Interviews and photos by Dhananji Rathnayake
“I want to remind you that our democracy is only as strong as its people. It is important to get involved in your community, make your voice heard and to continue to believe in Portland. This is a great city with a lot to offer.
While we may not have won , I remain committed to serving Portland and working to make it a more equitable, prosperous, and vibrant city for all.” – Pious Ali
Mark Dion was elected mayor of Portland on November 8 after run-off voting proved he had narrowly defeated his closest challengers, Andrew Zarro and Pious Ali. Final calculations showed Dion had earned 51.5% of the vote, just over the needed threshold of 50%. Pious Ali came in close behind Zarro, a remarkable achievement in a city that is 83% white, according to the most recent census.
Gateway Community Services in Portland held an election watch party on November 7. Many attendees were there to cheer on Ali, and some spoke to Amjambo, explaining why they hoped Ali would prevail, and what civic engagement meant to them.
“I can remember before I even spoke to Pious Ali I knew he was a leader in the community who stands with immigrants and does what he says. At the same time I’ve seen it’s not just immigrants – there are a lot of white people that support him and respect him. I have never seen or heard anything bad about him, which is huge. He’s been doing this work, he’s successful, he’s great, he’s committed, and he’s taken the steps. He is a role model to me.”
“Witnessing a community leader’s impact (like Pious Ali’s) can ignite a passion for leadership. However, these days the perception of politics discourages people from getting involved… Recently, during a school discussion, some peers confessed their apathy about voting, which puzzled me. I believe that voting is a privilege and an honor. Not exercising [the right to vote] seems like disregarding one’s voice. When I said this, someone retorted, “I don’t care; my vote doesn’t matter.” I countered by saying that such indifference can’t coexist with protesting when things don’t align with one’s beliefs. It’s crucial to bridge this gap and encourage active participation in our democratic processes.”
“My connection to Pious Ali is through the Portland Empowered Fellowship, which involves young people around civic engagement. It’s a really powerful fellowship that brings in folks who perhaps traditionally have not had opportunities. People are encouraged to bring their specialty, their passion, their vision, and connect with like-minded individuals in the Maine community and also beyond to really start to explore what it means to be civically engaged. What does it mean to contribute? How are we truly part of the fabric of the society? I think through the grassroots work that he’s done, a lot of the community, especially the BIPOC community, and its allies, are able to see that momentum, that honest commitment, and that selflessness that continues to show up in all the work that he’s done. He’s here to stay. The BIPOC community is here to stay. The immigrant community is here to stay. And it’s our mobilization around civic engagement that is going to allow us to go from a state of surviving to a state of thriving. Through our vote, through our voice, through our actions, we’re able to truly see ourselves in our representatives and have a seat at the table.”