Lobbyists made their voices heard at the state capitol in Augusta on March 9, 2023. The wider Maine community was given an opportunity to attend this event and push for legislation to consider imperative progressive policies.
The Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) familiarized residents with their policy agenda and encouraged constructive communication with legislators.
MPA is the largest grassroots political organization in Maine, focused on progressive values and social justice. One of the primary goals of their group is to ensure to all Mainers paid family medical leave in the state, affordable housing and the discontinuance of discriminatory evictions. According to their mission, they hold progressive values and work tirelessly to help others in touch with their communities.
Shortly after the initial surge of COVID-19, the MPA launched a program called Mainers Together, a community relief. It functions as a mutual aid program that provides funding and resources to households facing economic hardship.
Steven Santiago is a fourth-year student at UMaine currently pursuing a career in activism and looking into social work. Santiago attended the lobbying event in Augusta alongside Lucca Hamina, president of the University of Maine People’s Alliance. Both Santiago and Hamina are incredibly passionate about equality and social justice.
“Housing is a human right that should be assured by the government. Realistically, it’s the power of the federal government that we need to assure our human rights across the country, but the state government is a much more accessible and tameable beast,” Santiago said.
The two met at the statehouse in a side room of security. With them were not only other members of MPA, but also various organizations across the state including Maine Equal Justice, Raise-Op and Dignity First. On the second floor were the chambers for the house and the senate.
Following introductions and orientation, they formed groups of two to three people. From there, activists utilized this time to both assertively and respectfully approach lawmakers to discuss the particular housing bills that they are pushing for.
Hamina is a sociology and economics student and a devoted political activist. He focuses primarily on political radicalization in social media.
“Get involved in politics regardless of where you land on the spectrum!” Hamina said.
There are a multitude of reasons to educate oneself on local government affairs. Oftentimes, it is easy to get drawn into apolitical rabbit holes, as meaningful change tends to feel unattainable on the part of the individual.
It is pivotal that the community begins to connect the obstacles they face to the larger social structures or institutions from which the root of the problem exists. By raising your voice, you not only connect with other people with similar issues but are also able to make legislatures aware of what needs to be changed.
“On campus overall I see a lack of involvement and a sense of apathy when it comes to politics and social justice. UMaine needs more student activists,” said Santiago.
Students at UMaine should get involved in lobbying because university funding is reliant on state politics. Beyond that, most students are residents of the state, meaning the majority are consistently affected by housing policies.
An effective method of getting through to policymakers is to approach them with a more human perspective, especially when advocating at a state or local level. Rather than listing numerical values, it is far more meaningful to share the stories of real people directly affected by such decisions. Grouping those suffering into a statistic oftentimes takes away from the uniqueness of each individual’s situation.
Hamina noted that by knocking on the doors of regular people and hearing stories related to certain policies or a lack thereof, it is easier to empathize with afflicted residents. It is a means of not only understanding their hardship but also taking it to the legislature and igniting positive change.
“We as humans have the ability to change our environment, and to me, this fight for progressive values is our attempt to change the world we’ve created through thousands of thousands of years to better fit everyone,” Hamina said.
On Wednesday, March 22, there will be a testimony writing party at 7 p.m. in the Oakes Room of Fogler Library. Anyone is welcome to join and bring an issue of choice, whether it be housing, paid family medical leave, drug policy, etc.