Local activist Adam Marletta on Congress Square Park- “council’s allegiance does not lie with voters”

Adam Marletta at a marriage equality rally in Portland.

Adam Marletta at a marriage equality rally in Portland.

Adam Marletta is a writer, educator and activist. He maintains the radical opinion blog, Guerrilla Press (www.guerrillapress.blogspot.com), which he updates weekly. Adam is the former chairman and current secretary of the Portland Green Independent Committee. His stories and theater reviews appear regularly in the southern Maine-based Tourist News.

Here’s what he has to say about Congress Square Park:

Voting “Yes” on Question #1 on Tuesday allows Portlanders to maintain control over the parks and public spaces that are intended for all residents to enjoy. These parks belong to us—not Rockbridge Capital, not the City Council, and not the city’s moneyed business elites.

The local corporate media and the nascent opposition to Question 1 insist Friends of Congress Square Park are being somehow deceitful in their campaign. They claim we are preventing Portland from “moving forward” economically.

Let’s settle these accusations once and for all.

While Question 1 is, in part, a bid to halt the sale of Congress Square Park to the out-of-state corporation, Rockbridge Capital, it goes beyond that.

Tuesday’s referendum will add 60 parks and public spaces in Portland to the city’s “Land Bank Ordinance.” This will make it harder for Portland lawmakers and public officials to arbitrarily sell-off parks that rightfully belong to taxpayers like you and me. As a result, many voters who support Congress Square Park’s sale have informed us they are nonetheless planning to vote in favor of the referendum, given the additional public spaces it would protect.

The opposition claims Portland’s parks are “already protected.” Ostensibly they are. But look how easily the City Council auctioned off Congress Square (which, despite the media’s quibbling over terminology is, in fact, a designated “park,”) for far below the area’s value. This entire process does not instill, in me anyway, a great deal of faith in the overall protection of Portland’s parks. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Clearly, the “protections” already in place for our parks are not strong enough. Question 1 will fix that.

Portland lawmakers seem hell-bent on privatizing, commercializing, and “revitalizing” every square inch of the city. They suffer from the myopia of growth fetishism—the misguided concept that the “free market” should be the sole arbiter of all social, political, and human relationships. Anything that cannot be reduced to a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder is, according to this logic, devoid of value.

Thus, the opposition refers to Congress Square as a “failed space” —“failed” because it is not contributing to their personal finances.

Indeed, as a member of the Portland Green Party, I find it telling the most visible opponents of Question 1 are prominent members of the Maine Democratic Party. This just goes to show how both corporate parties have been thoroughly infected with the capitalistic obsession with growth fetishism.

Then there are those who cite the park’s perceived lack of safety.

It is true Congress Square has long been a regular hangout for Portland’s homeless, poor, addicts and otherwise marginalized community members. But when critics of Congress Square talk about these “less desirable” members of society—what one Portland Press Herald blogger calls the “worst order of street people”—it is difficult not to view the entire sale as an effort to clear them off the downtown area where they are out of sight of tourists.

And that, ultimately, seems to be what this is all about: Making Portland more attractive to tourists and retirees from Massachusetts.

Ironically, in their zeal to attract more tourism dollars, city officials are driving year-round working-class residents out. Rising rent costs and the lack of decent-paying jobs are making Portland almost as expensive to live in as Boston. Soon, only the very wealthy will be able to afford to live here.

The City Council has fought us tooth-and-nail since this issue started. They have made private plans during closed-door meetings. They have stared at their laptops during public hearings when they should be listening to constituent testimony. They refused to grant citizens petitions when the people decided to take matters into their own hands. Now they have posted a highly one-sided “summary” of the referendum on the city’s website, essentially informing readers to vote “No.”

Their allegiance seems to lie not with the voters, but with the Chamber of Commerce, the business interests, and the local intelligentsia.

I reiterate my earlier point: Portland’s parks belong to us. A “Yes” vote on Question 1 ensures we keep it that way.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.