Hello all! After a long hiatus, I am writing again. Why I stopped for so long–that’s a story for another time. For now, here is a new piece for a new year in Maine Beacon. The question: how do we find political hope when it seems like so few of our politicians actually listen to our voices? Thank you to Maine Senator Susan Collins for providing the perfect example for this article. Despite massive public outrage from Mainers (and the world), she chose to support the immoral Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. She voted with her party, not with her people. What do we do now? Read on!
Before the snow, outrage covered Maine after Senator Susan Collins betrayed her constituents with a vote for the immoral Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This bill profits the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. Senator Collins was one of the key Republican votes that could have jeopardized, if not halted, this legislation. Citizens across Maine used every tool in our power to pressure Collins. Still, she announced her support of the bill. What do we do now? How do we find political hope in 2018 when there is no evidence that our voices will be heard? We no longer operate in the age of politics-as-usual. Elected officials and grassroots movement must re-conceptualize how we engage with politics if we are to survive, let alone thrive, in the twenty-first century.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the most sweeping change to the tax code in thirty years, symbolizes the triumph of Trump’s plutocratic political agenda. Corporate tax rates will drop from 35% to 21%. In 2019, the poorest Americans will receive a 54% tax cut ($60) while the richest Americans will benefit from a 91% tax cut ($51,140). In 2027, the poorest Americans will see a 33% tax increase ($30), as the richest Americans continue to enjoy a 76% tax break of $20,660 a year. Thirteen million Americans could lose health insurance. Billions will be cut from public service programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is open for oil drilling.
Mainers mobilized massive public pressure against Senator Collins as her support for the bill became clear. Multiple sit-insoccupied her Maine and D.C. offices. Dozens of Mainers were arrested for participating in these peaceful actions. Some waited for Collins at the Bangor Airport with backs turned. Others made “Darth Traitor” shirts featuring her face. Small business owners took a stand. Progressive organizations that represent thousands of Mainers opposed the bill. Thousands more called her offices, wrote her letters, published LTE’s. Rachel Maddow called our state’s response “unimaginably loud.”
No matter how many Mainers took action, Collins looked the other way. She made a deal with the devil, a classic Faustian bargain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to include two of her amendments that she claimed would alleviate some of the bill’s harsher impacts on health care and pledged a vote on Collins’ amendments by the end of 2017. Collins told the press: “‘I have a personal commitment that that [Medicare cuts] will not occur, and that has been discussed with Paul Ryan on the House side.” She added, “If it were to occur, I wouldn’t even be considering voting for this bill.’” As if there weren’t other reasons to oppose this bill! Unsurprisingly, Collins’ promises are on hold. Already, her amendments will not see a vote until 2018.
Senator Collins banked her integrity and morality on the word of individuals who are hell bent to profit from as much pain and destruction as possible. Why? Maybe she truly believed that McConnell would keep his word, making her very naive. Or perhaps she had other reasons to support the bill and used the amendments to save face. Either way, Collins betrayed the people of Maine.
I could wrap my head around Collins’ political (although immoral) maneuvering if we lived in normal times. Politicians master the art of trade-offs with negotiation, deal-making, and compromise. But we do not live in the age of politics-as-usual. President Donald Trump lied his way to the White House, and his agenda is built on lies. Collins’ mistake was not to negotiate but to negotiate with a new political force for whom the rejection of fact and simple decency is an ideological necessity. Her mistake was to think that people and planet could afford just one more political sellout. But there is no room for error in this age. Her epic political miscalculation may cost her everything.
Yet with darkness comes light. The past few months showcased Maine’s growing capacity for political resistance. Mainers from all walks of life stood up for justice and called on Collins to do the same. We have laid the foundation for a robust diverse social movement in Maine. Our aim now must be to turn this new momentum into a movement that no Maine politician can ignore. We must use it to stoke our networks, grow our coalitions, construct shared values and policy frameworks, and launch rapid response actions. If we do this well, today’s momentum can become a movement that empowers Mainers to reclaim our democracy.
As we build our movement, we also need the power of local politics. Mainers need to run for office at every level of government. We must support candidates—like former Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin—who confront hatred and division. We can also be proactive. Our citizen power can push forth initiatives that better our communities—from statewide ballot referenda like Universal Home Care to local ordinances like the Clear Skies Ordinance in South Portland that single-handedly blocked the flow of tar sands across New England. Progressive local politics combined with a coordinated strategic movement to hold our elected leaders accountable could one day ensure that Mainers’ are no longer ignored.
Our time requires both politicians and grassroots movements to master a different way of thinking, acting, and being. We cannot let this moment in history be defined by Trump’s cynical manipulation of anger into hate. We can define our age with love, hope, and creativity. I found hope in working on Ben Chin’s campaign, using the power of our towns, villages, and neighborhoods to start new conversations and think about our lives in a different way. I find hope in the growing number of Mainers who are willing to stand up for our longstanding values of fairness, equality, and community. It’s not that long ago that Maine was “the way life should be.” It can be again.