pol•i•tics noun the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power
— Oxford Languages
Enough is Enough, the Portland political group formed to oppose all the referendum questions on the city ballot this fall, claims it has seen the enemy, and the enemy is … politics.
That might seem an odd boogeyman for a political organization to oppose, but very little of what Enough is Enough says makes sense. That’s by design — most likely the design of the corporate lobbying firm it hired to manage its messaging, Cornerstone Government Affairs, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Writing on its website in opposition to ballot Question 2, which would give Portland’s elected mayor executive authorities currently held by its unelected city manager, Enough is Enough claims the change would “empower a strong boss mayor [emphasis theirs] who would insert politics into the everyday management of the city’s programs and services,” thus “politicizing City Hall.”
The group would have us believe, in other words, that city managers are pure bureaucrats immune to the sinful temptations of political thought. This is an absurd idea on several levels. Allow me to explain.
First off, it is not the unavoidable destiny of the United States of America, the State of Maine or the City of Portland that huge numbers of its people should be homeless or housing insecure, suffering from addictions and mental illness without access to care, impoverished and alienated from their community. Collectively, we have the money and the means to eradicate all those problems and many more, and to do so in short order. The fact our government refuses to do so is a political decision, not a law of physics or divine ordination. (To the contrary, the gods of most mainstream religions demand those problems be solved for all.)
Secondly, can anyone claim with a straight face that former Portland city manager Jon Jennings was apolitical? The dude ran for Congress as a pro-gun, anti-choice Democrat, and served in the Clinton administration. He wrote budgets, hired or fired people, and oversaw the running of city government with a keen awareness of what his “bosses” on the City Council — politicians all — wanted him to do.
What Enough is Enough really objects to is the second part of that definition, “the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” That’s understandable, given that the people behind Enough is Enough are landlords, real estate developers and Chamber of Commerce business big wigs (the people in town who have economic power), joined by politicians who used to have political power but now fear they’re being usurped (they are).
These are the people most responsible for the terrible mess we’re in. They made and still make the day-to-day political and financial decisions that cause solvable problems to fester. They are to blame, so rather than blame themselves (or take any responsibility), they blame “politics,” which in this case is embodied by dispossessed Portlanders determined to wrest power from them in order to empower the people suffering under their mismanagement.
To be clear, what Enough is Enough opposes are citizen-initiated referendum questions and city governance changes proposed and passed by the popularly elected Charter Commission. Everyday people, not professional politicians, are behind these measures. There’s nothing more democratic than that. To oppose this “meddling” by the public in its own affairs, and to insist, as Enough is Enough does, that these decisions be reserved for a small group of elected and unelected officials is anti-democratic — and, as Samuel James so powerfully argues in this month’s cover story, more than a little white supremacist.
Indeed, some of Enough is Enough’s propaganda could have been ripped straight out of the Ku Klux Klan’s playbook, including anti-communist red-baiting and racist dog whistles akin to the notorious “Willie Horton ad” run by President George H.W. Bush’s campaign.
A video the group posted on social media last month seeks to tie all the ballot questions to the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which supports most of the citizen-initiated referenda. It associates the measures with calls to “free all convicts” and “seize private property,” neither of which pertain to any of the questions at hand, but both of which scare the owners of private property and the frightened TV-news-watching supporters of their utterly failed and inhumane criminal punishment system. (By the way, it’s the government, cops and banks that “seize private property,” through criminal and civil asset forfeiture, foreclosure, eminent domain and other means, not Ethan freakin’ Strimling, who’s barely holding on to his own crummy little apartment these days because his slumlord tried to evict him for opening a window on a warm spring day.)
Oh, and that graphic of a fist in the video? That is specifically a Black Power symbol. Enough is Enough wants you to think Black Power is scary, too. These fuckers are basically Klansmen minus the laundry.
The Maine DSA should be commended for reviving interest in local government among the people of Portland. I’ve spent decades covering city meetings where nary a member of the public was present. Look for yourself at the abysmally low turnout rates for school budget votes and other municipal elections. Democracy, that ain’t.
Thanks to the DSA, more locals are waking up and asking hard questions, challenging the narrative — ceaselessly promoted by mainstream politicians and media — that the current state of affairs is just the way life is, subject to minor improvements, perhaps, but fundamentally unchangeable. The housing policies that leave thousands in the cold, the public health systems that sicken and kill us, the crime-fighting measures that don’t stop or solve crime — all of this bullshit is being called out.
This is not to say the DSA is infallible. Though I personally support their initiative to limit short-term (e.g., Airbnb) rentals to owner- or tenant-occupied properties (Questions A and B), as well as the renter protections in Question C, the group has already had to walk back its support of Question E (limits on the size of cruise ships). And Question D, which would raise the minimum wage but also eliminate the “tipped” or “sub-minimum” wage paid to some hospitality workers, is a very bad idea for Portland.
Our city’s much-heralded restaurants and bars are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and its associated labor shortage. Forcing the owners of those businesses to suddenly pay a lot more for labor will cause some to close their doors, cut staff, or rely on automation and impersonal counter service. Supporters of Question D point to the handful of states (mostly out West) that eliminated the tipped wage years ago, and where servers still get tips. But Portland is a city, not a state, and this measure creates a very uneven playing field in Maine’s hospitality industry, providing strong incentives for restaurant and bar owners, as well as workers, to do business in other towns.
I know a lot of bar and restaurant owners in Portland (I also sell the ads in this mag) and hundreds of workers in the industry (I love to drink and eat out), and I’ve yet to meet one who supports Question D. The people Question D is designed to help — the workers — are terrified of its consequences. Sure, some patrons will still tip, and no, no one can really say how customers will respond to this in the future. But knowing their tips are no longer necessary to provide servers a “livable wage” (whatever that is), who can doubt that, overall, people will tip substantially less? Employers have always been required to ensure servers are paid at least the full minimum wage, making up the difference if tips don’t. So the predictable reduction in tips will effectively be a pay cut, prompting more workers to ditch Portland’s food scene.
The eight questions put forward by the Charter Commission are all worthy of passage, in my opinion. They aim to enhance and expand democracy — like Question 3, which establishes a clean elections fund and bans corporate contributions to city campaigns, and the provision in Question 2 that calls for more public participation in the city budget process.
Question 7, which would make Portland cops more accountable to the public through the creation of a Civilian Police Review Board, is also a very important measure to pass. The current review process is severely limited in scope and effectiveness.
Enough is Enough’s opposition to this measure is a telling example of its establishment backers’ disdain for the popular will. The call to make police in Portland and elsewhere more accountable for their actions almost literally could not have been louder around here two years ago, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Yet city leaders have done jack shit to stop abusive police practices or shift money in the police budget to programs that would actually reduce crime, like public housing, drug treatment and social services. When the people, through their chosen charter commissioners, put forward even this modest proposal, Enough is Enough responds as though we’re demanding prison abolition. (I am, but most of the public is not yet aboard the abolition train; give us a couple more years…)
To quote a famous sign seen at an Occupy Wall Street protest, “Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit.” This situation demands people engage in politics, that we “debate” and have “conflict” (non-violent, that is) over the use of state “power.” The powers-that-be (or –were) backing Enough is Enough don’t want to have those debates, because to do so might meaningfully change the current state of affairs — one that, while miserable for the masses, is plenty comfortable for them.
Portland can’t solve all its problems itself. Some of the biggest, like rampant homelessness and the deadly opioid epidemic, require state or federal funds (e.g., to build quality public housing and provide free and convenient drug treatment). The same city “leaders” (past and present) who support Enough is Enough have been unwilling to publicly pressure state and federal officials to cough up the cash necessary to end these scourges, even when those officials are in the rival political party. I guess they don’t want to seem too political while fellow human beings drop dead from preventable afflictions all over town.
Enough really is enough.
Chris Busby is the editor of Mainer.