Like Glenn Beck, Maine Gov LePage Rails Against "Communist" Artwork
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Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Fox broadcaster Glenn Beck not only share right-wing political views, but they both fancy themselves art critics. Two years ago Beck went on a rampage attacking murals on New York City buildings, including Rockefeller Plaza, for depicting "communist" propaganda. Now Gov. LePage is following in Beck's footsteps, ordering the removal of a 36-foot, 11-panel mural by Maine artist Judy Taylor from the foyer of the Maine Department of Labor in Augusta because, he claimed, it is "too one-sided", pro-union, and anti-business.
Who could have predicted that a mural in Maine would become the latest battleground in the war of ideas, money, and power triggered by America's right wing forces, including the Tea Party, Fox News, the Republican Party, and big business?
The Right's escalating attack on workers, unions, government, and the middle class is taking some strange twists and turns, and triggering a backlash that seems to have finally energized progressive forces. From the huge protest rally in downtown Los Angeles last Saturday, to the ongoing protests in Wisconsin and Ohio, to the attempt to stop a stealth Tea Party-backed candidate (Sean Baggett) from winning a School Board race in Pasadena, California, there's evidence that the Right, full of hubris, has gone too far. Polls show, for example, that most Americans firmly reject the Wisconsin Governor's decision to kill collective bargaining rights of the state's public sector employees.
All Americans concerned about First Amendment rights, censorship, artistic freedom, and political democracy should be outraged by what Maine Gov. LePage did last weekend.
If you're curious about this controversial mural, you can view its vivid colors on Judy Taylor's website. It has great photos of the mural and explains what each panel is about. Installed in 2008, the mural shows important events in Maine labor history, like a 1937 shoe factory strike in Lewiston, loggers in upstate Maine, ice-cutters, child labor, "Rosie the Riveter" at Bath Iron Works, and Frances Perkins, an occasional Maine resident who was the trailblazing Secretary of Labor during FDR's New Deal and who is buried in Maine.
Gov. LePage -- who was elected in 2010 with just 38 percent of the vote and Tea Party support -- also wants to rename several conference rooms in the state Labor Department, including one named for Frances Perkins and another honoring Cesar Chavez, who led United Farm Workers union in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Maine mural controversy is generating a lot of attention in newspapers, magazines, and blogs around the country and the world, including Steve Greenhouse's interesting article in the New York Times, Robert Reich's wonderful column in Salon; and this poignant letter-to-the-editor to a Maine newspaper, linking the mural flap to the recent 100th anniversary of the tragic Triangle Fire.
The Taylor mural was commissioned in 2006, when Maine consolidated several labor offices into one facility in Augusta (saving $300,000 each year). Under the One Percent for Art law in Maine, about $60,000 in federal funding was set aside to decorate the foyer.
Various private and public organizations (including the Portland, Maine City Council), and several colleges and universities, have offered to buy and/or exhibit the mural. But there's a fight-back to restore the mural to the Maine Labor Department building in order to stop Gov. LePage from winning this battle and setting a dangerous precedent. LePage has refused to disclose the mural's current location.
This is not the first time that a mural depicting workers' rights and progressive causes has generated controversy.
A similar controversy occurred over a mural by the great American painter (and former union organizer) Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997). Fasanella spent three years living in the Lawrence, Massachusetts YMCA, in order to paint scenes of New England mill towns, including his now-iconic 5-foot by 10-foot painting, "Lawrence 1912: The Great Strike" (also titled "Bread and Roses -- Lawrence, 1912"). The painting was purchased by donations from 15 unions and given to Congress, where it hung for years in the Rayburn Office Building hearing room of the House Subcommittee on Labor and Education.