Saturday, March 26, 2011

Robert Shetterly's open letter to the Portland City Council

March 25, 2011

To the Portland City Council:

Dear Councilors,

I’m writing to urge that you not accept the offer from Governor Paul LePage of  Judy Taylor’s labor mural from the Department of Labor in Augusta.

This mural is not being moved because there is a leak in the roof or because it is exposed to too much sunlight. The mural is not a sick patient that needs a better hospital. The governor wants it moved because it defines the job of the Department of Labor as protecting the interests of working people. It reminds the department’s employees everyday of Maine’s labor history, the struggles with child labor, dangerous working conditions and poor pay. It reminds everyone who comes into that building of the legacy of that struggle and the responsibility of the department to protect workers from exploitation. It reminds us all of the power of organizing.

The governor wants to separate the symbol of labor from its meaning. It’s, quite simply, a power play. The mural would tell a true story wherever it is, but it has a very special significance where it is now --- and that’s what the governor wants changed. He wants the department neutered. He wants the Department of Labor to be the Chamber of Commerce. He says he wants the department not to take sides in relation to labor and business. Can you imagine a mural needing to be painted to tell the story of business being exploited by labor?

I urge you not to be so used by the governor. I urge you to reject the mural and advise the governor to leave it where it belongs.

Please bear in mind the words of Frederick Douglass:

“Find out what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them.”

Robert Shetterly
Brooksville, Maine
President, Union of Maine Visual Artists.

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