The League of Young Voters

Immigrant Youth Speak Out For Equal Education – by Jenna Vendil
October 20, 2009, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Over a year and half ago, young activists and former students in the Portland public schools approached me about the challenges facing immigrant and refugee students and students of color in our public schools.  I met with former students who had gone through the English Language Learners (ELL) track in high school who felt under-supported in their aspirations for college and families who weren’t receiving the proper notification that their kids weren’t receiving credit for the classes they were taking.  I met with advocates who spent the last ten years trying to access data of dropout and completion rates based on race or ethnicity, gender, class year, and free or reduced lunch eligibility from the school department and State Department of Education, but told no such data exists.

As The League became more involved on the issue of educational equity, it became increasingly clear that young voices, especially immigrant experiences, had been left out of the debate around education in our schools.  Many of the students I’ve worked with have the aspirations but lack the opportunities, resources, and support to be truly successful in school and in the community.  These are the stories that need to be heard firsthand by our elected school officials and education leaders—a purpose shared by other advocates like the NAACP and Maine Civil Liberties Union who worked to organize the diversity panel last Wednesday at the Portland School Committee’s workshop.

The panel consisted of current and former students of Portland Public Schools – Jean Paul Kamanzi, Joseph Perez, Kelsey Phillips, and Alfred Jacobs – who spoke about their experiences in our Portland schools to illustrate the challenge and opportunities for educational equity. All students agreed that high school was an exciting time for them.  Portland High School grad and Sudanese immigrant, Alfred described his experiences as a former ELL student who enrolled in college after high school, only to drop out of college because he felt ill-equipped and prepared despite having a high school diploma.  For Jean Paul who also attends PHS, his frustration is that he’s not able to take more challenging classes in math and science because he is an ELL student.  Joseph who was a successful member of the wrestling team when he attended Portland High but eventually dropped out, talked about how the only time he got to see the principal was when he got into trouble.

Our public schools are our most vital areas of investment—it has potential to be the greatest equalizer for our most vulnerable families.  It’s possible for Portland to become a model district in which all students are prepared to learn actively, think critically, and pursue even greater successes after graduation.  We have the opportunity to provide the training, support, and tools needed for all our youth to be successful, productive members of our community.  It’s not okay that our public schools fail to meet the needs of our young people.

With a new superintendent and a fresh School Committee, there’s hope for education advocates to participate in meaningful dialogue to reduce race and class inequalities in our educational system.  Teachers and former community advocates have made equity and diversity a critical part of their work in education, but this work needs the increased support of the superintendent, school committee, and the principals.  We look forward to taking the next steps needed to ensure all our students are learning for their future.


Open Letter to All Cyclists – by Hilary Frenkel
September 4, 2009, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As someone who works on sustainable transportation issues with the League, I am all about cyclists’ rights. Since moving to Portland a year ago, I have started bike commuting and driving my car less. I feel that cyclists have just as much right to be on the road as motorists, and they should be given the same respect. Some cyclists are biking due to financial necessity, while others are simply choosing to be more environmentally friendly or friendlier to their bodies. Motorists should learn to share the road with these people and acknowledge their rights.

That being said, if we cyclists want the respect of motorists, we too need to follow the rules of the road. In the past week I have seen at least three cyclists blatantly running red lights. And I’m not talking about stopping at the light to make sure there was no oncoming traffic, and then proceeding with caution. No – I am talking about riding on Park Avenue through a red light at the super busy Deering intersection, without even looking to see if there are oncoming cars, and almost causing a major accident.

Riding like this is irresponsible and unsafe! It creates a hostile relationship between motorists and cyclists.  Those of us who actually follow the road rules end up getting lumped into a category of disrespectful cyclists by some motorists, making it difficult for us to ride safely on the roads.

So please, I ask of you, for your own safety, the safety of those around you, and for your fellow cyclists who are trying to make the roads safer for us all to ride… please, follow the rules of the road and be responsible!

The PTS passes! – by Hilary Frenkel
August 4, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Peninsula Transit Study passed unanimously by the City Council tonight! After sitting through a very lengthy discussion about the difference between a liquor license and an entertainment license, and the policy that goes along with deciphering between the two, I thought we would never get to the vote. I did learn, however, that ‘Naked Shakespeare’ is simply Shakespeare without costumes and is not nearly as provocative as it sounds.

But alas, the time came for item 10 on the agenda and Felicia Teach, Hilary Frenkel and Stephen Scharff, all dazzled with “Pass The Peninsula Transit Study” stickers, made comments in support of the study. We reminded the Council that passage was great, but without implementation it meant nothing. They also heard about the strong need for better bus routes with more stops to accommodate people’s needs.

There was only one testimony against the study by a man who felt that the passage of the study would mean an effort to eliminate roads and all single occupancy vehicles (SOV’s).

When it came time for the Council comments, Councilor John Anton clarified that this study would do no such thing. It would simply level the playing field, giving no mode of transportation priority, but giving each fair and equal resources. And Councilor Kevin Donoghue eased our worries about implementation by giving examples of parts of the plan that have already been implemented. He also assured us that the Transportation Committee has already outlined their plan for the rest of the legislative year.

The Councilors all seemed quite honored to be given the opportunity to vote on this study. Councilor Dan Skolnik gave credit to The League of Young Voters for doing such great work on this issue. He also gave props to Councilor Donoghue for spearheading the committee and making this happen.

The victory is ours. Now we need to make sure the City is held accountable to the implementation so our win matters. Congratulations to all who worked so hard on this!

Chamber and League to Charter Commission: Elected Mayor for Portland
July 16, 2009, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Portland Community Chamber and The League of Young Voters Urge the Charter Commission to Include a Popularly-Elected Mayor in Recommendations to Voters

Tonight, Portland‟s Charter Commission will ask the public for guidance on which issues it wants the Commission to examine.  The unlikely pairing of the League of Young Voters and the Portland Community Chamber highlights an important issue: Portland‟s mayor should be elected citywide, and should serve a longer term than the current one year.

During the 2008 election cycle, The League of Young Voters and Portland Community Chamber were instrumental in creating the Charter Commission, and both organizations have maintained their focus on their priority issue: elected mayor. The Chamber convened a task force and published a report that examines the balance of power among mayor, manager, and council. The League held a forum with Commission candidates and published a voter guide with endorsements.

“When it comes to local policy and politics, the people of Portland are well-informed and highly-engaged,” said League Director Harris Parnell.  “Yet voters have no real say in who occupies the City‟s highest office.”

Chris O‟Neil, the Chamber‟s City Hall liaison, says the Commission needs to consider mayoral models that will work in Portland. “We are cautious about a „strong‟ mayor with Executive powers, but we think the Commission should, at the very least, offer voters a mayor with political power.”

Both The League and the Chamber agree that the exchange of ideas in a mayoral campaign will produce a leader who has a political mandate from the people, and that leader should then have three or four years to fulfill the mandate.  The two organizations also urge the commissioners to set aside personal opinion so that they can offer voters choices about the structure of Portland‟s government. The 1986 Charter Commission discussed an elected-mayor, but in the end did not offer a model to voters.

“A Commission this diverse is unlikely to reach consensus on an ideal mayoral model, but it should still send one or more to the voters for debate and approval,” O‟Neil said.

While there are other issues of interest to the Chamber and The League, including Instant Runoff Voting, they want the Commission to focus on an elected mayor.

Parnell said, “A major reason Portlanders voted to open the Charter was to create an elected mayor and we hope the Charter Commission allows the public the opportunity to vote on this important issue.”

Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation – by Hilary
July 8, 2009, 3:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have recently, through The League, started a coalition called the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation (MaST). Our Steering Committee currently consists of representatives from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, the Conservation Law Foundation, the League of Young Voters, and Portland Trails. We, at MaST, believe that all people deserve to have affordable, accessible, reliable and sustainable transportation, and here’s why:

  • A sustainable transportation system advances economic development, a cleaner environment, fiscal accountability, stronger communities, and healthier people.
  • Financially and environmentally, Mainers can no longer afford the roads-focused transportation policies and infrastructure of the 20th century.

We feel that Mainers need a diverse transportation system with several viable modes so they can choose the best one for a particular trip, and so the system is robust to change. While motor vehicles will continue to play an important role in the coming years, other, more efficient methods of transportation – from human-powered mobility in neighborhoods to high-speed regional railroads – must receive greater consideration and investment.

Building Community Despite Adversity: Youth of Color in Portland Come Together
July 4, 2009, 12:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

For More Information:
Katie Diamond, The League, 772-3207,
Jackie Okot, The New Generation, 332-8753,

On Thursday, July 2, the Portland Police Department released a video of incidents that occurred over 2 months ago in Kennedy Park. The League of Young Voters and The New Generation are concerned about the content of this video and how it affects youth throughout the city, and undermines community conversations that are currently underway. By focusing on specific communities in Portland and altering police tactics to be specific to those communities, the Police Department is taking on a form of profiling. Heightened tactics are not the best way to work with and for a community—and these types of actions affect youth of color throughout the city.

“Our efforts to heal over many of the bad things that have happened over the past year have gone back to square one—we hope the Police Department comes back to the table to continue working with us and speaking with us, instead of speaking to the media and giving us a bad image,” Mohammed Dini, a community member, said. “Releasing such a video is a political statement.”

The League and The New Generation, along with other youth groups and community leaders, are slowly gaining momentum throughout Southern Maine to work to create safe, educational programming and events for youth of color in the Greater Portland area. By working with young people, these groups are working together to build community, grow youth leaders, and educate young people.

There will be a Press Conference in the next week to highlight the positive contributions youth of color have made in the community, and to create a strong and unified community.

June 5, 2009, 8:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As director of an underfunded youth empowerment group (that is pro-choice) I find it appalling that a organization like Catholics for Choice chooses to use its resources to attack other progressive organizations. Groups like Catholics United might not share our entire agenda, but they aren’t standing in the way of it either.

Learn about what Harris is referring to here.