Notes on Lewiston


Photo: Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Historic Oppression of Immigrant Groups in Maine

Maine has a sad history when it comes to racism and xenophobia. In the early 1900s Maine had over 150,000 active members of the KKK, more than all but a few of the states in the South. It was Franco-Americans who bore the brunt of their attacks, but the Irish Catholics were also a target. Today it is the National Alliance and the World Church of the Creator who are attempting to carry on the historic legacy of the Klan in Maine. These racists are anti-chistrian, anti-semitic, racist, sexist, and homophobic to their core. They are just as violent as the Klan of old and are seeking to regain the numbers they once had. They provide no real answers to the problems of lack of affordable housing, shrinking job market, and sagging education system. Instead they seek to divide communities and plant seeds of hatred. We must not allow this to occur in our communities.

Jobs and the Economy

The communities of Lewiston and Auburn are just two of the many mill and mining towns that have suffered from economic downturn over the past 30 years. Not long ago, communities like Lewiston, Maine were places where proud, hard-working people could find a decent job and raise their children comfortably. Unfortunately, the government has chosen a different path for the working class. By selling us out to corporations who, under NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO), have sent our jobs overseas, it is free trade and neo-liberal policies that have caused our economic suffering. Business Week estimates that over 780,000 jobs, many of them in the textile and manufacturing industries, have been shipped South of the Border since NAFTA's creation. Countless of other good jobs have been lost due to our involvement with the WTO, World Bank, and IMF. The destruction of our working-class communities is not part of a natural cycle, rather it has been part of a plan by big business, the wealthy elites, and our government who, instead of rejuvenating our de-industrialized towns, are content to make money off the backs of the poor. While our communities suffer, our families are strained, and our jobs disappear the government continues to turn its back on us. The vibrant communities that brought the Irish-Americans and the Franco-Americans to Lewiston many decades ago have been attacked by neo-liberalism and free trade. This is not a problem caused by too many people moving to Lewiston, but rather a problem of too many jobs leaving Lewiston. We need to organize our workplaces and resist corporate globalization while at the same time welcoming new people to the community.

Housing

Rents are rising in Lewiston and this is making it hard for working people to make ends meet. These rising rents are not the result of new immigration, but rather a result of greedy landlords and a lack of subsidized housing. The population of Lewiston is decreasing, but because the city has torn down many of the subsidized housing developments that once kept rent low and put roofs over the heads of the poor, the housing market remains tight.

Furthermore, there are still about 1,000 vacant units in Lewiston, more than enough to comfortably house every member of the community. The problem is that most people simply can't afford to live in them. While the landlords make out like bandits, the working people of Lewiston are left out in the cold. The only way to fight this problem is if all Lewiston residents band together and demand lower rents, increased subsidized housing, and rent control. The power must be taken away from the landlords, housing speculators, and wealthy elites and given back to the tennants. Rather than create false divisions along racial, ethnic, or linguistic lines, we must come together to fight for affordable housing.

Welfare

The facts about the state of welfare in Maine are being distorted by the government and hate groups, such as the National Alliance, in order to create a division among the working people of Lewiston. The reality is that our government has cut welfare benefits by more than half over the past decade and the majority of people receiving such benefits are actually poor whites. Right now in Lewiston, according to the Press Herald, there are only about 250 working-age Somalis receiving welfare benefits in Lewiston. This is not a burden on the tax base of Lewiston. In fact, there benefits represent a small percentage of the total spent on welfare in the Lewiston community.

Education

The recent immigration of Somali refugees into Lewiston has actually helped the education system. An additional state subsidy of $1.2 million dollars was given to Lewiston, despite the fact that the total student population has dropped by about 17% in the last decade. In comparison, Portland, Maine lost about $1.8 million in aide during this time. Furthermore, an addition $250,000 in grants have gone to higher additional staff in the schools. Much of this money has been made available because of the Somali immigration.

Militarization

It is strange that while our communities are struggling to make ends meet and our families end up with too many bills on the first of the month, our government is willing to wage an endless war that is costing the American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars. The fuel costs alone for the proposed invasion of Iraq could pay for welfare in the entire United States. Each smart bomb dropped could be turned into a school for our children. Each stealth bomber we build could feed every hungry person in the United States for the rest of their lives. Our country is making choices and they are not choosing healthcare, education, job security, and housing. The government is turning its back on the people of Lewiston and hard-working people all over the country in order to wage a war without end. We must work to make sure that our priorities change. People must be put before profits. Education and healthcare must be put before tanks and guns.

The Somali residents of Lewiston are your neighbors and co-workers. They play with your children at school and attend PTA meetings. They are a part of the Lewiston community. It is up to the people of Lewiston to work together in order to ensure that the needs of all Lewiston residents, regardless of race or ethnicity, are met.

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