported. Below that, the ones that find a prosecutor willing to take the case. Then the ones that actually make it to trial. And finally, the smallest piece of the triangle, at the bottom, are all the cases where a conviction is made, and an offender goes to prison.”

 

Courchesne is trying to answer my question about why statistics about sexual assault and harassment in Maine are so hard to find. Maine doesn’t even have a database for sexual assaults that have been prosecuted, much less data about incidents that never made it to trial.

 

Maine isn’t unique in this, but the lack of data is astonishing — according to a 2015 report from the University of Southern Maine, one in five Mainers will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. The same report claims “14,000 Mainers will experience sexual violence” per year. Yet a Maine Department of Public Safety Report from 2015 found only 373 rapes or attempted rapes were reported to Maine law enforcement that year.

 

Courchesne tells me, “sexual violence is the most underreported violent crime in the United States.” But in some ways, the cultural shifts needed to address the United States’ shockingly high rates of sexual assault are starting to gain traction. Unsurprisingly, however, the legal system continues to lag far behind.

 

Last June, BuzzFeed published a letter written by a sexual assault victim to her attacker, then-Stanford student Brock Turner. The woman’s powerful letter addressing both her own situation and campus rape culture instantly went viral. It was viewed more than 11 million times in four days. It remains the website’s most popular post of all time, outpacing former viral content about Disney princesses and exploding watermelons.

 

Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault but only received six months in prison, sparking outrage and a concentrated effort to remove presiding Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky from the bench. Persky was later cleared of misconduct by an independent commission. Turner served three months of his sentence before receiving an early release.

 

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“I wanted my bar to be a safe space before I knew what that meant.” Nan’l Meiklejohn, owner of The Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, is sitting across from me at Tandem on a sunny morning, slightly rumpled, but eager to share his thoughts about the work that needs to be done in Portland to address what he calls “the kind of aggressive behavior that’s common in bar culture.”

 

The day after I was assaulted, Meiklejohn contacted me via social media. I’d shared my story online, and he was sincerely, believably apologetic that I’d been unsafe in his bar. My experience had sparked a renewed discussion with his staff about intervention and personal safety.

 

I find myself in the odd position of reassuring him that I don’t hold him responsible for my experience. And I don’t — The Jewel Box continues to be one of my regular haunts. I can’t decide if that’s because I find Meiklejohn to be utterly trustworthy when he says he’s been actively looking for ways to actively improve his ability to provide a safe space, or because a few of his recent cocktails have featured lavender bitters, my version of cocktail kryptonite.

 

But he has proof. He forwards me an email from Mackenzie Morris, owner of Étaín Boutique, a Congress Street lingerie shop specializing in “encouraging body-positive attitudes and ... fostering personal empowerment.” It’s dated January 11, nearly a month before my incident at his bar, and the subject line reads “Small Business and Social Justice.” It’s an invitation to form a “network of local business owners who value the humanity, dignity, and safety of marginalized groups and individuals over perceived ‘commercial success’.”

 

The first bullet point on a list of proposed shared goals reads, “Fostering safer spaces and advocating for marginalized groups and individuals, including clientele, employees, and any other members of the community.” Meiklejohn praises Morris’s efforts, saying their letter better articulates the reasons he started The Jewel Box in the first place.


I go to Étaín to ask Morris what that means moving forward. "We've established what we're doing, but it's a work in progress," they say. Meiklejohn says he hopes Morris’s proposed coalition sparks a broader discussion among small businesses in Portland to answer his original question — what does it mean to be a safe space?

 

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I sat down with Diamond to ask for some tips on how to empower bystanders and yourself to intervene in situations where they might be witnessing harassment. Here’s what he told me:

 

  1. Trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable witnessing something, chances are someone else is uncomfortable too. Don’t discount the power of intuition.

  2. Intervention does not have to be confrontational. Offer to escort someone to the bathroom, or to accompany you to get a glass of water. By removing someone from a potentially hazardous situation without confrontation, the likelihood of a physical or verbal altercation immediately decreases.

  3. If you don’t feel comfortable intervening, find someone else with the necessary skill set. It’s perfectly okay to find someone with more experience or presence to help in a hostile situation. It’s not okay to do nothing.

  4. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself quickly from a dangerous or threatening situation. Diamond points out that a bar tab can always be paid the next day. Put your personal safety as a top priority.

  5. If you’re uncomfortable about a situation or environment, talk about it. It’s unlikely you’re alone in your feelings. Is there a bar you’ve heard is notorious for harassment or unsafe behavior? Tell people. It’s the first step towards community-wide change.

  6. Set clear expectations with your friends before going out. This allows everyone to operate within the same set of guidelines even after alcohol or drugs might have become involved.

 

It’s clear from these tips that much of the focus of prevention trainings revolve around clear, open communication. Accountability and change can only come from holding a culture that does little to prevent sexual harassment and violence up to the light. But, as Courchesne says, “There’s no panacea for this. It’s gradual cultural change, and it’s hard work.”

 

[April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For more information about sexual assault services in southern Maine, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA), or Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM).]

 

Ed: An earlier version of this story stated that the Empire bouncer bodily removed the patron from the single-stall bathroom. It's been corrected to reflect that this happened elsewhere in the bar per clarification of the patron, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Stay on the Offensive

A week after the Women’s March on Washington, I self-published a piece that was largely critical of the event.

I’d attended with reservations, noting at its inception that the March was leaving women of color out of the narrative as well as the organizing hierarchy. That changed as the event grew and Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour assumed leadership roles on the March’s national committee, but I retained a healthy dose of skepticism. Unfortunately, my own experience at the March met my low expectations.

Admittedly, it was a staggering thing to witness the sheer mass of humanity roiling over the National Mall. There were certainly moments I felt buoyed by the anonymous camaraderie of the women surrounding me. But under the joy and the anger that brought half a million women to Trump’s new doorstep, there were problems.

Women of color reported micro-aggressions aplenty. Native women spoke of how fellow march attendees snapped photos of their ceremonial garb while refusing to take pamphlets about indigenous rights. Trans women found themselves in a sea of pink hats equating genitalia with womanhood. Intersectional feminism found itself floundering under the weight of 500,000 women’s differences. And I received hate mail for pointing it out. It’s not the first time an anonymous commenter has tried to put me in my place, and it certainly won’t be the last.

While working for a previous employer, I hosted an event that required security because someone threatened to kill me. And while death threats aren’t the norm for most writers, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who hasn’t experienced some form of harassment from readers. What surprised me, however, was not that I received hate mail, but rather who sent it. Self-identified liberals were absolutely furious with me. One reader implied that by criticizing the March, I’d aligned myself with Trump’s agenda.

Another told me there was a “special place in feminist hell” for me after undermining such an important event. Others called me names I simply can’t print here. Last week, following the death blow dealt to the American Health Care Act, I posted an offhand status about how the obsessive gloating being done by Democratic leaders conveniently ignored the fact that we’re in this mess to begin with because they failed to do their job. It felt horrifyingly detached for elected officials to be mocking Paul Ryan on Twitter while some schools are seeing meteoric rises in truancy because immigrant children are afraid they’ll be deported. The criticism poured in.

People messaged me privately to lambast me for raining on the Affordable Care Act’s victory parade. A casual acquaintance went so far as to tell me she was tired of reading my gloom-and-doom take on the politics and then blocked my account. (I’d like to point out I also posted a photo of my dog in honor of National Puppy Day, so I resent the implication that I’m doing nothing more than making snarky commentary about the current political climate. I make time for baby animals, too.)

It’s these moments that give me pause. Not because I’m offended by the criticism, but because they remind me that change does not come easily or with kind words. My solidarity cannot be assumed, it must be earned.

Over the course of the next few years, liberal communities will find plenty to disagree about —debate is healthy.

But if you find yourself being scolded for your tone, or for voicing an unpopular opinion, remind yourself that personal criticisms may mean you’re doing the work many others don’t have the heart to do. I wish you the best of luck in offending your compatriots.

Killer Mike and Chance David Baker

Last week, as I was leaving a lousy Tinder date at the Top of the East, I ran into Michael Render in an elevator at the Westin. Better known as Killer Mike, one-half of the critically acclaimed hip-hop duo Run the Jewels (RTJ), Mike became a familiar figure to less rap-inclined voters after endorsing Bernie Sanders in last year’s primaries. His enthusiastic support led to viral talk show appearances where he spoke passionately about racial justice, economic reform, and weed legalization while stumping for Sanders. One particularly charming interview with Stephen Colbert has been viewed more than two million times.

So it was with great enthusiasm I accepted Killer Mike’s offer for a ticket to the sold-out show at the State Theatre. His manager, Joe, kindly texted my name to someone ten minutes before show time and I managed to sneak in and find a spot in front of a very tall man with a beer in both hands.

 

I’ll start off by saying the show itself was dope. RTJ knows how to put on a performance. Mike and his RTJ collaborator, Jaime Meline — stage name El-P — were tight as hell and the energy was electric. But it’s not in my nature to attend a rap concert where an overwhelmingly caucasian audience is throwing up the fist and gun symbol for which the group are known, without asking some questions.

That’s how I found myself outside asking fellow smokers how they felt about the death of Chance David Baker, the 22-year-old man fatally shot by Portland police officer Sgt. Nicholas Goodman earlier this month after brandishing a pellet gun in a public plaza. I’m fun at parties.

After speaking with 15 or so people outside the venue, I went back inside, discouraged. Not a single person I spoke with had heard about the shooting. When I asked one couple how they felt about Police Chief Michael Sauschuck’s comments about the “politicization” of Baker’s death to fast-track body cameras, they replied that they were just there to enjoy the music.

Ok.

Hip-hop is, and always has been, a powerful way to protest police brutality and the prison-industrial complex — N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton came out nearly 30 years ago. And RTJ’s latest album, Run the Jewels 3, doesn’t shy away from political rhetoric. On “Talk to Me,” Mike’s intro mentions the Devil who “wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.” Later in the same verse he raps, “Born Black, that's dead on arrival / My job is to fight for survival / In spite of these #AllLivesMatter-ass white folk.”

It’s hard to imagine a world in which one could be an RTJ fan and an #AllLivesMatter enthusiast, although I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few in the crowd, given my brief stint as a crowd pollster. But maybe it’s a better indication of the change white liberals are undergoing that RTJ could host a sold-out show in Portland, Maine. Would a hip-hop duo rapping about “white folk” have found an audience here 10 years ago? Unfortunately, I don’t think any of that matters. The current climate of violence and harassment won’t allow for another 10-year-long shift in perspective.

As a person of color, my impatience with white-centric liberalism feels particularly raw right now. Much of the despair and anguish felt by the white liberal community following President Trump’s election has been a daily part of life for disenfranchised communities for many years. I know this sentiment has been written about ad nauseam, although I don’t feel the least bit guilty repeating it, particularly after Chance David Baker’s death went unremarked by so many in Portland. Here’s hoping the next time RTJ comes to town, people will attend not just for the music, but the message.

Alternate Activism

If there were any remaining doubts about the veracity of President Trump’s campaign promises, they have been quickly dismissed by the past weeks’ events.

Executive orders targeting refugees, “sanctuary” cities, the Dakota Access and KeystonePipelines, the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Mexico City policy (also known as the Global Gag rule), and the border wall, among others, sparked global outrage. It was both heartening and incredibly depressing to see the scale of our indignation played out in airports and street corners across the country this weekend. It has finally become clear that we no longer have the luxury of our complacency; protest is now a necessity.

But protesting alone is not a sustainable long-term strategy. This administration did not come to fruition by chance. It capitalized on systemic oppression and the seeds of white middle-class discontent sown years ago. It is dangerous, frankly, to underestimate the level of strategy that has gone into harvesting the fear and anger that continue to plague middle America as major industries move to automate production and their way of life disappears. We must counteract accordingly.

At the Women’s March on Washington, the sheer number of people shouting, “This is what democracy looks like,” gave strength to the notion that we’re in this together — the earth shook a little on January 21, 2017. But speakers at both the Women’s March in D.C. earlier this month and the Portland Jetport last Sunday (as 1500 people protested Trump’s proposed Muslim immigration ban) voiced the same point — this is going to be a long fight. We’re not just preparing ourselves for four years of Donald Trump, we’re gearing up for a lifetime of fighting fascism. We must have a cohesive strategy to stamp out the bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and systemic oppression that destabilize this country.

That process has already begun in many ways. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported a record $24.1M in donations this weekend. A pivotal component of activism must be continued funding of organizations like the ACLU, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), EarthJustice, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the Native American Rights Fund, among others. These national organizations ensure we are representing the interests of our most vulnerable populations facing immediate hardship by this administration. They are essential to our resistance.

We must also work locally. We must support Maine-based organizations like the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, EqualityMaine, the Southern Maine Workers' Center, and the Maine Justice Foundation, among many others. There are Maine-based chapters of national organizations that require our time, money, and attention. Local advocacy is integral to substantive change.

We must hold local and state representatives accountable. We must support an ever-skeptical and robust media. We must recognize our own levels of privilege and champion those who do not possess the same status. We must engage in our civic duty by attending city council meetings. We must have uncomfortable conversations about race and oppression. We must educate ourselves about the role our nation plays in the global economy and the responsibilities that accompany our successes and our failures. We must focus our energy on sustainable action.

We must become citizens.

And perhaps most importantly, after a week of protesting assaults on our democracy, we must practice self-care. Physically and mentally, we must prepare ourselves for a test in endurance. After reading this column, take deep breaths and turn off your social media accounts. Make tea. Read a lighthearted novel. Go for a walk. Knit. Meditate. Do the hokey pokey.

Because tomorrow, and every day from here on out, we’ll be resisting, and we need allies who can fight.

The Rules of Engagement: Stand As An Ally

The coming year promises to be a tumultuous time for our country and our state. Few can remember a recent time when the gap between political parties, and the rhetoric that defines them, has ever felt so uncompromisingly divisive. Our collective pride as a nation seems to be crumbling under the weight of our differences and our lack of self-awareness. The future seems bleakly overshadowed by loud voices seeking to outshout one another.

In the coming months, I’ll be using this new column to both listen and speak on the importance of shared perspective. I hope to discuss the avenues through which we can enact change and find common ground. I’ll focus on the reality of what it means to be an effective ally, collaborator, or partner.

These roles, particularly for a population like Maine’s, where disenfranchised and minority communities represent such a small portion of the demographic, are going to be vital in the coming months and years — the ways in which we treat people without access to power are indicative of our society’s morality. Developing a frame of reference for our actions is no less important than actual activism.

Amidst the calls for unity and civility, for reaching across the aisle, are legitimate concerns regarding the normalization of bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and sexism. This space won’t seek to legitimize hate or intolerance. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1000 bias-related harassment or intimidation incidents were reported in the month following the election.

As a writer, a woman, and a person of color, particularly one of Muslim heritage, I’m acutely aware of these incidents on both a local and national scale, especially as a relative newcomer to Maine.

After nearly a decade spent in bustling cities on both coasts, it’s a joyous thing to be greeted by the clean smell of pine and sea salt every morning. This return to New England has reminded me of the values of my childhood — there is comfort in listening to the familiar accents of my new neighbors. I find their fierce self-sufficiency incredibly soothing.

My slow discovery of this city during winter, when it is uncluttered by tourists, has been a pleasure. From the perspective-challenging panels hosted at SPACE Gallery to the gifted local musical talent showcased at Portland House of Music to the stellar reputation of Portland’s food and drink scene — it’s almost enough to make me consider becoming a food critic rather than the cultural and political blogger I’ve been for the last several years.

Almost.

My love for New England has been tempered by the fact that in Portland, I don’t have the benefit of anonymity. Strangers stop to ask my ethnic background or try to speak to me in Spanish, while others offer sincere but truly offensive “compliments” on my unusual name.

Every sly mention that I must be “from away” has shuttered some of the camaraderie I have felt being back amongst my fellow New Englanders. In my home state of Vermont, "from away" is placed with "flatlander”—we take our green mountains seriously. My time spent in New Hampshire has mostly been hiking in the Whites, where people generally do you the favor of a simple, curt nod to conserve breath, but I’m sure there’s an equivalent phrase that fulfills the same purpose—to separate us from one another.

I’ve been mulling over that phrase, “from away”, ever since I moved here. It’s certainly taken on new context given the upcoming administration, but it’s also given me some perspective on the entrenched ideals that make New England such a unique place to call home. For so many of us, the phrase “from away” is nothing more than a cute term to differentiate ourselves from people who have never worn Muck boots. To others, it’s alienating and disheartening.

Perhaps it’s time to create a new language for how to identify our differences and our similarities.

I’m looking forward to having these conversations with Mainers, the ones who were born here and the ones who have adopted this state as their home.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I look forward to hearing from you and facilitating the frank discussions that will help us grow. I wish us all a happy New Year. 

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