Portland Occupier http://www.portlandoccupier.org News From The Occupation Wed, 03 Feb 2016 18:23:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Aaron Campbell’s Death: Six Years on from the Turning Point for Portland Police Accountability http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/02/03/aaron-campbells-death-six-years-on-from-the-turning-point-for-portland-police-accountability/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/02/03/aaron-campbells-death-six-years-on-from-the-turning-point-for-portland-police-accountability/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 17:00:36 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10467 DSC_7534

Photo by Pete Shaw

A vigil attended by over 50 people was held on January 29 at the AME Zion Church on North Vancouver Avenue to remember Aaron Campbell, the young Black man killed exactly six years earlier by Portland Police Officer Ron Frashour. A further significant aspect of the event was the opportunity to reflect upon Campbell’s death in context to the struggle for Black liberation and police accountability.

On January 29, 2010, Campbell, 25, whose younger brother had died earlier in the day, was in an apartment in Northeast Portland, distressed and possibly suicidal, and, according to his aunt, in possession of a gun. Police responded by surrounding the apartment and it soon appeared that Officer James Quackenbush had defused the situation. Campbell emerged, unarmed, with his hands behind his head. Due to an apparent lack of communication, one officer fired six beanbag rounds at Campbell, who then began to run away from the officers. A police dog was released to attack Campbell, followed by Frashour shooting Campbell in the back with his AR-15 rifle.

“We’re here because of a great injustice that has taken place in our city some 6 years ago,” said Dr. Reverend Leroy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA). “We’re here to say that we will not allow injustice by those who have been given authority to patrol our streets. We’re here to say Black lives matter. We’re here to say that Aaron Campbell mattered. We’re here to say that this life was not a life in vain.”

It is difficult to describe the kind of strength it must take for a person like Haynes, who began working for Black people’s liberation (and all people’s liberation for that matter) at the age of 13, during the Civil Rights Movement. Haynes, who “went to jail week after week to break down the doors of Jim Crow segregation,” has the perspective that comes from a long lifetime deeply involved in a struggle that preceded him and will likely continue beyond his allotted years on earth. For Haynes, Campbell’s life represents not just a moment–it is part of a continuum he is working to change–work that will only be finished “when we have that free, just, and equal society.”

Marva Campbell Davis, right, at the vigil for her son Aaron Campbell.

Marva Campbell Davis, right, at the vigil for her son Aaron Campbell. Photo by Pete Shaw.

If putting Haynes’ fortitude into words is difficult, it is borderline impossible to describe Campbell’s mother, Marva Campbell Davis, who along with six members of her family came from California to attend the vigil.

“This is so important,” she said, “and so many people don’t realize that this could happen to their child, and I would hate for anybody to have to go through this.”

Davis talked about how one year prior to her son’s murder he had gotten into a fight with another young man. A gun was supposedly involved, and the police placed the blame on Aaron Campbell. Davis said the police showed up at her house, tried to plant evidence, and threatened to tear apart the house searching for this evidence if Aaron did not plead guilty. Campbell did not bend and demanded a trial, resulting in him being found not guilty.

“We’re supposed to trust them (the police),” said Davis. “But all they do is lie. They’re liars.”

Davis then emphasized the need to change the laws that allow police to kill with impunity. That call was echoed by Jo Ann Hardesty, President of the Portland Chapter of the NAACP, who noted that during this 2016 election year the major mayoral candidates are parroting the Portland Police Bureau’s insistence that Portland needs more police. (Mayor Charlie Hales, who came into office vowing to reform the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), so far appears to have done little more than kowtow to it.)

“What we need,” Hardesty told the crowd, “is a different caliber of police officer.” She presented common sense steps toward that end, particularly insisting that police be “part of the communities they serve, live in the communities they serve, go to the same grocery stores we go to, go to the same houses of worship we go to.”

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

At this point it should be clear that any reforms, much less an overhaul of the PPB, will not come easy. It has been over three years since the Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a report finding PPB guilty of using excessive violence against people experiencing or appearing to experience mental crises. The DoJ investigation was spurred on by the calls of the AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform–formed soon after Campbell’s murder–to look into the PPB’s violent tendencies toward people and communities of color. Though the report spent a few pages noting the poor relationship between Portland police and communities of color, the DoJ ultimately punted on that issue, instead choosing to focus on the PPB’s treatment of people dealing with mental duress and illness.

After some wrangling over the content of the settlement agreement offered in lieu of a lawsuit–including a requirement that the PPB file annual progress reports (a move resisted by City Council)–there now exists some framework for reform. That framework is apparently not enough for the AMA Coalition which in July put forth five goals it will work toward, goals that extend beyond the scope of the settlement agreement.

The AMA’s goals seem necessary in light of the fact that, as Hardesty pointed out, Mayor Hales appears to have “turned reform of the PPB over to the PPB”. A glaring example of this was the allowed reinstatement Mark Kruger, the officer who saw fit to erect a shrine to Nazis at Rocky Butte Park. Meanwhile, the Community Oversight Advisory Board, created as part of the settlement agreement, has allowed police officers a seat at the table, virtually guaranteeing its ultimate bias. And in late December, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld an Oregon Employment Relations Board arbitrator’s decision that Frashour acted in accordance with his training, and he has now rejoined the force.

To all appearances there is little evidence that those in power have either the will or desire to change the system, a system that Hardesty noted “does not want us to survive.”

Haynes said that this work constitutes “a movement is not marathon”, a point buttressed by Adrienne Cabouet of Black Lives Matter. Noting that “some experiences are unique to Black folks…the pain, the hollow feeling of lostness every time a cop kills someone,” Cabouet underscored the bedrock fallacy of the insipid “all lives matter” rejoinder to Black lives matter. Yes, Black people are not the only ones murdered by police; however, the rate at which they are gunned down–one Black person is killed by police or vigilantes every 28 hours–and the mostly inconsequential handwringing that follows, makes it quite clear that Black lives do not matter.

“It’s not an accident,” said Cabouet, “that police kill us and get away with it.”

Photo by Bette Lee

Photo by Bette Lee

Also not an accident, Cabouet told the audience, is the fact that Black communities have persevered. “You are the result of hundreds of years of resistance. Considering what’s been done to us, we should not even be here.”

That resistance has been most prominent at various times in history, most recently in the year and a half since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. The issue has been taken up, if not wholeheartedly, by all the Democratic Party candidates for president, and there has been a general swelling in the number of people whose trust in police has waned.

Where will this resistance lead? The idea of reforming police goes hand in hand with the idea of tossing the bad apple, a vision that ignores the reality of the rotten barrel. Committing violence against people, particularly those who might organize and rise up against the capitalist system that oppresses them, is the primary function of police, and that oppression is most often aimed at people of color, particularly Black people. No amount of reform will bring back Aaron Campbell and the numerous others police have murdered, nor is it likely to result in true justice for them, their families, and their communities. As long as the capitalist system–whose existence largely depends upon police violence–persists, meaningful change is certain to remain elusive.

“The only way to stop this,” said Cabouet, “is to tear it down and make something better.”

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A Meditation on Malheur and Meaningful Organizing http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/01/13/a-meditation-on-malheur-and-meaningful-organizing/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/01/13/a-meditation-on-malheur-and-meaningful-organizing/#respond Wed, 13 Jan 2016 17:29:56 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10460 photo by Paul

photo by Paul

Story by Pete Shaw

When the healthcare law debate was raging a few years back, there was a rally at which people were urging Senator Ron Wyden to support the “public option,” something that perhaps would have more rapidly led to single payer health insurance system. If memory serves, the precise point of the rally was that Wyden was receiving a lot of money from Blue Cross/Regence, and people were asking the age old question of their putative representative: who do you serve?

Near the end of the rally, one woman raised her hand and asked, “Why don’t we have a general strike?” The request seemed to leap right out of Monty Python’s Life of Brian when the People’s Front of Judea makes its plan to kidnap Pontius Pilate’s wife and threaten to kill her if Pilate does not dismantle the entire Roman apparatus within 72 hours. We’ll just make a few phone calls, send out some emails, and by the end of the week we will have the capitalists on their knees, offering us anything we want along with pudding and pie.

While the impulse behind the woman’s idea was correct, the amount of work that must go into a general strike–one where a substantial number of workers do not show up for work and refuse to work until their demands are met–is more than can be done in a few days, maybe even a few years. The amount of organization required is immense and requires a level of coordination that is very difficult to achieve.

As I type, a bunch of white supremacists (the corporate media now calls them militias or patriot groups, probably because many find the term “white supremacist” to be cognitively dissonant when used to describe someone toting a US flag) from various groups with some kind of nationalistic name that appeals to mom, the US flag, and apple pie have taken over the ranger station at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, in southeast Oregon. They are making some claim that their sovereignty, liberty, and freedom is being trod upon by the US government.

The irony, perhaps willful, but more likely born out of ignorance, is extreme. Those white supremacists would not even be there save for the fact that their government had at one time violently taken Malheur from a native tribe–the Paiute. Furthermore, some of these white supremacists are ranching sorts who are leasing land from the government they hate at incredibly cheap rates. According to the Western Watersheds Project “the current public land grazing fee of $1.35 per month for one cow and her calf is woefully below market value. Direct government expenditures to administer public land grazing constitute an annual net loss to the taxpayers of at least $123 million and more than $500 million when indirect costs are accounted for.”

Photo by Benji Bảo Vương

Photo by Benji Bảo Vương

The Malheur gang has become the butt of many jokes and fan fiction. Consider, for example, the hilarity to be mined from the fact that they apparently forgot food and had to put out a call for snacks. This is not to imply that these people should not be taken seriously, because anyone with a gun–especially one openly espousing white supremacy–should be taken very seriously. What interests me, however, is their organization. It is very poor. The only thing going for it is, to borrow a phrase, the fact that it’s backed with the full faith and credit of the United States government. For all the jokes at their expense, these Malheur malcontents are part and parcel of a guiding ethos which could never imagine this country belonging to anyone but white people. The rhetoric of these groups, however, can be a little too close to the bone for most people. Institutional racism–with the occasional coded language–is the preferred approach; the soft pedal that plays the same notes, but covers up the extreme harmonics.

Many people are making the comparison between the white supremacists and the Black Lives Matter movement, noting in particular that if this takeover had been perpetrated by Black Lives Matter  the police would have quickly–and probably violently–responded. Certainly there is enough history to prove that police force at any level is applied significantly more harshly to non-whites than to whites, but here, I think, is a better and more positive comparison. What is going on in Malheur should remind us of the difference between a slapdash call to arms and the real, hard work of meaningful organizing–the organizing that subverts the capitalist system which ultimately supports white supremacy, though prefers its display be less overt.

Those organizing against the system–who do not have the implicit backing of the power structure–must by necessity create alternative structures far more resilient than white supremacist groups. The Black Lives Matter movement did not fall out of the ether. Black people have been organizing for justice in the United States since the ink dried on the Declaration of Independence. What Walidah Imarisha says in her Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? program–that it is truly amazing that a Black community exists in Portland–could reasonably be applied to the country as a whole. The Black Lives Matter movement exists along this continuum of organizing not just for justice, but also for survival in a country that has never welcomed Black people as people.

As 2016 begins, even as police continue murdering Black people, large numbers of people are questioning police actions and even the legitimacy of police. Some police are being indicted for crimes where for many years that seemed somewhere between extremely unlikely and impossible. In short, the Black Lives Matter movement is making a difference that is starting to shake the system.

DSC_0067

Photo by Pete Shaw

In other fights, there is a similar dynamic. For about 5 years now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been delayed, and there is a reasonable chance that it will not be passed in the US. In 2010 I attended a rally at Pioneer Square, led by the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. About 10 people attended. Through constant agitation and education, the crowds have swelled and again what once seemed impossible borders on real.

The immigrant rights and justice movement, which came to the forefront of many people’s consciousness on May Day, 2006, has certainly made great gains under extremely oppressive conditions including the threat–and reality–of detention and deportation. It now faces another challenge since it has been announced that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency will be ramping up its raids. This will not be an easy fight, but it will be easier because of the groundwork so many people have laid, gaining solidarity with other groups engaged in the same battle against the ruling class.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the 23 year effort of the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) which has helped organize a grassroots movement of human dignity groups that “challenges the anti-democratic right.”  ROP has condemned “the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a political stunt.”  As it has for so long, the ROP is seeking real solutions to real problems–problems that cannot be solved with inflammatory rhetoric and guns.  As it notes on its website, these white supremacists are distracting people from “the real and pressing economic crisis that the residents of Harney County and much of rural Oregon face.  Jobs have disappeared and no new economic engine has replaced the old economics based on natural resources.  Public services like schools, libraries, public safety, and public transportation have been defunded for years, leaving communities without basic services…We need to focus on meaningful investment in rebuilding public infrastructure so that the residents of Harney County have the support they need on a day-to-day basis.”

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

None of these groups could do what the white supremacists in Malheur have done: To pack up some high powered weaponry and go lay siege to Federal land is unthinkable–suicidal even. But white supremacists are getting away with it because, despite their rhetoric, they are not actually threatening the power structure in this country. Were they part of a movement trying to wrest power, wealth, and privilege from the hands of those who who control them and put them into the hands of the proverbial 99%–that is, if they stood in opposition to white supremacy and the capitalist system which manifests it–Malheur would look a lot more like Wounded Knee, the road between Selma and Montgomery, or the tent colony at Ludlow.

As the new year gets under way, take some time to register the very real gains that have been made, and then continue working for greater ones. Every so often those small gains coalesce and from them comes something huge that to those not involved seems to come from nowhere. Heck, for many of those involved it comes as a surprise.

My friend Ahjamu Umi of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party always urges people to get involved in a group fighting for justice. In truth, if you choose to heed his words, your problem will be choosing just one.

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Activists Convene Community Discussion on Continuing Housing Crisis http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/12/21/activists-convene-community-discussion-on-continuing-housing-crisis/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/12/21/activists-convene-community-discussion-on-continuing-housing-crisis/#respond Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:00:37 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10450 DSC_7444Story and photos by Pete Shaw

As a debilitating housing crisis continues to plague Portland, those people most affected are organizing against landlords and the laws that work to benefit them at the expense of tenants. On Wednesday December 16, Know Your City (KYC) and Portland Tenants United (PTU) hosted a community dialogue titled “The Rent Crisis: a People’s Perspective.”  A panel of five discussed strategies for housing justice in the face of tenant evictions and skyrocketing rents throughout the city.

Back in September, the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) declared a renters state of emergency. Soon the City Council followed suit and enacted a series of tepid but important measures that–while not alleviating the crisis–clearly acknowledged the problem and set a path toward a legislative solution. Those measures included requiring landlords to give 90 days notice when raising rent by more than 5% as well as for no-cause evictions.

One of the primary problems facing tenants is that they have almost no legal protection from landlords who want to raise the rent. Portland cannot enact its own rent control measures due to statewide preemption laws, and the two measures mentioned above are already being challenged in court. Opponents of rent control–particularly lobbyists for various landlord trade groups–have argued that the problem is one of supply and demand, and that rent stabilization policies would only create more problems.

On Wednesday December 9, the Oregonian hosted a panel of “concerned citizens and community experts” which included City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Dike Dame of Williams and Dame development, but did not, according to those who set up the KYC/PTU forum, take into account the needs of renters. Organizers of the KYC/PTU event noted that “while the people on this (the Oregonian’s) panel do make major decisions about housing in our community, this panel clearly fails to reflect the diverse perspectives of working class people who are affected by the housing crisis in Portland.” The KYC/PTU forum was created to give voice to those who were not invited to be on the Oregonian‘s panel.

The night began with the panel being asked why rents were so high. Josh Alpert, Chief of Staff for Mayor Charlie Hales, said Portland was “the victim of our own success.” Citing the “unprecedented level of growth” of people moving here “to live the urban lifestyle,” he noted that for many it was cheaper to live in Portland and commute to work elsewhere, either physically or via telecommunication. This growth, combined with a lack of affordable and family housing, has resulted in a market that has priced people out.

10321775_10153592208052440_1704995884219208507_oMargot Black of the PTU stated that laying blame at the market’s feet is “the loudest narrative,” but added that people are not making enough money and cannot afford the rent increases that landlords are choosing to make.

Katrina Holland, Deputy Director of the CAT, noted that landlords are “just able to raise the rents.” She told the audience that market values are decisions people make, referring to their effect on communities as “economic cleansing.”

Though rent control is subject to preemption under Oregon law, many activists believe it to be a vital tool in protecting tenant rights. Black noted that contrary to the complaints of landlords, rent control does not set unprofitable rents, but rather “does not allow unregulated profit in the same way we don’t allow the water bureau to have unregulated profit.”

While the preemption rule is not set in stone, getting around it would be difficult. Rent control measures must be enacted by the state and are reserved for man-made or natural disasters. In theory, those caveats cast a wide net. Black wondered why “demolitions, evictions, and the lack of demand during the recession” are not considered man-made disasters, asking why these could not be used as grounds for the City to create rent control rules.

Holland and Alpert did not disagree with Black’s assessment, but they also did not think it would pass muster with the state. Holland said the CAT contacted a lawyer about this, and the lawyer was quite sure it was an untenable course. Likewise, Alpert noted that when the City crafted its rules dealing with rent raises and no-cause evictions, its lawyers were very careful to make rules that they felt were defensible.

It seems a difficult tight wire to walk. Clearly there is a problem–the City acknowledged as much in its state of emergency–but solving the problem, at least legislatively, is going to take a series of small steps that eventually lead to larger steps. For example, Holland noted that in the upcoming short legislative session, the CAT would be pushing to abolish no-cause evictions for seniors. Someone in the audience shouted, “Why no-cause evictions for anybody?” Holland responded that the CAT is working on that, but it will require a longer session.

At one point Alpert talked about how when two weeks ago Portland hosted West Coast mayors in a forum dealing with the housing crisis, the Department of Housing and Urban Development expressed interest in attending. During the conference, Alpert said a HUD higher up implied that President Obama might issue an executive order to give cities the tools they need to deal with their housing problems. What that executive order might contain, if promulgated, remains to be seen, but the point was clear that while this is a long process it is a doable one.

The most important aspect of achieving success is nothing new: organize. Vahid Brown, who works with Hazelnut Grove, the community for people without housing near the intersection of North Greeley and Interstate Avenues, noted that the reason why laws and regulations seem to favor landlords and developers is because they are better organized than tenants and people without housing.

Alpert said the state of emergency has given the City time to do its own form of organization. By placing the difficulties faced by people being forced out of their homes out in the open, it helped citizens begin to understand the magnitude of the problem. When the City announced it would use the SFC Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center as a temporary shelter, Alpert believed there was less pushback from area residents because of the already declared emergency.

That said, the Sears Building will only be available for six months, at which point, the number of people without housing living on the streets will again rise toward the City-estimated 2,000. It is a temporary solution to a problem that will remain permanent as long as housing is not considered a human right in real, tangible terms.

12039042_10153592208172440_4955584217767218949_oIt’s easy to say housing is a human right, but what does that mean? Chloe Eudaly, who runs the Facebook group That’s a Goddamned Shed and has just started the group Friends of Oregon Renters noted that the Oregonian‘s panelists were asked if housing was a human right, but were pressed little further.  “I would like to hear from the panel what housing as a human right means to you because that’s an idea that we’re hearing more and more but is being given very little explanation, and there was so much misinformation spread on that panel last week,” Eudaly said.  “If housing is a human right, that means our government and our communities have an obligation to provide it, and we are failing to provide it.”

“Housing is not a commodity,” said Holland. “Housing is not something that should be used for the sole purpose of making money.”

Black added that wealth and investment in housing were ideas that should be looked at in terms of how they impact “the community, not individuals or corporations.”

The City has a few other tools at its disposal. Alpert noted the huge number of “zombie houses”–houses that are empty and not being used, many of which have been foreclosed on by banks–that the City has the power to foreclose on. While the City has not used its power of foreclosure in 40 years, Alpert said it was launching a pilot program of about 20 empty houses which the City would make available to people looking to purchase a home, presumably at prices that would value community over profit.

Alpert said Hales is also changing its policy by which the City conducts sweeps of people without housing. During last week’s torrential rains there were sweeps which Alpert said were not authorized by the mayor. He seemed genuinely shocked that the sweeps happened, saying that the policy should be that during bad weather you “do nothing–leave people alone.” Part of the problem is that there are numerous police forces operating in Portland including the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the Union-Pacific Railroad police, and the private forces hired by the Portland Business Alliance. Now all sweep requests, regardless of which police force is being called upon to conduct them, must go through the mayor’s office. Alpert said that this did not mean an end to sweeps, but stressed that sweeps should not be used “unless there is an absolute need.”

Brown applauded this policy change, noting that sweeps–or just the threat of them–create great anxiety among people without housing. During sweeps, people lose their possessions, including identifying documents, and find themselves consistently forced to start all over again. In cold weather, sweeps can potentially be deadly, because police confiscate tents and sleeping bags, leaving the houseless to deal with rain, snow and chill with very little protection.

One point touched upon by some panelists was the need to change how people view housing. If, as Holland stated, housing is not a commodity, then what is it? Brown said we needed to start treating housing as a public utility. Black later echoed this comment, and Alpert appeared to nod in approval.

Conspicuously absent was any mention of more militant activity, the work that stresses the system and eventually, to paraphrase Frederick Douglass, makes power concede. A few years ago there was a vibrant housing defense movement in the city that kept people in their homes in defiance of the banks, police, and politicians. It gave some people shelter and breathing room, and more importantly, it organized people and jump started a conversation about housing justice. Some results of that work could be seen at the KYC/PTU forum. If there are to be solutions to this crisis–whether as “simple” as rent control or far more reaching like guaranteeing every person the right to permanent shelter and housing–that militant organizing will need to continue playing an important role.

Near the end of the night, Alpert talked about time he spent following some people without housing around the City to better understand the issues they confront. He said much of their time was spent waiting in lines for showers, doctors or other appointments, and for many other services. For him, it highlighted how inefficient the current system is, and how housing is the basic building block of functional living.

“Without housing,” Alpert said, “human life cannot really happen. When people have housing, that’s when their lives can really start.”

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Recreation Workers Pushing for City to Support Living Wage http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/12/07/recreation-workers-pushing-for-city-to-support-living-wage/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/12/07/recreation-workers-pushing-for-city-to-support-living-wage/#respond Mon, 07 Dec 2015 19:26:56 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10434 DSC_7378Story and photos by Pete Shaw

A petition signed by over 350 Recreation employees  was presented the Portland City Council on December 2, asking for a $15 an hour minimum wage, benefits, and more opportunity for year-round jobs. “I’ve seen excellent employees struggle with low wages and a lack of access to full time work,” said William Zeigler, a frontline staff member at Mt. Scott Community Center. “These staff members kept our community centers running even if it meant they weren’t making enough to live or had to work multiple jobs. Many great employees who had a real future with the City have left due to low wages and a lack of access to full-time work.”

At an October 21 “working families town hall” held at the SEIU Local 49 hall, Mayor Charlie Hales stated he would push the City council to voluntarily recognize Parks and Recreation workers as unionized workers: if they want to join the union–Laborers Local 483–then the City will recognize them as union employees.  Now Recreation workers are trying to hold Hales to his word. If placed in an ordinance, voluntary recognition would mean that the City would be a willing partner in negotiations over living wages, benefits, and other workplace protections. Erica Askin, Business Manager for Laborers Local 483, estimates that 600 to 900 Parks and Recreation employees would be affected, depending upon how their work is arranged.

Back in February, the council approved a resolution updating the City’s Fair Wage Policy, and on May 13 approved the actual amending of the policy, setting $15 an hour minimum wage for all full-time City workers as well as over 150 janitors, security guards, parking attendants, concessions workers, and other who work for companies that contract with the City. However, it left out over 1,800 part-time workers, most employed by Parks and Rec, which is overseen by Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

DSC_7379As a result, numerous “casual” Recreation workers still find themselves struggling with poverty wages. Portland has increasingly relied on casual workers to do the same duties as permanent employees. Unfathomably, their wage is based not on the work they do–which is the same as full-time employees–but on their status as part-time workers. Unlike those permanent employees, casual employees have no job security, and they receive significantly lower wages than their full-time counterparts. They are also limited in the number of hours they can work in a year.

Sarah Kowaleski, who has worked part-time at the Multnomah Arts Center for over 5 years, told the council how her work includes “booking important life events for my community, processing need-based scholarships, and connecting the public to social services in a multi-purpose building,” yet because she does not receive a living wage, she not only performs this work of connecting the public with social services, but also needs them herself.

“I have years of service to the City, and years of empty cupboards,” she said.

Kowaleski had given moving testimony regarding her difficulties making ends meet at the February council meeting–a problem hardly uncommon for casual Recreation workers–but last week she told the commissioners she was speaking “on behalf of hundreds of Rec workers–my colleagues who teach classes for our children, ensure pool and water safety, and support elders.” She noted how many Recreation staff have worked part-time for “9, 10, even 24 years, often without benefits and a living wage, job security, or basic workplace protections” and that “there are still hundreds of Rec workers struggling with poverty wages under this city’s employment.”

According to Laborers Local 483, Recreation part-time workers “typically earn $11 an hour.”  According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, a person living in Multnomah County would need to make $11.25 an hour to cover basic living expenses. For a two adult-two child household, a living wage rises to $15.26 an hour. Both living wages assume full-time employment, 2080 hours a year.

Zeigler, who has been a casual employee for eight years at Portland’s community centers and outdoor pools, told the commissioners about his particular struggles to make ends meet. “I, like so many others, do not make enough to afford my own housing or transportation,” he said. “I also do not receive benefits–an overwhelming expense, especially as a person with a physical disability. I have spent my life in and out of medical debt and seen the stress it can put on families and households.”

DSC_7367Voluntarily recognizing Recreation workers as unionized, Zeigler told the council, would open up “an avenue that could change the lives of potentially hundred of Recreation employees, the largest group of low-wage workers employed by the City of Portland. By using the democratic process of voluntary recognition, Rec staff will have the opportunity to gain access to benefits, living wages, and union protection. Staff will also be more likely to afford rent–something I have not always been able to do–and they will also be more likely to provide for their families.”

Kowaleski noted how the disparity of wages and benefits received by part-time workers was felt by the same groups of people who always seem to bear the brunt of inequality. “Portland is becoming more stratified by race and class, and the city government is no exception,” she said. “As we strive to implement equity in city services and internally, it gives me pause to know that casual workers who face low-wages are 20% more likely to be women like myself and 10% more likely to be people of color. In a city with the fastest growing rents in the country, we are also prone to the most displacement.”

State Senator Michael Dembrow and State Representative Lew Frederick attended the council meeting, supporting the Recreation workers. “We expect our public agencies to be role models for how to be good employers,” said Dembrow. “Recreation staff have been struggling for too long with low wages, no benefits, unpredictable schedules, and no workplace protections. These workers are doing what’s brave and right to join together for a union. Every employer, including the City of Portland, should recognize workers’ desires to better their lives and the lives of their families.”

Kowaleski asked the council to voluntarily recognize Recreation workers as unionized by December 16.

“A pathway to better wages couldn’t come soon enough.”

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Black Friday Actions Bring Justice Activists Together in Common Cause http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/12/03/black-friday-actions-bring-justice-activists-together-in-common-cause/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/12/03/black-friday-actions-bring-justice-activists-together-in-common-cause/#respond Thu, 03 Dec 2015 16:57:31 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10424 12265834_10153722037762440_3402704685622857270_oStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Over 300 supporters of Don’t Shoot Portland and the Black Lives Matter movement gathered in Holladay Park on Friday November 27, making demands ranging from police reform to the abolition of capitalism that has created a system where Black lives do not matter. The rally also included a boisterous march through nearby streets that occasionally backed up traffic and culminated inside the Lloyd Mall.

“We know that we live in a society that pushes a consciousness that says you don’t matter,” said Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot Portland. “How dare we accept the opportunity to let our children be handed this shit? To be embarrassed to say Black lives matter.”

The event came two days after the one year anniversary of a grand jury refusing to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. Racist messages on the social media site Yik Yak aimed at Black Lewis and Clark College students and an attack by 3 white men on a Black student at the school gave the rally added tension. So too did the recent finding that the Oregon Department of Justice was spying on the Black Lives Matter movement in Oregon. Earlier in the week Portland police officer John Hurlman had posted a belittling message on Twitter reading “Black Lives Matter is planning to protest at Lloyd Center on black Friday. Oh joy, stuck late again at work to babysit these fools.”

12307417_10153722037707440_2276697122912199439_oThe most obvious specter hanging over the rally was the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) murder of Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. McDonald was shot 16 times, and Officer James Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder. Dashboard camera footage of McDonald’s murder finally was released earlier in the week–400 days after McDonald was killed–showing that police lied about the circumstances surrounding McDonald’s murder, relying on the all too usual story that the officer shot to protect himself. The footage was released only because Cook County judge Franklin Valderrama ordered it, and it can hardly be a coincidence that Van Dyke was finally indicted the same day its horrific images were made public.

“We understand this is a very real land of danger,” said Alyssa Pagan of Don’t Shoot Portland.

That sentiment has clearly been brought into the public eye  by high profile cases such as McDonald and Freddie Gray, and lesser known but equally beloved lives like Michael Lee Marshall and Chandra Weaver.  As of November 30, at least 1,083 people in the US have been killed by police in 2015–an an average of more than 3 people a day. It’s a number that is impossible to escape.

“Right now Black people are being slaughtered,” Magic told the crowd. “We’re being mowed down. Our civil rights are being trampled. That’s why we say Black lives matter.”

Coinciding with Black Friday–the so-called busiest shopping day of the year–the rally highlighted various alliances, including with labor justice groups such as $15 Now, pointing to a solidarity that demands systemic change over reform; that demands a system that values people’s lives over bottom lines.

“Capitalism is a system that is inherently based on profit–on profit before people,” said emcee Lamarra Haynes. “The system is rotten to its core. I don’t know about you, but I am going to help tear the fucking shit down.”

The crowd boisterously agreed with Haynes, shouting, “What do we want? Revolution! When do we want it? Now!”

But this day was hardly about shouting slogans. Speakers put forth analysis of how capitalism works to create the oppression of many for the reward of a few. Haynes, for example, addressed the issue of why there was a dearth of Black people at the rally. Holladay Park is located, she explained, at the far end of what was once Portland’s Black community, but because of redlining, other forms of discrimination and outright land grabs (Memorial Coliseum, for example, destroyed numerous homes and Black owned businesses) have forced many Black people to leave their homes. Many of those people, scattered wide from a common place, would have to devote much time and effort to get to the rally and, furthermore, many of them work in low wage jobs, such as retail, that required them to work on this day.

“It keeps getting back to capitalism,” said Haynes. “If you keep getting 75 cents per white man dollar, this happens.”

12265895_10153722036697440_3096139011919167719_oAndrea Latrice, an organizer with Portland Jobs with Justice, echoed Haynes’ words. “Black people and capitalism do not mix. They are like oil and water. This country is built on my getting paid 75 cents for every dollar white men make.”

“I do not want this for my children,” said Jamila, who was attending her first protest. “Money should not rule people. We all want to be a community. To live, to support, to make it in this life.”

Pagan, after leading a call and response with the crowd featuring 14 names of Black people murdered by the police, reminded the crowd that all of them “were from impoverished neighborhoods.” She made clear the difference between poor and impoverished, noting that the latter is imposed. The economic inequality and injustice experienced by Black people and other people of color is no accident, and neither is the state sanctioned violence of the police that has always existed to keep down people who might otherwise rise up and try to overthrow the capitalist system.

Saying “capitalism requires that most people live in poverty,” Pagan told the crowd that the $15 Now campaign, which is seeking to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, was “working on purpose with Black Lives Matter.” 15 Now Oregon has been present at numerous Black Lives Matter movement events.

12314362_10153722037277440_1431466735780691555_o“It’s no accident police are beating and killing young Black people because they are on the street, marginalized by low wages,” said Jamie Partridge, an organizer with 15 Now Oregon. He then talked about how the Democrats–supposedly the party of working people–despite holding both houses of the Oregon legislature and the governorship, had not delivered a minimum wage raise. Thus, Partridge and other organizers have been gathering signatures for a 2016 ballot initiative.

Partridge found the initiative route fitting. He noted how the greatest gains for workers have come when they have taken matters into their own hands, particularly using the strike. The current minimum wage fight, he noted, started when 200 fast food workers–without any union protection–walked off the job, demanding a higher wage. Similarly, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen its various groups promoting numerous tactics, ranging from working inside with legislative bodies to engaging in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience designed to force change from the outside.

“It’s the power of working people,” said Partridge, “that’s going to change this system.”

Following the rally, the crowd took to the streets–shadowed by police on bicycles–heading west on Multnomah, then up Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The march then suddenly turned around and it appeared as if people were heading for the Broadway Bridge. At Williams and Tillamook, marchers were confronted by about 15 police in riot gear, apparently intent on keeping the bridge open. Most people parked themselves on Williams, where a sitoff occurred for a few minutes, until protesters commenced their return to Holladay Park.

There, Raiford noted that Michael Brown’s body had lain in the street in Ferguson for four hours before being moved, and that the rally and march was supposed to last that long. However, just nearing 4 PM, the activists had been at it only 3 hours. Raiford then urged people to go into the mall, to continue the rally “because we are trying to stop a murder.”

The crowd paraded through the first and second floors of the mall, chanting slogans such as, “Black Lives Matter, not black Friday!” Many of the workers, including security guards, seemed interested in the action. Eventually, most of the rallyers gathered on the second level bridge over the ice rink, raising their hands in 4 minutes of silence for Michael Brown and all victims of police violence. Quite a few of shoppers also observed the vigil, after which the protesters exited the mall.

12291684_10153722037367440_1222490287440525618_oSince Michael Brown’s death, organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have sprouted across the country. Groups such as Don’t Shoot Portland (which organized the rally) and Black Lives Matter Portland, led by young Black people, have brought together and worked with a wide swathe of people demanding change, even as reactionary forces that benefit from the status quo decry these courageous activists as divisive in their efforts toward crafting economic and social justice. They are galvanizing people, not merely to talk about how shameful these injustices and indignities are, but to take an active role in dismantling the institutions that uphold those abuses.

“I’m sickened by what I’m seeing in my society,” said Susan Anglada Barkley, who was Haynes’ Advanced Placement English teacher at Franklin High School. “We must be inimitable, ferocious, and united in our demand for change. They will say this movement is polarizing. We are here to say hate is polarizing. Murder is polarizing. Lies are polarizing.”

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Portland Activists Hold Vigil to Mark First Anniversary of Child Killed by Cleveland Police http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/30/portland-activists-hold-vigil-to-mark-first-anniversary-of-child-killed-by-cleveland-police/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/30/portland-activists-hold-vigil-to-mark-first-anniversary-of-child-killed-by-cleveland-police/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2015 17:00:37 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10412 12273552_10153712100897440_4272587902738899908_oStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Exactly one year after 12 year old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann in a public playground on November 22, 2014, 50 people gathered in Portland near the corner of SE Madison and 11th for a vigil in Rice’s memory and to demand justice for his killer. The vigil was organized by Black Lives Matter Portland and took place at almost the exact time–3:30 PM–that Loehmann shot Rice.

After shooting Rice, neither Loehmann nor his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, administered first aid. Rice died from his wound on November 23.

“We know there’s no safe space for Black people in America,” said Benny. “We know there’s no safe space for people of color in America.” A father of “four beautiful children,” Benny talked about the fears he has for his children in a world where police violence against people of color–particularly Black people–has seemingly become routine, and where still so many people excuse that violence.

In June, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine reviewed the case and found probable cause to charge Loehmann with manslaughter, murder, negligent homicide and reckless homicide. Adrine also found probable cause to prosecute Garmback for negligent homicide. Yet Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty has yet to present evidence to a grand jury. On October 10, McGinty released the reports of two outside investigators. One of them, retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Kimberly A. Crawford, concluded that “Officer Loehmann’s use of deadly force falls within the realm of reasonableness.” The other investigator, S. Lamar Sims–a prosecutor from Colorado–described Loehmann’s shooting of Rice as “objectively reasonable.”

“What is objectively reasonable about murdering a 12 year old with a toy gun?” Benny asked the crowd. “Nothing.”

12241674_10153712100747440_2939047091062761252_nFollowing release of the reports, Tamir’s mother Samaria requested that McGinty recuse himself from the case and turn it over to a special prosecutor. McGinty refused and at a later press conference referred to the Rice family’s “economic motives” in asking him to step aside.  

As has so often been stated at the various gatherings in remembrance of those Black lives that clearly did not matter to police, the bullets that take one life go on to do more damage. Simone told the crowd about how Samaria, whose home overlooked the park in which her son was shot, went without housing for two months because she could not bear to live in a place within view of his murder.

“Tamir was a child like your brother, sister, son, or daughter,” Simone told the crowd. “This was a place where she (Rice’s mother) thought her son could be safe–a park she could see from her window.”

Simone knows what it is like to lose a loved one to police violence. Her cousin, Gary A. Hopkins, Jr., was murdered by the Prince George, Maryland police on November 27, 1999. Hopkins’ killer, officer Brian C. Catlett, was indicted for manslaughter, but a Circuit Court judge found him not guilty.

Because it took about 9 minutes for paramedics to arrive and take Tamir to a hospital, vigil attendees observed a 9 minute moment of silence, during which the sun moved discernibly closer to the West Hills, and the traffic light at 11th and Madison cycled 8 times. It was a long time.

The vigil took place during a time of increased overt racist activity in Portland. On November 17, an anonymous Lewis & Clark College student posted racist comments–including threats–on the social media site Yik Yak. Those comments included “I just want to hang you ignorant black people” and “#bringbackslavery.”

Then on the night of November 20, three white men assaulted a Black Lewis & Clark student after saying racial epithets at him. (The next night a transgender student at Lewis & Clark was assaulted.) Residents in Gresham, Oregon City, and West Linn have recently received fliers inviting them to join the Ku Klux Klan. It appears from investigative work conducted by Rose City Antifa that the invitations are the work of one white male in his mid-20s. While he may have been acting alone, his online activity uncovered by Rose City Antifa does show him having connections to other Klan groups throughout the US.

Prior to the Tamir Rice vigil, about 60 people had gathered at the site of the Lents Farmers Market at SE Foster and 92nd to inform people about the organizing being done by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, as well as the history of white supremacist groups in Portland and throughout Oregon. Many of those attending this event later made their way to the Rice vigil.

12240411_10153712101032440_1841707215314585122_oAn interesting moment occurred in the early moments of the vigil, one that provided a small template of how white people can serve the needs of Black led groups such as Black Lives Matter. An onlooker had notified police of the event. When that information got back to the vigil’s organizers, Simone asked white people in the crowd to form a barrier between non-white people and the police who might soon arrive.

“This is a teaching moment,” said Simone. “This is literally how you use your bodies.”

One police cruiser eventually arrived, and a police officer conferred with the onlooker. Not long thereafter, the cruiser moved on, never coming within 50 yards of the vigil. If there was any tension among those in the crowd, they did not show it.

The vigil was held under one of the many billboards in the city advertising the Portland Police Bureau’s campaign to have more officers put on the force. Those signs have stolen the language of the Black Lives Matter movement, reading “Having more police matters.” In light of Rice’s killing, a downtown billboard that featured an empty swing set casting a shadow of the swing with a child on it, seems to fall somewhere between callous disregard and gross ignorance on the part of the police .

“If you bring more police into Black communities,” Adrienne of Black Lives Matter Portland told the crowd, “more people will die. Fuck this billboard.”

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Giving Thanks http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/25/giving-thanks/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/25/giving-thanks/#comments Wed, 25 Nov 2015 17:00:34 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10404 12238112_10153712100912440_4523675978493420833_oStory and photos by Pete Shaw

The late, great Townes Van Zandt once said, “Aloneness is a state of being whereas loneliness is a feeling. It’s like being broke and being poor.” Thanksgiving is a day that begins a six or so week stretch that reminds many of their aloneness more painfully than usual. So my better 99% and I celebrate Thanksgiving not with Pilgrim buckle hats, pretensions of the goodness behind manifest destiny, or prayers for the continued blessings of imperialism and racism. We have a stragglers’ feast for those who may be stuck in town with nowhere to go, with no one with whom to be. The crowd has greatly ranged over the years, but whether 3 or 23, it is always a good time.

Because there are many things for which to be thankful, and because I find it important to keep these things in mind, heart, and spirit, I celebrate Thanksgiving as an antidote to the myths surrounding the day. So in no particular order, and with apologies to those whom I neglect…

The Black Lives Matter Portland and Don’t Shoot PDX organizations have so courageously stood up in the face of the police institutions that throughout the history of this country have declared open season on Black people. Through creative and aggressive actions, based on tireless organizing, they have brought out into the open the rotten barrel that is the Portland police bureau as well as the white supremacy that undergirds Portland, Oregon, and the United States. They keep pressing for the change that is so desperately needed. Because of their work, one day all lives will truly matter. Thank you.

11145075_10153524786777440_6551526084616552306_oIn August there was a vigil in memory of transgender women who have been killed this year. It was sobering in a very disturbing way. I knew just about nothing about the challenges these people face, challenges sometimes as base as being acknowledged as people. To stand in the middle of Pioneer Square, shouting into the night the names of the 18 transgender women who had been killed up to that point in 2015, and then telling their stories–of heartbreak and hurt of a depth and breadth I will never know, but also of resilience, defiance, triumph, and hope–was one of the most beautiful and inspiring things I have ever witnessed. Thank you.

About a year and a half ago a few folks spoke at a City council meeting about the need to raise the minimum wage to $15. They were ignored. But in February of this year, the council approved a $15 an hour minimum wage for some City workers. In 2016 Oregonians will vote on an initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s competition comes not from people opposed to raising the wage, but people opposed to raising it so high. The fact remains that a $15 minimum wage is still paltry–a virtually impossible wage upon which to make ends meet in Portland–but a wide, strong wage justice foundation composed of many different groups has been created. Thank you.

DSC_1652aAt Columbia International Cup in New Columbia in North Portland, the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) started up a free breakfast program, making sure that on Mondays and Fridays students get a healthy alternative to the fat and sugar laden meals served in their schools. The program–open to all people–also feeds minds, educating people about African culture and history. It has also provided a vital model of how to organize and provide for people’s needs within the community. Thank you.

Right 2 Dream Too celebrated 4 years of providing a rest area on the corner of West Burnside and 4th for people without housing. Despite opposition from the Portland Business Alliance, some people in the Pearl District, and some members of the City Council, it endures and provides a model for how cities can truly help people without housing. That model has expanded across the Willamette to Hazelnut Grove, on Greeley Avenue, again providing people without housing a safe space. Thank you.

For 48 hours in July, kayaktivists by water and Greenpeace rapellers by air set up a blockade that kept the Shell icebreaking boat Fennica in port. The boat was headed for the Chukchi Sea in the arctic to explore for oil. The blockade was eventually cleared, but not before hundreds of present (and future) climate justice advocates gathered in support. It was a gorgeous two days, and I will never forget getting down to Cathedral Park, seeing the Greenpeace activists suspended from the St. John’s bridge, their red and yellow flags swaying languidly in the breeze. With traffic banned from the bridge, the silence, save for the occasional ripple of those flags, was surreal and beautiful. The resolve of both the rappellers and the kayaktivists was very real, and even more gorgeous. Not many weeks after the event, Shell gave up on exploring for oil in the Chukchi Sea, at least for the moment. Thank you.

In April, a huge number of people packed the room during a meeting of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, demanding the commissioners deny a zoning change that would allow the Pembina Pipeline Corporation to build a propane export terminal at the port. Despite testimony that lasted over 6 hours, and with the majority opposed to the change, the Commission approved it by a slim margin. But strong, sustained citizen pressure on Mayor Charlie Hales resulted in his decision to withdraw a scheduled vote at City Council, effectively tabling the Pembina project. Thank you.

12186279_10153682259777440_3771953356320590973_oA few months after the commission’s decision, Hales shocked Portland’s political scene by announcing he would not run for reelection. A few weeks ago he and Councilwoman Amanda Fritz shepherded through two resolutions. The first–Fritz’s–declaring an opposition to more oil trains running through the region, is an important symbolic statement, but it has little legal power due to rules surrounding interstate commerce. Hales’ resolution, banning the building of infrastructure that would increase the flow of fossil fuels through Portland, has more concrete meaning. Fritz’s resolution passed 4-0 (with Commissioner Dan Saltzman missing) while Hales’ passed 5-0. Nick Fish, Steve Novick, and Dan Saltzman were likely dragged to their yes votes, realizing that with a stacked gallery and 3 rooms filled to overflow, they would have little chance of re-election if they withheld support. It seems that Hales too was pressured to join the environmental protection side–he had originally supported Pembina, and took an active role lending resources to break the Fennica blockade–but he now apparently has found his true voice and should be highly commended. Thank you.

I have written often about my Friend Francisco Aguirre, a man of great decency, with a lovely wife and children. I hope my writing has conveyed the fact that he is part of a larger movement demanding rights and justice for all immigrants and refugees–a movement which ties in closely with the movement to abolish private prisons–even all prisons. Many groups have coalesced around these urgent issues and the great length and strength of their solidarity is impressive and inspiring. However slowly it may be happening, it is creating change for the better. Thank you.

DSC_3091bAbout 4 years ago the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign (ORFTC) began talking about and organizing against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Its passage was considered a given despite it being another of those so-called free trade deals that result in a loss of jobs, an erosion of democracy, and more destruction of the environment. Yet relentless educating and organizing by the ORFTC has brought things to a point where the TPP’s passage is not guaranteed. It’s text–finally released–proves it to be worse than thought, and now representatives and senators are worried about losing their 2016 elections if they support it. Last week Reuters reported that with the opposition the TPP is facing, it may not even come up for a vote during this congressional session. Further work will be necessary, but for now, thank you.

The Portland City Council declared a renters state of emergency in September. With skyrocketing rents and a lack of rent control, people are finding themselves kicked out of their homes for no reason, often with little time and less money to secure alternative, affordable housing–if in fact such housing exists. The Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) has been organizing renters to demand change, and the state of emergency declaration was a good first step. In October, the council went on to approve ordinance that requires landlords to give 90 days notice for no-cause evictions and when raising rent by more than 5%. While falling short of the CAT’s demands, these measures were certainly undertaken due to organizing done on the part of the CAT. Thank you.

The vigil for Keaton Otis,  a young Black man executed by the Portland police on May 10, 2010, continues to be held at 6 PM on the 10th of every month on the corner of NE Halsey and 6th. The vigil also remembers Otis’ father, Fred Bryant, who passed two years ago, and all other victims of police violence too soon gone. Bryant’s courageous daughter Alyssa, JoAnn Hardesty, and Walidah Imarisha have kept the fire burning since Bryant’s death, and crowds at the vigil have sometimes swelled to over 100 people. This light which seeks justice for Otis, Bryant, and all victims of police violence burns bright. Thank you.

9918-441x640Six months after his passing my memories of Greg Margolis grow warmer by the day. He was my Friend, as well as a Friend to so many people demanding justice in an unjust world. I  remember November 17, 2011 when people were committing civil disobedience on the Steel Bridge, and things were getting really tense with the police. There also was great relief in my air as after so long The Beach Boys’ SMiLE (technically, what portions of it had been recorded) had been released. I noted this to a few people, who understandably thought I was a bit out of my mind under the circumstances; however, when I told Greg, he was excited and even thumbed through the booklet that came with the CDs (no doubt after sizing up the situation on the bridge). He Understood. Greg was a person who knew how to have fun while keeping the important things important. One of the beauties of knowing such people–and I would guess that most of you reading this are such people–is that when they check out and you finally start getting your feet back under you, you realize how lucky you were to have shared in such a wonderful life. To his ex-wife and Friend for Life Barbara: he made a difference. Thank you Greg, and thank you Barbara

My editors.  You turn words to song.  Thank you.

My dad, my brother and his family, and my Friends. Thank you. There is always too much to say, so thank you again.

Finally, my aforementioned better 99%. In short–particularly over the past year–she puts up with me. If she is not perfect, she is perfect for me. Dear Jessica, I will never regret coming out of my shell and talking with you on May 22, 1992. God only knows what I’d be without you. You are my blue sky, my waterloo sunset, and after all this time I’ve still never known magic as crazy as this. Thank you. I Love you.

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Immigrant Rights Vigil Casts Wide Net by Including Refugees from Many Cultures http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/23/immigrant-rights-vigil-casts-wide-net-by-including-refugees-from-many-cultures/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/23/immigrant-rights-vigil-casts-wide-net-by-including-refugees-from-many-cultures/#respond Mon, 23 Nov 2015 16:25:45 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10397 DSC_6756aStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Voz and the Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition (PIRC) held a candlelight vigil on the night of November 19, calling for an end to the detentions and deportations that have torn apart many immigrant families and communities. The action was part of a national week of action promoted by immigrant rights group #Not1More and marked the anniversary of President Obama’s executive order last November 20 that expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by the Obama Administration in June 2012.

The vigil came less than a week after the ISIS attacks in Paris that killed over 120 people, and those murders added an unexpected depth to the vigil that made it even more somber and more urgent.

The original DACA program granted legal status for two years to young people without documentation who satisfied certain requirements, and its extension not only expanded legal status to three years, but also made immigrant parents of US citizens eligible for deferred action under the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. Perhaps more importantly, Obama also announced an end to the Secure Communities program that had terrorized immigrant communities, replacing it with Priority Enforcement (PEP), a program that putatively focused on “targeted enforcement” of immigration law. That targeted enforcement, in theory, would limit when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would ask local law enforcement agencies to continue holding a detained immigrant to situations when that “priority” person has been convicted of a crime or has been deemed a threat to national security.

DSC_6762aBut since Obama’s announcement, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction against the DACA expansion and DAPA. That decision was upheld on November 9 by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

As well, the PEP’s targeted enforcement has proven to be more of the same.  While ICE has claimed it no longer conducts immigration raids, a report by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network found that “as implemented by ICE, ‘targeted enforcement’ looks very much like a raid.” If anything, it seems ICE has become more aggressive. According to Marco Mejia of the PIRC, PEP “is worse than” Secure Communities which “benefits corporations that make money off the suffering of immigrants.”

Those corporations include the private prison companies GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, who own many of the ICE prisons. US law requires that ICE imprison an average of 34,000 people every day, a number which makes improbable the idea of targeted enforcement, and also assures GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America a guaranteed source of profit.

“The government actually wants us to be here,” said Pedro Sosa of the American Friends Service Committee, “because they want to fill the private prisons with the immigrant community. Obama has the authority to stop this detention quota. This is immoral, this business. It must stop.”

Amanda Aguilar Shank, who works for Enlace on its national private prison campaign urged the crowd to see immigrants taken away by ICE not just as singular people thrown in prison and facing deportation, but as a part of a system that criminalizes large portions of the population, not limited just to people without documentation. “Black Lives Matter and #Not1More,” she said, “are responses to this criminalization that make it okay to put people behind bars and tear them from their families.”

Shank also challenged immigrant rights activists to reach out to other groups beyond the immigrant community that are fighting this criminalization. Citing the protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the police’s execution of Jamar Clark, the fact that 1 transgender person is killed every week in the US, and the recent threats made against Black students at Lewis and Clark college, Shank said, “This is a moment we need to be challenged to be building these movements and building these connections.”

Mejia expanded those connections even further. He noted how the media treated the victims of the Paris attacks with dignity–a dignity lacking when the lives involve people considered to be unworthy, like those killed by US bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. For these deaths there is virtually no corporate media coverage and, furthermore, the same corporate media often fans the flames of dehumanization which in turn can make such crimes acceptable.

Photo by Pete Shaw

“When white people such as in Paris are killed, we react,” he said. “But when it happens to others we don’t care. That is part of dehumanizing.”

Mejia then asked the 30 people in attendance to keep in mind all victims of terror everywhere, including those of the state terror of which the US government approves and sometimes engages in that is so often ignored.

Earlier in the day, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would make the already difficult task of Syrians and Iraqis seeking entry into the country even more trying, starting with an indefinite suspension of allowing them to enter the US. In promoting the House legislation, Speaker Paul Ryan cynically equated refugees and terrorists, saying, “We cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion.” His language was not very different from that which has been used against other immigrants–particularly those from Mexico and Central America–to the US. Ten years ago, ICE, in response to people’s horror at seeing families torn apart during immigration raids, began a propaganda campaign that equated immigrants from south of the US border as drug dealers, rapists, and murderers.

Ryan’s words were almost nearly as farcical too.  So far, every suspect in the bombings has been from Belgium or France–neither Syrian nor refugee.  From the hysteria that has seemingly gripped many people in the US, one could be forgiven for forgetting, as Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown noted, that since September 11, 2001, most terrorist attacks in the US have been committed by “generally white males.”

Photo by Pete Shaw

And just like immigrants from Mexico and Central America, it’s not like refugees are pouring into the US.  Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the US has taken in 2,000 refugees from that country.  Comparatively, Turkey has welcomed 2 million Syrians who have fled their home.  Obama has proposed taking in 10,000 refugees next year, still a paltry number. Meanwhile, a few days after the Paris attacks, French president Francois Hollande said France would take in 30,000 Syrian refugees.

Whether Syrian and Iraqi refugees, or immigrants from Mexico and Central America, these are people to whom this country owes some debt of responsibility. The House bill, by effectively equating refugees with terrorists, makes the US seem the victim, when it is these refugees who are fleeing from the devastation wrought by the many years of US-European foreign policy that has supported brutal, repressive regimes in Middle East and made the area a fiefdom of US-European economic interests.

There is nothing new to that. As Mejia noted, “This system we live in is very expert at making the victim into the perpetrator and vice-versa.”

Repayment of these kinds of debt does not come easy. But the immigrant rights community’s steadfast refusal to shrink in the face of government repression has yielded great gains. DACA was an important, if limited, victory. And Obama’s attempted expansion of it, as well as his introduction of DAPA was a big step. Those victories were not handed down from President Obama. Rather they were forced upon him because of the continuous organizing of those fighting for immigrant rights and justice.

Now that fight includes Syrian and Iraqi refugees. It says something good about Portland’s immigrant rights community that this vigil could so seamlessly make room for two more groups of people desperately trying to flee homes that have become unsafe, and who have, as Shank put it, become criminalized.

Bob Brown of the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice summed up well the expansive and encompassing character of the struggle. “Our faiths tell us to welcome the stranger, to include the stranger in our communities. Everyone contributes to our community, and we need to be welcoming to those people.”

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New York Fight for $15 Now! Delivering Big Results http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/19/new-york-fight-for-15-now-delivering-big-results/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/19/new-york-fight-for-15-now-delivering-big-results/#respond Thu, 19 Nov 2015 17:00:55 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10385 DSC_6489 aStory and photos by Pete Shaw

New York is big. New York is loud. It is bombastic, boasting, and even overwhelming. New York is not Portland.

Last week I was in The City, part of a trip to visit my family. A few days before departing, I realized I would be missing the rally in Portland to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This did not please me, but thankfully my wife has enough brain cells to spare for me, and she said that a similar event would likely be happening in New York. She was correct, and in fact over 200 such rallies took place around the country.

In some ways, New York City was the starting point for this drive to raise the wage. Not so long ago about 200 fast food workers walked off their jobs, demanding a wage increase and a union, and setting spark to a movement that had been brewing for some time. That campaign quickly blossomed, and it has seen gains in many places, including Oregon where the present fight is not about raising the minimum wage, but to what it should be raised.

The rally at Foley Square, which is located in the southern part of Manhattan, near Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, was a festive, high tech, and decidedly New York affair. That feeling was only augmented by the surrounding skyscrapers and huge government buildings. There are very few places in Manhattan that do not call immensity to mind.

DSC_6471On stage, backed by a giant television monitor, was a very fine band consisting of guitar, bass, and drums. They rolled out some very soulful, funky beats, many of the songs fitting for the day. Their cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was fantastic, and on a dark and cold afternoon that alternated between dreary and dreary with rain, “Stand By Me” made universal sense. I told one person we were from Portland, Oregon and she thanked me for bringing the rain.

Many groups were represented at the rally. Fast food workers, SEIU homecare and healthcare workers (many of whom had walked off the job that day), the Hotel Trades Council, AFSCME workers, City University of New York adjunct professors, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, and retail workers came out. A large contingent of a Black Lives Matter group, bearing a banner reading “Black Work Matters” and wearing hoodies that tied together the struggles with the messages “I Can’t Breathe” and “Fight for $15” mingled easily.

There was a buzz in the air–a sense of immediacy–that one can only get in New York. The old joke has it that the shortest interval of time is that which is between a traffic light turning green in New York City and a driver honking his horn. There is always a sense of movement, and it was palpable at the rally.

Even the speakers were big. Gary La Barbera, a very big man who was the head of some union, talked forcefully about the need for unity among all workers, unionized and not. Governor Andrew Cuomo–about as big as you can get in New York politics–announced that state employees would be getting a $15 minimum wage, which received a huge ovation from a crowd that had swelled to several thousand.

My wife noted that atmosphere was more of a festival than a rally. “New York knows how to party,” she said.

But while there were differences between this protest and the similar ones I have attended in Portland, there were also commonalities–similarities of far greater importance than those surface disparities of pomp and circumstance. Most obvious was the coming together of people from different walks of life, demanding change. Not asking. Demanding.

Those voices were loud and clear, and most importantly, numerous. Governor Cuomo likely did not come willingly to Foley Square to make his announcement. He is a fiscally conservative Democrat whose main goal in life according to many City dwellers is to stymie every reform effort put forth by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio. No, he was probably dragged kicking and screaming. Even though the wage increase kicks in down the road (2018 in New York City, 2021 in the rest of the state), when Cuomo stated that New York stands up, fights, acts, and leads by example, he was–whether he liked it or not–referring to the people at the rally.

DSC_6509And when Cuomo told the crowd, “New York is not just another state. New York is the progressive capital of the nation,” he probably said it through gritted teeth, but say it he did.

In Portland–and throughout Oregon–a different tack is being taken. $15 Now! volunteers are gathering signatures for a 2016 ballot initiative that if approved would raise the minimum wage for all workers to $15 an hour. The initiative’s primary rival is not a group opposed to a higher wage, but one seeking a lesser increase in it. That shifting of the fight is a huge victory in itself and when I told people at Foley Square about it, they were impressed and interested.

The status quo is being dragged along. As long as working people keep organizing and fighting, there is no choice.

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Portland City Council Passes First of Two Climate Action Resolutions Challenging Regional Fossil Fuel Transport http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/06/portland-city-council-passes-first-of-two-climate-action-resolutions-challenging-regional-fossil-fuel-transport/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/11/06/portland-city-council-passes-first-of-two-climate-action-resolutions-challenging-regional-fossil-fuel-transport/#respond Fri, 06 Nov 2015 17:00:21 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10358 906073_10153682259917440_1893690768152878311_o

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

A resolution opposing projects in Portland, Vancouver, and the Columbia River Gorge that would increase the number of oil trains passing through the region was approved by Portland City Council on November 4 by a vote of 4-0. A second resolution which would declare the City’s opposition to the expansion of infrastructure that would primarily be used to transport or store fossil fuels “in or through Portland or adjacent waterways” will be decided on November 12.

The oil train resolution was proposed by council member Amanda Fritz while the infrastructure resolution was proposed by Mayor Charlie Hales.

It was not quite the victory activists were seeking–prior to the council session over 300 people gathered outside City Hall, hoping both resolutions would be approved–but there was still great optimism that Hales’ pending resolution will also pass.

The mere fact that the resolutions were proposed in the first place is a prime example of the power of organizing and solidarity. Mayor Hales stated both in the council session as well as at a press conference earlier in the day that he felt compelled to act because of his meeting with Pope Francis in July in which the pope discussed the urgency of tackling climate change.

No doubt that meeting played some role in his decision, but so, clearly, did the pressure applied by activists who over the course of the past few months have scored some major victories, and, even in seeming defeat, have helped advance the understanding that steps must be taken immediately to mitigate the effects of climate change.

12187980_10153682259982440_8672642640348029062_oIt was a different Hales from the one of a year ago who, in conjunction with the Port of Portland, announced a deal with the Pembina Pipeline Corporation that would bring a propane export terminal at the port–a move that angered many in the region and prompted ongoing opposition to the project. In April, Pembina opponents demanded that the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission reject the necessary rezoning of port land that would allow the terminal to go forward. While the commission approved the rezoning by a vote of 6-4, the project would still need to find support in the City Council which was due to take it up in June.

But in May–two months prior to meeting Pope Francis–Hales unexpectedly withdrew his support for the Pembina deal and the project was shelved. The move was widely understood to be the result of pressure exerted by the large numbers demanding Portland live up to its professed environmental standards by taking steps to curb the use of fossil fuels. Hales, who at the time was planning on a reelection bid, noted the thousands of calls from Portland citizens who opposed the terminal.

Then, in a breathtaking 48 hours in late July, kayaktivists took to the Willamette river in North Portland while Greenpeace activists rapelled from the St. John’s Bridge in an effort to keep the Shell ice breaking boat Fennica from traveling to the Arctic to assist in the controversial exploration for oil in that ecologically fragile region. Though the blockade was ultimately broken, the action made international news and further galvanized opposition to the reckless expansion of fossil fuel dependence.

Though fresh off his visit with the pope, Hales stood in support of breaking the barricade, or rather–as the hundreds gathered in Cathedral Park put it–Shell’s right to destroy the planet. While many thought he might have used his newly found environmental conscience to side with the protestors, ultimately he chose to come down on the side of the establishment.

A few months later, in the wake of Ted Wheeler’s mayoral bid and lower polling numbers, Hales dropped out of the race, saying he wanted to concentrate on finishing up his term rather than spending time campaigning and fundraising. This step finally reaches for a match between action and the rhetoric Hales so often uses.

Which brings us to Wednesday’s council session, in which not all commissioners appeared to be as ardent in their climate change stance as Hales purports to be. Commissioner Steve Novick, seen by many as the necessary third vote to pass the resolutions, voiced clear unhappiness–enumerating in his introductory remarks the various hypocrisies of using fossil fuels while passing rules against them. In some respects Novick sounded more like the conservatives who condemned the anti-Shell kayaktivists for using boats made out of petroleum products, than the champion of progressive values he so often declares himself to be. Novick took the same tack he has taken on other issues–such as coal trains going through the region–saying a federal solution was needed, which seemed to infer that a City resolution would somehow make a federal solution impossible.

Novick came across as someone wanting it both ways. On the one hand he talked about climate change being the issue of our times. On the other, taking steps necessary to prevent the catastrophic results of climate change was a job for someone else. In the end, however, facing a standing room only crowd (plus a few overflow rooms watching a live feed of the session) almost entirely composed of those looking to the future–one that would leave upcoming generations with a livable world–Novick folded. At 6:15 PM he wearily and resignedly voted aye to Fritz’s resolution. As it turned out, his vote was not needed as Commissioner Nick Fish also supported it.

12030437_10153682260022440_223904069218335271_oHales agreed to push back the vote on the second resolution in the hope of getting everybody on board, while indicating–probably in reference to two proposed amendments Novick attempted to make to Fritz’s proposals–that “we will not water down or dilute the intent of these resolutions.”

It will be difficult for any council member to enter their next race having shot down this resolution Would Novick really have wanted to face reelection known as the person who talks about how important it is to address climate change, but when given the chance to do so, said no thanks? Prior to the council session, outside of City Hall, a few people were toying with nicknames for Novick should he vote against the resolutions. He would certainly face a more difficult path to retain his council seat were he to be branded with a moniker like “Fossil Fuel Novick”.

Prior to casting his vote on Fritz’s resolution, Hales talked about a couple of moments that opened his eyes. Not long ago, he and his wife were sailing on the Willamette and had to wait for the Burlington-Northern Bridge to turn. After they passed through, they saw that the bridge did not close all the way, and that a man was using a “big sledge hammer” to try to align the rails. This did not inspire great confidence in Hales.

The other moment came when conferring with Fire Chief Erin Janssens about Portland’s readiness to respond to an oil train explosion. Janssens said the city was not ready. Both issues, Hales said, got him thinking about safety issues, particularly the city government’s responsibility to the safety of Portland’s citizens, an idea he seamlessly wove into Portland’s responsibility to lead on climate change both nationally and internationally.

He then talked about “this big, vague general provision” in the City Charter that describes the mayor’s job as exercising “a careful supervision over the general affairs of the city.” Hales translated those words for the gallery: “Pay attention. Vote your conscience.” With that, he voted aye, brought down the gavel, and adjourned the meeting to a loud, sustained cheer from those in attendance.

It was a remarkable moment.

12186279_10153682259777440_3771953356320590973_oThat Hales brought forth his resolution surprised many people, though perhaps they should not have been. Maybe what people are seeing now, at least on this issue, is the real Charlie Hales–not the candidate who is worried about whom he must satisfy to get votes or campaign cash. Though we may not ever see this man rappelling from the St. John’s Bridge with flags of red and yellow, our mayor appears deeply concerned about the disastrous impact climate change will have on future generations. And while it may have been an all too rare moment where the depth of Hales’ moralistic rhetoric approached his action, it was a welcome shift nonetheless.

More importantly, while that shift was brought on by a myriad of factors, acknowledged or not, it is clear that the steadfast work of many people has helped advance the the argument that the health of future generations should take precedence over fossil fuel profits.

Their persistence is paying off.

The fight is not over. Call the members of the City Council and demand they support Mayor Charlie Hales’ proposal opposing expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. Then show up at the City Council hearing on Thursday November 12 at 2 PM and let your voice be heard. The phone number for the City Council members are:

Charlie Hales: (503) 823-4120

Nick Fish: (503) 823-3589

Amanda Fritz: (503) 823-3008

Steve Novick: (503) 823-4682

Dan Saltzman: (503) 823-4151

 

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