On Tuesday morning a candidate’s forum was held at the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland. The event was put on by the advocacy group, Homeless Voices for Justice (HVJ).
HVJ has several candidates for different level seats slated for appearances at Preble Street in the next month (including Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler, but not LePage- go figure), but today featured the State Senate and State Representative races for districts 27 and 119, respectively. Preble Street falls in each district, so seeing as how many of the folks who use the shelter’s services also use the address as their primary place of residency, the candidates weren’t merely there for a photo op (which is good for them, because I was the only member of the “media” who was present).
For those of you unaware, homeless people in Maine are allowed to vote as long as they’re registered like anyone else, and this year marks the 20th year of the “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” campaign in which Preble Street staff members, volunteers, and activists encourage homeless people to involve themselves in our democracy and make their voices heard at the voting booths.
Much of the work for “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” is done by currently and formerly homeless people, and the results can be powerful.
Even the most stubborn, determined homeless person can be beaten down by the stigmatization that society casts at them, which is why so many folks going through hard times tend to lose confidence in themselves and in their own abilities to pick themselves back up.
Millions of Americans sadly take for granted their right to vote, but for someone whose self worth is faltering or diminished, the realization that- at least in the voting booth- their voice counts for as much as anyone else’s is powerful, and can even become a catalyst for change in someone’s own self-image and life trajectory.
So the forum gives folks, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to address candidates with direct concerns and questions. It also allows for the candidates to see first-hand just how hard life can be for those living in the most extreme levels of poverty- and that’s why the fact that neither of the Republican candidates chose to appear at the forum is so troubling- compounded by the fact that Governor LePage will not be making an appearance, and also that historically GOP candidates who have been invited to participate by HVJ have either outright declined or RSVP’d “yes” only to pull a no-show on the day of the event.
In attendance today was Justin Alfond, the high profile Democrat running for re-election to district 27’s state senate seat; Asher Platts, the thickly bearded, passionate Green Party activist hoping to unseat Alfond; Ben Chipman, the well liked Independent seeking re-election to district 119’s state representative seat; and Democrat Herb Adams, the eloquent, beloved local historian seeking to reclaim his seat after relinquishing it to Chipman due to term limits in 2010.
It was an interesting debate, one that left several people proclaiming, “I wish I could vote for all for of you!”
But for me the biggest highlight (or letdown) was the fact that Republican Mark Lockman’s (running against Chipman and Adams), and Republican Peter Doyle’s (running against Alfond and Platts) seats sat empty.
We hear a lot of convoluted justification from conservatives these days attempting to explain their harsh ideologies towards the homeless, poor, and marginalized. We hear about offering “hand ups” instead of “hand outs”, we hear about how folks should be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or just simply “get a job”.
We hear from the GOP about how welfare “enables” struggling people with “nanny state” programs. We hear about how liberals true goal is not to help marginalized people, but rather to create a class of people dependent on government programs.
But when the time comes to actually interact with the people that Governor LePage- along with the rest of the Maine GOP- has made a political doormat for the past four years, Republican candidates are nowhere to be found.
Until that changes- until members of the GOP actually begin to make an effort to truly understand the struggles faced on a daily basis by the people who they are so willing to scapegoat- excuses made by Republicans for their elitist, harmful, backwards attitudes and actions against the poor will continued to be filed in the minds of rational, compassionate people as complete and utter nonsense.