Change Agents 4/7/22: The Work of the Maine People’s Alliance

Producer/Host: Steve Wessler

Change Agents: Conversations with Human Rights Activists

Steve Wessler’s guests are Jesse Graham, co-Executive Director of the Maine People’s Alliance and Ben Chin, the Deputy Director

They discussed the current and future work of the Maine People’s Alliance. We also asked when and why they decided to work on human rights and social justice work. We also discussed the following issues:
-Jesse Graham discussed the 20 years of advocacy to reduce mercury in the Penobscot River
-Ben Chin discussed the campaign to continue same day voting
-Both Jesse and Ben discussed possible advocacy efforts in the future.

Jesse Graham is co-director of Maine People’s Alliance & Maine People’s Resource Center. He has been with the organizations for more than 20 years. Under Jesse’s leadership MPA has more than tripled in membership. With over 32,000 members reaching one of every 17 households across the state and involving more than 9000 volunteers in a variety of campaigns each year. Through door-to-door canvassing, community organizing and strategic communications MPA is building the power for shifting worldview and concreate policy wins. Jesse is proud of corporate polluters accountable for mercury pollution in the Penobscot River and organizational victories to expand Clean Elections, raise the minimum wage, pass Medicaid expansion and win earned paid sick days.

Ben Chin is the Deputy Director of Maine People’s Alliance, where he has worked for grassroots social change since 2005. He helped build the teams that won minimum wage increases, expanded Medicaid, and guaranteed workers paid sick days. As a community organizer, he focused on immigrant rights. As a political director, he lobbied on many issues, especially those related to taxes and the state budget, and helped elect dozens of candidates to office. He published Maine’s first racial justice policy guide, and a white paper outlining a plan for universal childcare, home care, and paid family and medical leave. He co-hosts the Beacon Podcast, and received the Frederick Douglass 200 award for his contributions to racial justice by the Guardian and Ibram Kendi’s Anti-racist Research and Policy Center.

About the host:
Steve Wessler will soon will be starting his 28th year of working on human right issues. He founded the Civil Rights Unit in the Maine Attorney’s Office in 1992 and led the Unit for 7 years. In 1999 he left the formal practice of law and founded the Center for the Prevention of Hate. The Center worked in Maine and across the USA. He and his colleagues worked to reduce bias and harassment in schools, in communities, in health care organization through workshops and conflict resolution. The Center closed in 2011 and Steve began a consulting on human rights issues. For the next 5 years much of his work was in Europe, developing and implementing training curricular for police, working in communities to reduce the risk of hate crimes, conflict resolution between police and youth. He has worked in over 20 countries. In late 2016 he began to work more in Maine, with a focus on reducing anti-immigrant bias. He continues to work in schools to reduce bias and harassment. Wessler teaches courses on human rights issues at the College of the Atlantic, the University of Maine at Augusta and at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in northern Virginia.