What I learned working for the Maine People’s Alliance

In the past couple of weeks, various characters from Maine’s right-wing crazy brigade have made it their mission to destroy the reputation of the Maine People’s Alliance and have even gone as far as calling for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud to “denounce” the grassroots, liberal organization.

On May 7, the Maine Republican Party put out a press release titled “Maine GOP Calls on Michaud to Denounce Maine People’s Alliance”. In the release they refer to the MPA as “extremist” and “radical”, accusing the organization of “launching vicious attacks and doing misdeeds across the state”.

Two days later, fellow BDN blogger Mike Tipping fired back in defense of the MPA, who he serves for as Communications Director.

What the argument boils down to is a bunch of Republicans attempting to undermine Michaud’s campaign while destroying the credibility of one of Maine’s most important and influential liberal organizations.

If anyone reads the two links provided above, it’s easy to see that in their attempt to shoot a fly out of the air, the Maine GOP missed badly.

They have no legitimate gripe, they are grasping at straws because they know that of the roughly 38% percent of Maine voters who still support Governor LePage- facts are not important to them, they fall for inflammatory rhetoric like a seagull falls for rotten herring.

The reason I decided to write about the whole thing is because I have a pretty unique perspective on it- I worked for the MPA for a few months in the winter of 2012.

That's me (front left) in 2012 participating in the Maine People's Alliance "rally day" at the State House in Augusta.

That’s me (front left) in 2012 participating in the Maine People’s Alliance “rally day” at the State House in Augusta.

Of course, that was before I had ever even thought about running for city council or writing for local newspapers. At the time the above picture was taken I was just beginning to understand the frustrating ineptitude of partisan politics. I only worked at MPA for a short time, but in that time I was lucky enough to have the chance to participate in their annual “rally day” at the State House in Augusta.

The rally day was really exciting, not only did we get paid for attending, but we also got to meet with several state legislators and discuss various issues with them.

I should point out that not everyone who shows up for rally day to support the MPA gets paid to be there, the event attracts a lot of volunteers as well.

Even though rally day was a lot of fun, the normal job duties were a lot more mundane. My job title was “phone organizer”, which is a fancy way of saying “person who calls people and asks for donations”. Basically a bunch of us would sit in a room and hammer out calls to MPA members to talk about current projects, get them to call their elected officials to express their opinions about specific pieces of legislation, and- most importantly- ask them for money.

We would get lists with names and phone numbers on them, and there was information showing how much each person had given in the past. I don’t remember the way the incentives broke down, but the more we raised the more we were paid.

In other words, we got paid commission on the donations that we raised.

It’s not like we were supposed to keep that a secret or anything though, I remember many times explaining the pay structure to potential donors. They all understood the way it worked, that in order for an organization like MPA to function effectively they need donations to help cover the cost of paying its workers.

So the MPA benefits from this type of pay structure in two ways- the donations help to cover overhead, and the commission incentives ensure that their fundraisers are working hard to raise as much money as possible.

I don’t remember any specific numbers, but on my best nights for fundraising I think I made about fifteen bucks an hour. You had to meet a certain quota in order for the commission incentives to kick in, and if you didn’t meet the quota your pay dropped down to either minimum wage or very close to it. I usually met the quota, but I still had my share of disappointing shifts.

Of course, I can’t speak for the leadership that’s there now, but during the small window of time that I worked there all of the people above me on the hierarchy were friendly, professional, and respectful.

As the winter of 2012 turned into spring I was lucky enough to get a job offer to work on a local lobster boat. I took the job, and still have it today. I love lobstering, but my passion remains in activism and advocacy for marginalized people. My time working at the MPA didn’t just help to shape my outlook on politics, it opened my eyes to the dishonesty of political institutions and the fallibility of elected officials.

When I told my supervisors at MPA about the offer for the job on the boat they congratulated me, I was really excited and they were really supportive.

I was disappointed by them about a year later though. My Captain had to haul the boat out of the water and get her worked on for repairs in the winter of 2013. The job was expected to take a few months (it took almost five), so I started looking for part time work to help pay the bills until we were back on the water.

I noticed that the MPA was hiring for part time phone organizers, so I figured it’d be a sure thing if I applied. Unfortunately I didn’t get the job, and I’m sure whoever did get it was deserving, but the really frustrating thing was that no one from the MPA took the time to tell me I hadn’t gotten the job and it took me several attempts just to get a definitive “no” from anyone.

Even more frustrating was the mass emails that I continued to receive from Tipping asking for money. When I finally had enough after a few months I sent Tipping an email explaining that I didn’t appreciate the fact that no one could get back to me about the job application but they still managed to find time to ask me for donations. I never heard back from Tipping, but I also never got another email from him asking for money.

Still, regardless of any of that, my time working at the MPA was beneficial to my development as a person and as a politically minded writer. I would encourage anyone interested to visit their website, mainepeoplesalliance.org, and also to click the two links provided above to Tipping’s article and to the GOP’s press release if you haven’t already.

I hope this story helps to shed some light on the subject through an objective lens.

Contrary to what the Maine GOP would like you to think, the Maine People’s Alliance is not an extreme or radical group. Their employees are good people who work hard for an honest paycheck, their supporters are well intended people who understand the value of activism, and their presence as an organization is vital to progressive causes in Maine.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.