Calling it the “most important election in the modern history of the United States of America,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and local progressive leaders and activists urged Mainers to do their part to help generate massive voter turnout, saying at a virtual town meeting Wednesday that Maine’s four electoral votes could make the difference in defeating President Donald Trump.
“We now have a president who is an unmitigated disaster, and we cannot take four more years of Donald Trump,” Sanders said.
He said Trump’s refusal to listen to science in the midst of a global pandemic is unconscionable, noting that getting COVID-19 under control is essential to improving the dire straits many Americans find themselves in.
“Millions of people have lost their jobs, they’re struggling to feed their families tonight, they’re struggling to pay the rent and they’re in desperate economic condition,” Sanders said.
Given Trump’s botched response to the pandemic, his racism, his refusal to say whether he will cede power willingly and a plethora of other reasons, Sanders — who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination before withdrawing in April — said it is essential that voters in Maine support Joe Biden in the upcoming election.
Despite well-documented disagreements with the former vice president on various issues, Sanders noted that with Biden as president, progressives can make progress on issues such as raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay for equal work, expanding access to health care, furthering racial justice and more.
He added that Maine is also pivotal in the race for control of the U.S. Senate, where Democratic Speaker of the Maine House Sara Gideon is challenging Republican Sen. Susan Collins in what is shaping up to be a tight race. Sanders urged Mainers to help Democrats win the Senate, saying the country can’t afford for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to remain in charge of the chamber.
But Sanders said simply voting is not enough. He called on people in Maine to also make sure their friends and neighbors have voted.
“I know sometimes people get uncomfortable. ‘Oh God, I got to ask somebody to vote.’ It’s kind of awkward, who wants to do that? But this is a moment when we have to become uncomfortable. Because what’s happening in this country is extremely uncomfortable,” Sanders said.
So far, signs point to large voter turnout in the state, as more than 25 percent of Maine voters have already cast their ballot.
Wide-ranging panel discusses election, state issues
Sanders was joined Wednesday by progressive leaders and activists from around the state.
At the meeting, state Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) said he is extremely frustrated with the Trump administration’s inaction when it comes to enforcing laws that prevent illegal competition from Canadian loggers. Jackson, a former full-time logger himself, said he has sent letters on and provided documentation to the administration about the violations, but hasn’t received any response.
Jackson said Trump doesn’t have working peoples’ backs.
“I already voted, I voted last week. It’s very clear who’s going to help me and the people I care about, the community I care about, the state I care about. And that’s Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Jackson said, also praising Gideon and Jared Golden, the U.S. representative in his district.
Another lawmaker, state Sen. Justin Chenette (D-York), also joined the panel to talk about the progress the legislature has made on the issue of campaign finance reform. Chenette noted that the state has established a voluntary public financing program for elections that a majority of state Senate candidates on both sides of the aisle are participating in.
Chenette said while the federal races in this election are clearly crucial, local races are also important, particularly if voters want to keep making progress on curbing the influence of money in politics.
“Let’s look up and down the ticket to make sure we’re electing Democrats across the board because real reforms have to happen,” he said. “State houses are really the last measure, particularly when we’re seeing a Supreme Court held hostage by conservatives.”
Jennie Pirkl, organizing director for Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project), also participated in the meeting.
Pirkl, who noted that her path as an organizer began in her twenties when she racked up thousands in medical debt because she didn’t have health insurance, said MPA is hosting trainings, phone banks, text banks and literature drops in an effort to get out the vote for both federal and state races.
Pirkl said this election could not be more crucial.
“With corporate and conservative interests warping the courts, suppressing the votes and even dismantling the post office, these last few weeks may be our last chance to protect our democracy and the future of our nation,” Pirkl said.
She added that Maine is a critical state in the upcoming contest.
“We need to make sure that our electoral college votes go for Biden and that we unseat Susan Collins, paving the way for a more functional Senate,” Pirkl said.
Another panelist at the event was Mallory Cook, a high school English teacher in Hermon and a member of the Maine Education Association.
She said educators in the state are extremely concerned about what will happen to schools when COVID-19 relief funds expire. Even now, she said, many students lack devices and an internet connection, and some schools still have inadequate ventilation.
“Education is a work of heart, but we need support to sustain that commitment,” Cook said. “Please vote to protect our students and to protect our public schools.”
At the event, another participant, David Sullivan — grand lodge rep for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers eastern territory — discussed the importance of worker representation.
“The right to form a union and join a union is very sacred to us, and we think that everyone should have that ability, so that’s something we’ve fought for my entire career,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan added that Maine has a plethora of different industries, saying workers need to be protected in all those sectors.
“We’re looking for a president of the United States that is going to work and fight for all of us here in Maine,” he said. “It’s very important we have that.”
Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation ambassador, was also featured at the meeting. In a video played during the webinar, Dana said Trump has been a disaster for working people in Maine. Dana added that the stakes of the election are extremely high, particularly when it comes to the future of the planet.
“In tribal nations, we always think about the next seven generations of our people,” Dana said. “And right now, our Mother Earth, our environment, our most vulnerable populations in this state — so much is riding on showing up, making a vote, making your voice count and taking this country back in all the best ways.”
In the video, MPA member Jack McGrath added that the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the precarious position of many in the state.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen the lack of protections for Maine workers and Maine renters really come into vivid focus as more and more people are severely suffering because of the policies that we’ve seen implemented over the past several years,” McGrath said.
The event closed out with information about important dates and deadlines for voting in Maine. While the deadline to register by mail has passed in Maine, residents can still register to vote in person in the next week and a half and on Election Day itself. The deadline to request an absentee ballot online or by phone is 5 p.m. on Oct. 29. Early in-person absentee voting is available through Oct. 30, although voters should check with their municipality about specific times that will be available. Finally, absentee ballots must be received by clerks by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
More information can be found here.
Top photo: Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a virtual town meeting event. | Photo via screenshot