On Monday, December 27, the Maine Democratic Socialists of America (MDSA) sponsored a pop-up COVID vaccine and booster clinic in Portland. As with all COVID vaccine clinics so far, this event was offered at no cost to the public regardless of their health insurance status. And although COVID vaccine clinics aren’t exceptional in Maine, it is rare to see the level of cooperation between state government and socialists that took place to make this particular clinic possible.
The turnaround between having the idea and its execution was surprisingly fast, under three weeks. “The idea of a clinic came up at our last Steering Committee meeting,” Sarah L. told me. Sarah is one of eight elected chapter leaders in MDSA, and was heavily involved in the legwork required to put on the clinic. Sarah noted that although they thought it would be cumbersome to organize a vaccine clinic, she was surprised to find out just how easy it is. “I Google searched, ‘how to host a vaccine clinic,’ and didn’t take long to find the application on the Maine CDC (Center for Disease Control) website, […] I thought they’d get back to us in eight weeks, but instead someone got back to me the same day.”
The Maine CDC connected MDSA with Community Pharmacies, a local pharmacy chain contracted to help administer vaccine and booster shots around the state. So, with a small group from Community Pharmacies willing to oversee the shots, it was up to MDSA members to provide a safe location, volunteers to help staff the event, and advertise it widely. Luckily, friendly folks from Restorative Justice Institute of Maine offered up their offices in Portland as a safe location and–with a well-established publicity apparatus and plenty of MDSA members willing to volunteer–the clinic was planned and formalized very quickly.
The Director of Maine CDC, Dr. Nirav Shah, even gave a little shoutout to MDSA on his Twitter account. The irony of an American government official publicly acknowledging the contribution of socialists was not lost on some. “There’s a first time for everything,” one MDSA member told me.
This isn’t the first time MDSA has involved itself with COVID relief efforts. In the spring of 2020 as the first wave of the virus swept through Maine, MDSA organized temporary mutual aid programs that included grocery delivery, small relief payments to those in need through a fundraising drive, and free distribution of homemade masks. And, although the pandemic has made it more challenging than usual, MDSA has remained true to its socialist mission being actively involved with Maine’s communities through core projects aimed at establishing a more fair and equitable world.
One of those core projects was in full view at Monday’s clinic. MDSA is currently one of many organizations involved in a coalition called Our Power, fighting to let Mainers vote on whether the highly unpopular Central Maine Power and Versant should be replaced with a more democratic, consumer-owned electric utility. Volunteers from the coalition set up a table, collecting signatures for their campaign to get that question onto Maine’s 2022 or 2023 ballot. Jon D, a volunteer with Our Power, told Pine & Roses, “we were able to coordinate with Maine DSA to set up a table just off to the side of the clinic. It allows for two birds at once: getting people vaccinated, and helping Maine get closer to consumer-owned electricity.”
Pine & Roses confirmed with clinic organizers that seventy-five people received either a booster or vaccine shot during the clinic’s three hours of operation. Molly from Cape Elizabeth described why she showed up, “I want to get my booster before I return to college,” she said, “and in order to help the community overall.” Olivia from Portland arrived for their booster because they work with children, “I want to get my booster for them.” They brought their friend Mikayla along to get a booster, too, who told me they only knew to come because, “my friend here told me about it.” With folks mentioning a multitude of smaller specific reasons for coming out, a common thread was alluded to again and again: the common good.
“This collaborative work allowed us to help seventy-five of those who walked in on Monday get vaccinated. I saw some familiar faces of comrades in our chapter, but many who are members of our community that I met for the very first time,” Cyr C. told me, a MDSA Steering Committee officer who helped spearhead the clinic’s advertising efforts. “I am overjoyed with how many people showed up to this event, and I believe it was successful. I am honored to have helped hold space for community members to receive their COVID-19 vaccines. And I am personally optimistic we will host another pop-up clinic like this in 2022.”
While MDSA’s was one of a handful of clinics that have popped up around Portland recently (see the contributions of Chaval, Local Roots Health Care, and others), some are still wondering if enough is being done. And as many people continue to work remotely, “why aren’t more empty offices setting up vaccine clinics? And why isn’t the [government of] Portland setting up more clinics?” Sarah L. wondered aloud toward the end of our interview. Considering how quick and easy it was for a small group of socialists to organize one, and how COVID cases continue to rise in Maine as the Omicron variant spreads, it does beg the question: why have local governments with notable resources like Portland’s left much of the COVID booster effort to private actors? Why aren’t they doing more to coordinate and advertise frequent clinics to help protect their residents? That is a question local folks and politicians should be asking themselves, but until they act it looks like most vaccine and booster clinics will be up to pharmacies, some well-meaning small businesses, and a determined group of socialists.
If your organization would like to host a pop-up Covid Vaccine/Booster Clinic, please visit the State’s website here and click on “Community Clinic Application.”