Sunday, January 9, 2011

Freedom From Want

As I digest the news that progressive congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down in Arizona in what appears to be a politically motivated assassination, I am working on an op-ed in response to meeting I was at yesterday about poverty in Maine.

The new governor of Maine, Paul LePage, won when a third party candidate with a lot of foreign capital in his resume split the progressive vote. Tea Party candidate LePage and company begin the work of coping with an $800 million shortfall in funding for existing programs this month.

It is not a task to be envied. LePage is making grandiose claims such as refusing all federal funding, but overblown rhetoric won't make the task of facing up to reality any easier. If federal funds are not available to maintain and repair roads, or plow them, this will have swift economic consequences. Almost all Mainers rely on trucks running along Interstate 95 to bring us food and medicine, for instance.

Once upon a time Norman Rockwell illustrated the four freedoms that FDR had identified as the foundation of our well-being. Rockwell's painting of a grandmother putting a roast turkey on the table for her assembled family was titled “Freedom from Want.” Once we thought this an essential freedom, the foundation of a secure social order.

During my lifetime poverty has grown so that now 1 in 7 in the U.S. live below the poverty level. For children, it is 1 in 5. That is 20% of children living in households where adults must choose whether to pay rent or buy food, because they cannot afford to do both. Maine is poorer than average, and the county I live in, Somerset, is the poorest in Maine.

I met with members of the Maine Poor People's Economic Human Rights Coalition twice recently to examine their vision of a society I would want to live in. I will lobby to have my taxes support this vision rather than funding 800+ military bases around the globe, and occupations that make us no safer. Bring our war dollars home to make this a reality for every family and individual in Maine.

Bill of Maine Economic Human Rights
1) Every individual has a right to have basic needs met, such as:
    * food and clothing
    * permanent housing
    * health care
    * child care

 2) Every individual has a right, to income  to provide the basic needs of the family, through productive employment and/or through entitlements.

3) Every individual has a right to:
    * freedom from discrimination in obtaining basic needs
    * seek one's choice of employment
    * productive work with equal pay for equal or comparable work at a liveable wage
    * protections against the ill effects of unemployment
    * a standard of living that is adequate for security and well-being
4) Every individual has a right to:
    * form and join labor unions and other groups which protect their interests
    * bargain collectively on issues such as pay and working conditions
    * work in businesses or cooperatives with opportunities for economic democracy
    * strike without fear of reprisals
5) Every individual has a right to education or training to obtain the skills that allow participation in and contribution to the Maine economy.
6) Every individual has a right to access financial services, including, but not limited to, savings or checking accounts, loans and IRAs.

7) Every individual has a right to access quality legal services regardless of ability to pay.

This sounds like the kind of Maine I want for my children and grandchildren.

BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS    Holding a freshly lit candle, Daniel Flagg of Bangor joined dozens of others in front of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter for Bangor's annual Homeless Memorial Day vigil walk Tuesday evening. Flagg said he was homeless for a spell until a few weeks ago. "I didn't realize the homeless situation until I was homeless myself," said Flagg. Flagg added that he hopes to volunteer his time to help other homeless persons.

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