Portland Occupier http://www.portlandoccupier.org News From The Occupation Sat, 13 Aug 2016 13:28:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Burgerville Workers Union Rallies In Support of Fired Union Member http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/08/12/burgerville-workers-union-rallies-in-support-of-fired-union-member/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/08/12/burgerville-workers-union-rallies-in-support-of-fired-union-member/#respond Fri, 12 Aug 2016 16:00:32 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10898 482Story and photos by Pete Shaw

The Walla Walla onion rings–so good that they named them twice–have arrived at Burgerville. Inside its stores, signs advertise the food while emphasizing the community values Burgerville espouses to distinguish itself from the larger fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King. One placard shows a farmer kneeling in a field of large onions, holding a large bulb and its green shoots. Below the photo, bold letters announce, “Grown in Walla Walla.” Another sign shows a young woman and a child at a table with a couple of shakes–perhaps the seasonal marionberry, which uses locally sourced products–and a tray of the onion rings. The text reads, “Made for sharing. Our Walla Wallas are specifically grown and prepared for growing together.” It is typical corporate propaganda, depicting the corporation as existing not for the purpose of maximizing profit but rather for making the world–your world–a better place.

Despite the implication that Burgerville has higher standards than other fast food chains, when it comes to how it treats its workers, Burgerville is no different. Because of that, in April some Burgerville employees formed the Burgerville Workers Union. The union, which has yet to be recognized by Burgerville management, is demanding a $5 an hour raise for all hourly employees, healthier working conditions, and greater respect from management. Those are fairly standard demands of any association of workers. The Burgerville Workers Union–organized with the support of the Industrial Workers of the World–has been campaigning for recognition, and one of its tactics has been showing the real human impact of the lack of workplace justice at Burgerville. Those glaring absences of justice leave workers at Burgerville without recourse to the demands and whims of management.

466On Tuesday August 9 at 9PM, 50 union members and supporters marched into the Burgerville on NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Multnomah Street in support of Paul, a former worker at that store. According to the Burgerville Workers Union, Paul, who is a member of the union, “has been asked to come in and work long hours without legally required breaks, often closing late at night, and staying past the end of his shift to help his coworkers and managers.” Two weeks ago, while working two hours after his shift was scheduled to end, Paul scalded himself with hot water, and in pain and frustration, accidentally damaged a sink. He was suspended for a week and then fired, without due process or an opportunity for restitution.

In a letter delivered to the store’s manager, the union stated, “We are enraged by the treatment of Paul. We are regularly pushed past our limits by Burgerville, especially those of us working late night shifts. Managers prioritize speed of service and labor costs over worker safety, creating dangerous working conditions where accidents happen and people get hurt. Instead of being offered help and relief, workers are blamed, punished, and fired. This is unacceptable and is a clear demonstration of the need for an independent voice for Burgerville workers.”

That need was also made clear a few months ago when Ivy Fleak, a worker at a Burgerville in Vancouver and a member of the union, called out a manager for sexual harassment. According to the union, Fleak was soon targeted by a different manager who attempted to fire her for standing up for her rights. The union and its supporters rallied behind Fleak, and consequently she got her job back and received back pay.

The victory was short lived. According to the union, management retaliated by making “unsubstantiated allegations and threats, putting her in a position where she felt she had no choice but to quit.” In mid-July a person claiming to be a private investigator loudly accused Fleak of stealing thousands of dollars in gift cards, but neither he nor Burgerville management provided any evidence. Management gave her a choice: resign quietly or face criminal charges. No due process. No transparency. Fleak opted to leave her job.

Fellow worker and union member Chris described Paul as one of the hardest workers he knows, often on the unpredictable closing shift. “We work close together a lot,” he said. “Plus those are really hard shifts; you know–there’s no end time. So you work late into the night, scrubbing the grease off floors. You’re working hard. You’re working as fast as you can to get out of here as early as you can to get a decent night’s sleep.”

461Scottie of Scottie’s Pizza Parlor on SE Division, where workers earn at least $15 an hour, came out in support of Paul and the Burgerville Workers Union. He told people how he once worked a job where he found himself in a situation similar to Paul’s, where management was pushing him to work faster and not safely. A box fell on him, and in anger, he punched the box and hurt his hand. But Scottie’s situation was different from Paul’s.

At that job I was fortunate enough to have a union so my job was protected. I received disability pay, and I was able to go back to work once I was healthy enough to return. That’s exactly what should be happening in this case, and that’s why Burgerville needs a union.”

Rob Sisk, President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503, announced that  at SEIU’s recent General Council, the statewide union passed a resolution to support all fights for a $15 an hour minimum wage that specifically cited the Burgerville Workers campaign.  This followed Local 503’s Board of Directors officially endorsing the fight in May.

“All workers in this country have a right to living wages,” he said, “and a right to a union to hold on to those wages and gain respect in the workplace.”

440aRebecca Lewis, who is a stagehand, stated, “The kind of union busting we’re seeing from Burgerville is disgusting.” She then noted that quite a few stagehands worked at the nearby convention center, saying they “don’t have to eat here.”

Soon, the crowd split into two groups, and for about a half hour set up picket lines in front of both entrances to the store. Numerous cars honked their horns in support, and quite a few walking passersby expressed interest. One woman asked a supporter why there were picket lines. She was going to get a hamburger, but when told about the union and Paul’s firing, said she would go elsewhere to satisfy her hunger. The advocate told her that instead she should get her hamburger and use the opportunity to tell the manager to rehire Paul, which she did.

Earlier, Paul–who is 19 years old and a culinary school student–filed an application for employment. He told the crowd, “I’ve worked here for 8 months, I work over 40 hours a week, and I’m a full time college student. I’m just trying to pay my rent. I don’t think a sink should be worth more than my job,” to which someone replied, “We’ve got your back, Paul!”

Whether Paul gets his job back remains to be seen. What cannot be doubted is that in the three months since its inception, the Burgerville Workers Union is making strides toward providing a counterweight to a previously unchecked management.

Standing together as a union gives us workers the courage and strength to push back,” said union member Luis Brennan. “It gives us power that we can use to fight for what we deserve.”

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City Postpones Sweep of Springwater Corridor http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/08/01/city-postpones-sweep-of-springwater-corridor/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/08/01/city-postpones-sweep-of-springwater-corridor/#respond Mon, 01 Aug 2016 16:10:24 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10888 317aStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Resistance mounted by houseless residents of the Springwater Corridor and their allies has resulted in Mayor Charlie Hales delaying sweeping away people without housing who live along the trail. Two weeks ago Hales announced that camping would no longer be allowed along Portland’s portion of the 21 mile long trail and that the City would evict people from Springwater on August 1. A campaign of letter writing, lobbying, and direct action forced Hales to push back the evictions until at least September 1. The 500 residents of the stretch of the Springwater Corridor covering 82nd to 122nd Avenues compose the largest single houseless encampment in the United States.

In February Hales lifted the City’s camping ban. That change made it legal for groups of up to six people to camp on City property as long as tents were removed by 7 AM. The mayor has said that services will be provided to people forced out of Springwater, but according to Portland Tenants United (PTU) services are “already at capacity.” In other words, should Hales initiate a sweep on September 1, the people living along Springwater Corridor will be cast to the wind.

After Hales announced his original plan to sweep the Springwater Corridor, the people without housing who live there convened a general assembly that included supportive neighbors and community members, as well as allied organizations including PTU, Boots on the Ground PDX, Backpacks of Hope, Advocacy Five, Jobs with Justice, Rising Tide, Anawim Christian Community, Hazelnut Grove, Portland Solidarity Network, Serve the People, and Right 2 Dream Too. At that meeting Springwater Corridor residents voted to demand the City cancel the sweep and commit to not displace any houseless residents of Springwater without dedicating resources to a relocation plan.

At a rally outside City Hall on Thursday July 28 that had originally been scheduled to further pressure Hales into abandoning the sweep, Austin Rose of PTU described the one-month reprieve as a “temporary victory.” Speaking to a crowd of about 30 people, Rose said, “Unless the mayor works for real solutions to this problem, he’s going to go in there on September 1 and do the same thing he would have done on August 1.”

Rose noted that those “real solutions” must include all people impacted. “We need real, collaborative solutions,” Rose told the crowd. “No clean up about us without us!” In particular, Rose noted that people without housing “have been forgotten in these conversations about their lives.”

301One potential solution which seems to be catching the City Council’s eye is a proposal by developers Dike Dame and Homer Williams to create a shelter for up to 1,400 people without housing at the Port of Portland Terminal 1, just north of the Fremont Bridge along the West bank of the Willamette River. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the facility had been used for “staging of lumber, logs, paper products, steel containers, and bagged grain.” The City now owns the property.

Three years ago, Dame and Williams vociferously opposed Right 2 Dream Too’s move to a new site under the West side of the Broadway Bridge. Their hostility, along with that of many other residents of the Pearl District, resulted in the move’s scuttling.

Commissioner Nick Fish opposes using Terminal 1 for a shelter, but even if approved by the council, the site would likely not be available to the residents of Springwater–or any people without housing–for at least a few years (although according to Tony Hernandez at the Oregonian, Dame and Williams have said that an 18 month temporary shelter could be erected within 60 days). As well, the site is zoned for industrial use, and according to the DEQ is contaminated with heavy-oil-range hydrocarbons, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), arsenic, copper, and lead.

But more importantly, according to Rose, nobody has bothered asking the people without housing who will be expected to make use of the shelter what they think of the plan. For now, Rose says the best working solution for the residents of Springwater is Springwater. When he mentioned the Terminal 1 plan at Thursday’s rally, the crowd voiced opposition. One person shouted, “It’s a prison for the homeless!”

It is paradoxical that Hales would jettison the over 500 people who reportedly live along the Springwater Corridor. According to the report 2015 Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness in Portland/Gresham/Multnomah County, Oregon, there are 1,887 people without housing living in Multnomah County. Because resources for people without housing are already stressed to their limit, PTU says, “When folks are forced out, there is nowhere for them to go except into the neighborhoods.”

On top of that, the renter state of emergency continues as rents continue skyrocketing. According to the website Rent Jungle, the apartment rental in Portland over the past 6 months increased by 3.8%, or $61, with the average rent for a one bedroom apartment costing $1,546, while a two bedroom rental averages $1,871.

Tying together the fights for affordable housing and raising the minimum wage, Rose stated, “That is not sustainable for those of us who make under $15 an hour. That is not sustainable for those of us who make $15 an hour.”

The exorbitant and increasing rents make for a natural alliance between tenants and people without housing. “A lot of tenants are one paycheck away from being out there themselves,” said Rose. “So we believe these fights go hand in hand. Walking the trail in the days preceding our meeting, it was clear talking to folks that many residents used to have housing in the surrounding neighborhoods. Many Springwater residents were displaced by landlords trying to raise rents or issuing no-cause evictions. Hales’ planned eviction is a double injury to these Portlanders.”

Residents of the Springwater Corridor will continue organizing with their allies as long as Hales’ threat of sweeping them away from their homes looms. Their resistance is important both to people without housing as well as those who rent.

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A Warm Farewell http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/29/10875/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/29/10875/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 16:00:30 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10875 1

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

“I’ll never stop believing in your smile

Even though you didn’t stay, it was all worthwhile.”

–Donnie Fritts

This month Portland is losing two very fine activists in Alyssa Pagan and Walidah Imarisha. They will be deeply missed, but this city is all the better for the time we have been lucky to have them here.

Alyssa, who has already returned to her native New Jersey, has been fighting to raise the minimum wage, solve the renters’ crisis, stop police terrorism–particularly against people of color–and expand awareness of the issues facing people who are transgender.

2I first met Alyssa at a 15 Now action, but the moment that comes to mind when I think of her is a vigil in remembrance of transgender women of color who were victims and survivors of violence, held on August 20, 2015. It was one of the most moving events I have ever witnessed, with the names of the 18 murdered transgender women shouted into the Portland night from Pioneer Square. After each name was called, a eulogy was offered, telling a life story. Dehumanized in life–and sometimes in death due to improper descriptions of who they were–the vigil affirmed their humanity. The crowd of over 300 people bore witness, offered support and love, and wondered if others in the crowd would meet a similar fate.

Alyssa, who often described herself as a “badass Black, Puerto Rican trans woman,” said she never felt safe in her life. It is a feeling I cannot understand, and frankly, one I hope never to know. But if I did, I would feel very lucky–and perhaps a bit secure–knowing Alyssa was with me. At a party before she left Portland, numerous people talked about how she was always there for them on a personal level. The deep level of love and affection they had for her was tangible.

Like Alyssa, I am from New Jersey. In fact, she was born not far from where I grew up, and she recently posted a photo of herself and two Friends in Red Bank, a town with which I am familiar. Prior to that, she had attended the anniversary of Eric Garner’s choking murder by New York City police, and since that Red Bank photo, she has been in Philadelphia, protesting at the Democratic National Convention. I am comforted to know she is part of those actions.

Walidah Imarisha will soon be heading south to Stanford University where she will teach writing.  She is a great writer in several genres, and her students will benefit immensely from her skill, enthusiasm, and wisdom. Her recent book Angels with Dirty Faces is at once informative, harrowing, and beautiful. Her poetry, some of which can be found in her Scars/Stars, is compact and powerful. Her leaving bothers me because she has become my Friend, and I will miss her.

I first saw Walidah about 4 years ago when she was performing some of her poetry at an art show for the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee. On that occasion I took a few reasonably satisfying photos of her. She has occasionally used one of those photos to promote her Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? presentation, and I always get a charge from feeling I was useful to her in some small way. Her program on the history of black people in Oregon covers the past, present, and future, and she has traveled all over the state to give it, sometimes in the face of white supremacists who in the end provide proof of the story she tells.walidah tomando las calles

Walidah often led the monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, the young Black man murdered by the Portland Police on May 12, 2010. Fred Bryant, Otis’s father, also attended those vigils until his death, and since then the vigil remembers him and all victims of police violence. The vigil, held on the 12th of each month at NE 6th and Halsey, will continue in Walidah’s absence.

Future” is one of Walidah’s most persistent subjects. She writes science fiction, and she says we must dream the future we want. The abolition of chattel slavery in the antebellum United States is a case in point. Once just a pipe dream, when it was embraced by enough people, what was once fiction became reality.

For the past few years she has lived near me. I bake bread, and my better 99% often insisted I take a loaf to Walidah because she put up with me. Fair enough. Doing so was one of the many great pleasures of my life, and I will always appreciate that despite my nervous mumbling and gyrating, she always managed to look like she was happy to see me.

In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf admonishes the crying Sam Gamgee, Merry, and Pippin, “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

Maybe so. But they still hurt.

Best of luck in all you do, Alyssa and Walidah. Live long and prosper.

And know the door is always open.

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Moving Life, Still http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/25/moving-life-still/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/25/moving-life-still/#respond Mon, 25 Jul 2016 16:00:54 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10850 John and Dorothy Shaw

John and Dorothy Shaw

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

A few weeks ago I was in New Jersey. I go there twice a year, and I should tell you now that this is not the lead-in to a joke, although I am sure you have already come up with numerous punchlines. My brother and my father live there, in Denville, a small town in the northwest part of the state. My dad is from Brooklyn–Greenpoint, to be precise–and my brother was born in Queens. But in 1968, along with my mom, who was also from Brooklyn–Bay Ridge, to be precise–moved to Marlboro, New Jersey, and from 1970 until two years ago, the house in Marlboro was in one form or another, home. It was a small, quiet place when I was growing up, and I have fond memories of my youth. I would not want to live there now if only because so much of the open space I knew is gone, save for in my memory.

As I type, the Republican National Convention is wrapping up. Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for President of the United States. I don’t have a terribly difficult time typing those words, although I would be lying if I told you that I feel good about it. He is a man who preaches hatred in numerous forms, and he plays to the most base instincts in our humanity. He is selfish, and it seems he regards people as things he can use or things to be feared, depending on whether they support or oppose him. He cares only about wealth and power, and their projection. He is the perfect representative of a capitalist society, the distillation of its practical ethos that everything, including life, has a price.

On July 2, my brother, dad, and I were sitting in a park on a bluff in Weehawken, New Jersey, overlooking Manhattan. The view is incredible, and I highly recommend it. A day prior, my brother and I had been a few miles to the east in Hoboken, wandering around. There is a park there that overlooks the Hudson River, and in it were shot a few scenes On the Waterfront. A mile or so east is the old Hoboken train station which you can see in Once Upon a Time in America. The views of The City from all those spots are stellar, and with the right eyes the New York seen and conjured in those films comes to life.

My brother. He coulda been a contender.

My brother. He coulda been a contender.

My dad is 91. The rise of Trump, for lack of a better phrasing because the dark spirit that he embodies has been with this country since July 4, 1776, shocks him. Perhaps the view from Weehawken displays a Manhattan as different to my dad’s eyes from when he was growing up as the country now appears to him.

A week earlier, I took my dad to see his sister, Dorothy. At 88, she is his last remaining sibling. Patrick died long ago. Bernie in 1991. Tilly and Dolly a few years later. Kenneth only a couple of days after my mom passed. Florence a couple of years ago. Dorothy, who now lives in an assisted living facility on Long Island, not far from where my mom first started her career in teaching, has had some health setbacks the past couple of years. Regardless, she is still sweet. In her room are photos of their mom, who died when I was 10; their dad, who left much earlier; and Bernie. She and Bernie lived with their mom in Queens. Those that I met all seemed to be kind, caring, and decent people. Dorothy and my dad, as well as my cousin Adrienne who lives nearby and helps take care of Dorothy, remain so.

We had lunch and shot the breeze for a few hours. On the way back to Denville we drove near where my grandpa and grandma on my mom’s side lived after they moved from Bay Ridge, and then past Coney Island. To the immediate right was the train yard where a long time ago, my dad told me, the trains slept. They still bed down there. To the left was the high school attended Lee Mazzilli, the great hope of the Mets in the 1970s. One day my grandparents took my brother to a Mets game. I, too young and probably too much of a hellion, was left behind. It was helmet day, and they made sure to get me one of the souvenir batting helmets being given away.

My dad and Aunt Dorothy's dad and mom.

My dad and Aunt Dorothy’s dad and mom.

A few more blocks toward the Coney Island  beach is where Woody Guthrie lived, renting a place from a landlord whom he more or less described as scum of the earth. That landlord’s last name was Trump.

When we would visit my mom’s parents, it was always a good time. At least that’s how I remember it. Which is funny because we really didn’t do much. But I guess it was nice being able to go from throwing a ball against a wall in the tiny backyard they had to just being with them. When we would leave, my grandpa would flick a dead light switch on the wall, telling us he was turning on the lights atop the towers of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. And lo and behold, when we came to the bridge about 20 minutes later, the red lights were on. That grandpa died in 1984, three years to the day after my dad’s mom, and grandma Farrell died in 2000, only a few days after my better 99% and I moved to these parts. Every so often I remember how much I miss them, but I draw comfort in being so lucky as to have known them.

My dad plays bocce on Wednesdays with some of the other residents of the independent living facility in which he lives. I was invited to play. My first match saw me paired with Kathleen. She is from the Bronx, although she now spends much of her time in Florida. She told me about living in an apartment building without an elevator, having to carry her children up to the fifth floor. Many years distanced from the experience, she smiled about it. Then she got down to the business of kicking ass. We won our game, handily, a fact she noted a few days later.

Bob, from Brooklyn, moderates the bocce games. He is a crafty player, skilled at knocking away the opponents’ balls. He is about 10 years younger than my dad, and he is quite the character. A salty sort who could go on forever about the Dodgers.

My mom’s mom would have liked half of him. I always got the feeling the two worst people in the history of the world to her were Oliver Cromwell and Walter O’Malley. As she was Irish through and through, Cromwell makes sense. O’Malley takes a little more time to understand. He was the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who moved them to Los Angeles. Back around 1994, me, my brother, and my nephew were visiting my grandma, and there was a Mets game on television. She asked who the Mets were playing. She really did not care much about baseball, but when we replied, “The Dodgers,” the beast was unleashed. “I HOPE THEY KILL THEM!” Had Cromwell entered the room, she would have told him to take a number.

Bob also likes the Los Angeles Dodgers, hence the half-like. But fair enough as he talks Koufax and Scully, two good names to while away the last rays of a humid Summer day on the front porch of the St. Francis Residential Community. Gifted with gab, he kept me laughing and both my father and I engaged. Bob is good for my dad, and I am glad they have struck up a friendship.

You might think that since my dad is from Brooklyn that he liked the Dodgers. But you would be wrong. He was a Giants and Cubs fan. Kenneth liked the Cubs, and so he took a shine to them too. So it was not so terrible a thing when we drove 30 minutes to the Yogi Berra Museum located on the campus of Montclair State College. Berra played for what at least for most Brooklynites would have been the hated Yankees. But if he was detestable as a fantastic player for the most storied team in baseball, he seems difficult to have disliked as a person; a very down to earth man who had a wonderful way with words. Lines such as “Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore–it’s too crowded” and “You should always show up at your friends’ funerals so they’ll be sure to show up to yours,” have a quaint inner logic and are just a handful of the many that have been attributed to Berra. But as he noted, he never said most of the things he said.

9727aAnd if hated as a Yankee, at least Berra had his final appearance as a player with the Mets. He also was a coach on the Amazing Mets that won the World Series in 1969, and in 1973 he improbably managed them to the World Series. My brother once told me he remembered them heading to Oakland up 3 games to 2 and thinking, “Wow, they really have a chance to win it.” However, they could not seal the deal. But by all counts it was a fun ride.

By day, I spent time with my dad and brother. At night, I was at my brother and sister-in-law’s place. My brother’s wife is a veterinarian. This perhaps explains the 3 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 ducks they have. She has opened a free vet clinic in Newark for people who have pets or want to have pets, but cannot afford veterinarian’s fees. I am not surprised she has done this: she is a wonderful person.

These are, for me, nice snapshots of a few days of a life that has afforded me the opportunity to know many good people, all extraordinary in their own way.

I don’t worry too much about Donald Trump. I don’t think he will win this election–the electoral map will be difficult for him to overcome. However, his ideas, hardly new, have been given much more light and purchase than at any time in my life. That worries me, deeply. Because soon someone will come along and fill in that vacuum, and that person will be a better politician than Trump, not so given to shooting from the hip, and possessing far greater savvy when it comes to using a dog whistle. The meaning of the words will be the same, but they will sound nicer and to many, palatable.

And I don’t mean this as an endorsement for Hillary Clinton or any Democrat. As some person noted quite a few years ago, the Republicans prefer to rule with an iron fist, while the Democrats like to slip a silk glove over it. That said, if I lived in a swing state I would vote for Clinton. To me, voting is a tactic, and particularly, it is a tactic to buy time. And to deal with all the problems that this capitalist system has brought upon us, ranging from climate change to endless war to white supremacy and many foul points in between, we need all the time we can get. It is a five minute break from doing the real work that makes change. If you read this publication with any kind of frequency, you know some of the many groups doing that work. If you have not done so already, join one of those groups–no matter for whom you vote, if you vote at all–and get involved in the real work of creating the world you want to see. I assure you, your problem will be choosing from the many out there.

One of my brother and sister-in-law's dogs.

One of my brother and sister-in-law’s dogs.

Listening to the contemptible bullshit coming out of the Republicans over the past few nights–the visceral hatred for pretty much anyone who is not white, Christian, heterosexual, and probably a few other things–it is horrifying to see these horrible people churned out by our system, with Donald Trump currently at the head of the sordid parade, ready to lead the troops into battle. These are badly damaged people, malformed by the system that produced them.  There are numerous terrible moments to choose from, but one that sticks out for me from that fetid morass was the gleeful cheer that rose from the crowd when it was announced that yet another police officer involved in the murder of Freddie Gray was acquitted.

Pick your totalitarian state, and these folks would be fluent in the father tongue.

A long time ago when these type thoughts would bring me down, I’d think of people like my family and friends to cheer me up. They were, I felt, examples that the system sometimes works because it produces people like them. Decent people. Not heroes. Just good, ordinary folks trying to make ends meet.

But these days I think this false. I do believe the capitalist system works. But it works to dehumanize people, some far more horrifically than others; to make sure a few people control most of the wealth and power while the rest fight for the crumbs. You can pick up a newspaper any day and see this, as well as the great lengths most of those newspapers will go to present this as either a wonderful opportunity of some sort that shows how wonderful the system is, or in the rare cases when the carnage is too horrifying to cover over, a gross mistake of the noblest intentions.

I suppose I now have twice as many thoughts to get me down. But I would be lying to you if I said they did. Instead I find myself even more cheered by both these good people I have had the great fortune to know, both those who have made their way as decently as they could through an indecent system, as well as the truly wondrous people doing wonderful work to abolish that indecent system. Beautiful links of a gorgeous chain existing not because of the system, but despite its best attempts to crush them.

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Passion, Resolve Infuse Black Lives Matter Event in Wake of Latest Murders http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/13/passion-resolve-infuse-black-lives-matter-event-in-wake-of-latest-murders/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/13/passion-resolve-infuse-black-lives-matter-event-in-wake-of-latest-murders/#respond Wed, 13 Jul 2016 16:08:20 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10836 BLM 1 Story and photos by Pete Shaw

A woman with two children walked down the stairs into Pioneer Square in the early evening of July 7 and began talking about how tired she was. Tired of seeing Black people gunned down by police. Tired of being scared every time her husband, sons, and grandsons walk outside. And most of all, tired that nothing is being done to solve the problem of police murdering Black people with almost total impunity. Her words shattered the somber silence that until that point had only been accompanied by the Friday evening traffic, muted conversation, and the soft impact of a light drizzle falling upon the square’s bricks. She was impassioned, despairing, and resolute.

By the time she finished speaking the crowd that was gathering for a hastily organized rally demanding justice for Black people murdered by police and victimized by police violence had swollen to a few hundred people. A few more people spoke–with the same passion and intensity as her–and then what had become a throng took to the streets.

The direct impetus for the rally and march were the police murders of Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 5 and Philando Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on July 6. Both murders were captured on video. Sterling was clearly pinned down when shot twice in the chest, just after a police officer shouted that Sterling had a gun. The gun, in Sterling’s pocket, posed no threat. The police then shot Sterling four more times.

Castile’s death was perhaps even more horrifying. According to Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who along with her daughter was riding with Castile when he was pulled over during a traffic stop, a police officer shot him while Castile was reaching for his license. Reynolds said Castile informed the officer that he had a gun, but was reaching for his wallet when the officer shot Castile in the arm. Reynolds began filming after Castile was shot, and the video showed Castile bleeding out and dying. He was taken to a hospital and soon after arriving was pronounced dead.

BLM 3Sterling and Castile’s murders were nothing new. Police, dating back to the slave patrols during the antebellum United States, have long been visiting violence upon Black people and their communities. That violence serves the ruling class, controlling and containing potentially rebellious people whose bodies are largely considered expendable save for the labor they provide. Castile was the 123rd Black person murdered by police this year in a country where police and vigilantes murder one Black person every 28 hours.

By comparison to the many Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place over the past couple of years, there was something different about Thursday’s rally. It was suffused with a far greater sense of anger, as if over the past few days some line had been crossed. Of course, that line had been crossed long ago, even before Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the numerous other Black people murdered by police and vigilante forces, with virtually nobody held accountable for those deaths. Perhaps it took the brutal murders of Sterling and Castile to bring it to the fore. The prevalence of social media, combined with the ease of video recording has brought into living rooms–and palms–the terrorism that has been visited upon Black people by police and other security forces for as long as this country has existed. The intersection of history and the modernity of social media was well summed up in one marcher’s sign that read, “I am a bullet away from becoming the next hashtag.”

The energy pervading the protest found its expression–and perhaps will continue doing so–in solidarity and resolve. After leaving Pioneer Square, the march, which included members of various racial, immigrant, and labor justice groups, wound its way to the Justice Center, a place whose name becomes more farcical with each police murder that goes unpunished. A truck of riot police rode down a nearby street. Many white people in the crowd formed a chain across 3rd Avenue at both Main and Madison Streets, sending a message to police that if they were to bring violence to the gathering, they would first have to inflict it upon them.

Person after person spoke from the steps of the Justice Center about violence they had seen and felt, loved ones they had lost, and the organizing that needed to be done to make change ranging from reforming to abolishing police, as well as the capitalist system that relies on their violence. It was heartbreaking. It was riveting. And it was inspiring.

Ad hoc as it was, the march was messy. It stopped and restarted in spurts. At some points, particularly along major public transit routes, the crowd stopped for a few moments, perhaps readying to sit down in the street, and then moved along again. But that messiness, as Alyssa Pagan later pointed out from the steps of the Apple Store on Southwest Yamhill Street, was what a grassroots democratic movement looked like.

“Because our system that we live under is so severely undemocratic,” said Pagan, “this is what it looks like when you actually try to create a space like this. It looks like chaos. This is beautiful chaos though. The reason that I’m organizing with this group and wanting to keep on having people do mobilizations in the streets is not because I think that is going to be the only thing that saves us, but because I want people to be able to start to see their own power. We talk a lot about it. But this is actually what it’s gonna look like. The reason that it looks so chaotic is because we have no one else, so I’m telling you: this is what hope looks like. And it is going to be messy.”

BLM 4Quite a few speakers during the event made mention of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, noting that he was not going to solve the problem of police violence and capitalism. “Don’t tell me about your Bernie Sanders,” said one speaker. “Bernie Sanders is not going to solve the problem.”

Another speaker echoed and added to that idea, saying, “Bernie Sanders is not going to solve this. We need a revolution from the ground up.” Sanders was mentioned throughout the march, and speakers emphasized the need for change from below because the institutions through which Sanders–or any political party’s candidate–would work, including both the Democratic and Republican parties, are designed to uphold the country’s capitalist norms, which include placing little value on the lives of Black people and other potentially rebellious groups.

“This is a radical movement!” shouted Lamarra Haynes. “And that being said, guess what? The classrooms, the courtrooms–nothing was ever made for Black people. You can’t take back shit that was never yours.”

That point was given great clarity back at the Justice Center when Michael Strickland, a videographer with white nationalist connections who posts heavily edited footage from various social justice movement demonstrations on the internet, began waving a pistol at people who were upset by his presence. Multiple still shots and video show nobody who could be reasonably described as threatening to Strickland’s life, even as he declared otherwise. There was an undercover policeman in the crowd who saw Strickland brandish his weapon. There were riot police in the vicinity. Eventually, after being talked down by some of the rally attendees, Strickland was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail, along with, we were told, 5 or 6 magazines of ammunition.

The incident was yet one more stark reminder of the difference the color of a person’s skin makes to their treatment by law enforcement and left witnesses to the Strickland incident to ponder what the outcomes for Sterling and Castile might have been had they too been white.

 

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SURJ Condemns Police Violence; Urges Support for People of Color Led Groups http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/12/surj-condemns-police-violence-urges-support-for-people-of-color-led-groups/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/07/12/surj-condemns-police-violence-urges-support-for-people-of-color-led-groups/#respond Tue, 12 Jul 2016 16:00:48 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10826 DSC_0204aStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Over 50 people affiliated with the Portland chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ PDX) gathered at the Justice Center on SW 3rd Avenue on Monday July 11 demanding an immediate end to police violence and calling upon white people to take action for racial justice. The event was part of a national day of action that saw people in at least a dozen cities clamoring for police to be held accountable for their murders and acts of brutality, particularly those they inflict upon people of color.

“We’re here today to condemn racist police violence and to loudly and visibly proclaim Black lives matter,” said Choya Renata of Portland SURJ. “We’re here for Alton Sterling, Alva Braziel, Philando Castile, and all others killed by police, recently and through our country’s history. To say their names, to honor them, and to commit ourselves to working for justice.”

Braziel, Castile, and Sterling were all murdered by police in the last week, and their deaths–all captured on videos recorded by citizens–have resulted in a national outcry and nationwide protests. They join the long list of what have become household names–Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray among them–of people of color who have been murdered by police. In nearly every case, including Brown’s, Garner’s, and Gray’s, no police officer has been held accountable.

According to the website Killed by Police, of the 617 people murdered by police in 2016, at least 301 of them were people of color. Of those 301, at least 155 were Black and 100 Latino.

DSC_0092aMonday’s action also focused on local victims of police violence, calling for “removal of the officers who wrongfully murdered Portland community members Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, James Chasse, Jr., James Jahar Perez, and Kendra James.”  On Sunday night, members of SURJ PDX memorialized Black people who have been murdered by police–both locally and nationally–by putting up around Portland posters honoring the victims of police violence.

During a rally and march on Thursday July 7 that began at Pioneer Square, numerous speakers called upon white people to step up in working to dismantle the racist institutions and systems that enable police violence against people of color. That call was echoed on Monday as Renata stated, “We call on white people to join us in organizing for racial justice centered on and in solidarity with people of color.” In the short term, that includes attending the monthly vigil for Keaton Otis on July 12 at NE 7th and Halsey,and the Kids and Families Rally on July 13 at Dawson Park, as well as providing financial support to groups fighting for racial justice led by people of color.

SURJ PDX member Kari Koch said the group “supports white people in talking to other white people about racism and racial justice–moving people who might be interested or concerned, but not engaged or not fully understanding the system of violence.”

Koch noted there is a variety of ways for white people to show their solidarity with people of color organizing in Portland. “For example,” she said, “organizing can look like building the leadership of white people to advocate for racial justice in their workplaces, or working with white people to understand immigrant justice and mobilizing to defeat anti-immigrant ballot measures.”

That building of leadership should not be confused with supplanting people of color’s leadership roles in groups fighting for racial equity. “One of SURJ’s core principles is to follow the lead of people of color led movements for racial justice,” said Koch. “People of color don’t need us in order to get free. We need to challenge racism in our spaces and communities.”

The need for white people to address racism in their own circles–particularly its institutional aspects–is clear.  After all, it is not white people who are being gunned down once every 28 hours by police and vigilantes, and after the rallies and marches in support of racial justice, Black people and white people go home to very different worlds. A statement issued by SURJ PDX noted, “We are opposed to the fact that white people can get kudos for showing up for racial justice, while Black people and all people of color get targeted and even murdered.  We recognize our privilege in being able to speak out with little to no repercussions.  We don’t want kudos.  We want racial justice.”

“This organizing is part of a long history of solidarity work going back decades and generations,” Koch told the crowd. “What we’re doing today is calling out the violence in the system. We refuse to be complicit. We refuse to accept state violence. People of color are being murdered.”

For more information on how you can get involved in the fight for racial justice, go to SURJ PDX’s webpage at: http://surjpdx.org

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Illegal Re-entry Charge Against Francisco Aguirre Dropped; Fight with ICE Continues http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/23/illegal-re-entry-charge-against-francisco-aguirre-dropped-fight-with-ice-continues/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/23/illegal-re-entry-charge-against-francisco-aguirre-dropped-fight-with-ice-continues/#respond Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:40:36 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10811 DSC_6981a

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

Francisco Aguirre, the immigrant justice activist who for 81 days in 2014 took sanctuary in Augustana Lutheran Church when the US government threatened to detain and deport him, returned there on Sunday June 19. However, this time the cause was celebratory. On May 27, Assistant US Attorney Greg Nyhus filed a motion to dismiss the illegal re-entry charge that the Department of Justice had been pursuing against Aguirre for nearly 21 months.

And for those 21 months numerous people, and faith and justice groups, rallied behind Aguirre and his family, providing them with the necessary support and working every available avenue to see Aguirre prevail. They also provided a platform for calling attention to some of the hardships faced by people without documentation in the United States and the need for a more humane immigration policy.

“One thing I learned is that hope is the last thing you’re going to lose in life,” said Aguirre Sunday night. “If you don’t have hope, you’re not going to survive.”

Aguirre came to Portland from El Salvador in 1995 without documentation, fleeing violence that was largely a consequence of US foreign and economic policies, particularly the Dirty Wars of the 1980s and the Drug War. Those US interventions in Central America resulted in destabilized legitimate governments whose reach is short, and in those places where they have no power, have been replaced by the rule of drug cartels and others who use violent means to reach their desired ends. That instability and its resultant gang violence is also what lies behind the more recent migration of mothers and children from Central America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

After a no contest plea to drug trafficking charges–which Aguirre disputes, adding that he thought he was pleading innocent–Aguirre was deported to El Salvador in the late 1990s. He soon returned to Portland, again without documentation. In August 2014, he was pulled over for driving under the influence, a result, he said, of drinking two beers. That DUI charge drew the attention of the federal government.

On the morning of September 19, 2014, a federal agent knocked on the door of Aguirre’s home in Fairview, saying he wanted to discuss something with him. At first the agent did not say what he wanted to talk about, but when Aguirre pressed him, he said it had to do with Aguirre’s small computer repair business. Finding it suspicious that this man was backed by 11 other agents, Aguirre asked him for paperwork showing that was in fact why they were there. The agents worked for ICE, and the claim of investigating Aguirre’s company was a ruse to draw him out of his home so they could take him into custody. Aguirre stood his ground and asserted his rights, saying they could not enter his home without a warrant.

9918Following the encounter, Aguirre made some phone calls, and very quickly the immigrant and immigrant rights community moved to defend Aguirre. By that night he had taken sanctuary at Augustana Lutheran in Northeast Portland. For a few months thereafter, wherever Aguirre went he was surrounded by allies–often in large throngs–who had his back. Court dates saw the gallery packed with those who could not find a seat waiting outside. On one visit to the Portland Field Office of US Citizenship and Immigration Services to complete some requirements for obtaining a U Visa–offered to immigrants who are victims of serious crimes and who have cooperated with authorities in prosecuting those crimes–Aguirre was accompanied by a caravan of supporters. Phone calls, petitions, and visitors flooded the offices of Billy Williams, the US Attorney for the District of Oregon, demanding the charges against Aguirre be dropped.

Aguirre also had in his corner Ellen Pitcher, the tenacious lawyer who defended him. At Sunday’s celebration, Pitcher stated that Williams said he was not aware of an illegal re-entry charge ever being dismissed. She said she was confident that Aguirre would have prevailed had the trial gone forward due to his experiences in El Salvador and his good works here in Portland, which include organizing day laborers, helping found the VOZ Workers Rights Education Project, and serving as coordinator of the Martin Luther King, Junior Worker Center on NE Grand Avenue. Pitcher’s mettle also no doubt helped with the charge being dropped. “I’m very persistent,” she said. “I refuse to give up.”

What was celebrated Sunday was the refusal of Aguirre, his wife Dora Reyna, and the numerous people and organizations who supported them to give up. Yet during the interfaith service guided by Augustana Lutheran Church’s Pastor Mark Knutson, at least 10 different community and faith groups that stood with Aguirre–and all immigrants suffering under the United States’ unjust immigration laws–were represented, although none seemed willing to take credit for their work. Rae Anne Lafrenz, coordinator of the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, spoke to this humility and grit when she told the audience, “You guys are the leaders. Any achievement that has happened is because of each one of you. Francisco’s family is together because of all of you. When Congress won’t act on our behalf, and when the government won’t act on our behalf, it’s up to the communities like this one to take action.”

Action will continue to be taken, and not just because there are about 11 million people without documentation in the US who, as Aguirre put it, are living with the fear that when they go out of their homes, they don’t know if it is the last time they will see their families, friends, and community members. Aguirre himself is not out of danger. He still faces the possibility of ICE detaining and deporting him. He said ICE had served him a warrant for his arrest and tried to get him to sign a document giving up his rights to fight the case in court. In his fight against ICE, Aguirre is being defended by Stephen Manning of the Immigrant Law Group.

DSC_9706aPitcher urged people to continue fighting for Aguirre and for all people without documentation. She noted that it was particularly important for people to lean on their representatives in Congress. Those representatives, she said, chose not to get involved in supporting Aguirre as he faced the illegal re-entry charge because they did not want to trespass on the Department of Justice’s turf. “They do not have that excuse anymore,” Pitcher said from the altar. Noting that Congress does have power over ICE, she stated, “It’s up to you and me to convince them to use it.”

Aguirre’s victory in his battle with the Department of Justice is a bittersweet one. Moises, his son from another marriage, was living with Aguirre, Reyna, and their two children. Just like Aguirre, Moises lacked documentation, and the stress of seeing what his father was experiencing, as well as the fear of going to jail–a conviction for illegal re-entry could have resulted in up to 20 years in prison–drove him to go back to El Salvador. On February 2 he was murdered there. Noting that Moises “ended up paying the consequences of all of this,” Aguirre expressed his belief that he was “here with us in spirit.” And a little more: on this Father’s Day, Aguirre noted that he had become a grandfather. With a mixture of sadness and pride he said, “I also want to say, Moises, happy Father’s Day.”

During the service, the house band–a very fine jazz trio–struck up a song with the line “God is watching from a distance.” In some religious communities, particularly those whose focus is on a punitive God who seems lustful for vengeance, such a line would be taken ominously. But the tone at Augustana Lutheran Church invokes a nurturing, loving God. Knutson gives the impression of someone who regards God in a non-traditional sense; that is, he invokes a God who reveals Herself in various ways to different people, but always calls them to act according to their better angels. Her watching from a distance is a gentle reminder that when all else seems to fail, She is there to soothe and comfort. Perhaps it is that grace that led Aguirre to say, “(US Attorney) Billy Williams should be proud because he made the right decision. This is his victory too.”

And maybe it is that grace, along certainly with Aguirre’s courage–augmented through the support of other immigrants and allies in the immigrant justice community– and of course, hope, that keeps Aguirre pushing his fight. Standing in the soft early evening light filtering through the windows of Augustana Lutheran Church, Aguirre thanked his supporters, but also encouraged them to join him in continuing to fight for immigrant justice. “We must welcome immigrants in whatever part of the nation immigrants exist. In a country of immigrants, we must learn to work with the immigrant community. We must continue to fight for the 11 million immigrants. We must come together to protect them.”

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Deepening Solidarity in the Fight for Racial Justice http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/21/deepening-solidarity-in-the-fight-for-racial-justice/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/21/deepening-solidarity-in-the-fight-for-racial-justice/#respond Tue, 21 Jun 2016 16:13:54 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10799 Photo by Lokmee Au

Photo by Lokyee Au

Story by Pete Shaw

The road to obtaining political power is fraught with obstacles, including a variety of institutional forms of racism. As Frederick Douglass once noted, power concedes nothing without a demand. Democracy must be wrested from the powerful through the hard work of those struggling for justice.

As advocates for justice organize communities, they develop goals, strategies, and tactics; eventually they may gain enough leverage that those in power are forced to listen to and act upon their demands. It is a long and tedious process, replete with many setbacks, but it can reap great rewards.

But what do communities do once they achieve some modicum of political influence? Do they keep pushing for more power and more justice, or do they take a more conservative approach, focusing on maintaining what has been gained? As communities push forward, what form will that push take? Can activists achieve more power by doubling efforts within their group? Or do they reach out to forge alliances with other groups?

Many of these issues were addressed in a forum held on Wednesday, June 15. Hosted by the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) and made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities, Layered History, Linked Liberation: Solidarity and the Role of APIs (Asian-Pacific Islanders) in the Fight for Racial Justice brought together a panel of Chinese American leaders who discussed how they thought the Asian-Pacific Islander community and Asian-Pacific Islander organizations–including APANO–could, according to Lokyee Au, APANO’s Engagement and Development Coordinator, “identify where there are gaps in our work for racial and social justice, and to create more intentional actions to bridge those gaps.”

Au also noted, “APANO has been in coalition with allies and advocated for issues for other communities of color, but we are really intensifying our look at how that solidarity goes deeper, how we call out the wedges that divide our communities.”

The event’s discussion was informed by the recent sentencing of New York City police officer Peter Liang for the murder of Akai Gurley, a 28 year old Black man. Liang, who grew up in New York City’s Chinatown, is the son of Chinese immigrants. On November 20, 2014, while patrolling the New York City Housing Authority’s Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn, Liang fired his gun–it was declared an accidental discharge–and after ricocheting off a wall, the bullet struck Gurley in his chest. On February 10, 2015 Liang was indicted on multiple charges, including manslaughter, of which he was found guilty a year later, along with official misconduct. On April 19 of this year, Liang’s manslaughter conviction was downgraded to criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to 5 years of probation and 800 hours of community service.

Liang’s trial raised hackles in both the Black and Chinese American communities. Police killing Black people is clearly nothing new, but indictments, let alone convictions, are rare. A 2014 investigation by the Daily News found that in the prior 15 years no fewer than 179 people were murdered by on-duty New York City police officers (43 more deaths occurred at the hands of off-duty officers). Only three of those deaths resulted in an indictment in state court, with one of those indictments thrown out on technical grounds. Of those 179 documented murders, only once was an officer convicted, but he did not receive time in prison.

It was a complex moment, and this was reflected in the reaction of many people in the Asian American community.  Certainly many Asian American people and organizations supported Liang.  Given the rarity of indictments, it had to be more than a coincidence that Liang was not only indicted, but convicted and sentenced. For them, Liang was a scapegoat.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

However, numerous Asian American organizations–the Asian Pacific Environmental Network of Oakland, Asian Americans United of Philadelphia, the Asian American Resource Workshop of Boston, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities of New York City, the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development of Los Angeles, and the Chinese Progressive Associations of both Boston and San Francisco–issued a joint statement expressing outrage “that Peter Liang has escaped accountability for killing Akai Gurley.” Describing the downgrading of Liang’s sentence as “an insult to Akai Gurley, his family, and all victims of police violence,” the announcement declares, “we must hold all police officers accountable to continue to fight for violence-free communities and win change in our systems and our institutions.”

The statement continues, “We continue to affirm that if we believe in true racial justice, we cannot excuse an officer for killing an innocent unarmed black man because Peter Liang is Chinese or Asian like us. We know that the strength of our power is fully realized when we stand together with those who also face injustice.”  Noting that “other communities of color stood with us against the police killing of Yong Xin Huang in 1995 and other incidents of police brutality and countless critical moments our communities were also hurt,” the signing organizations emphasize, “we have a responsibility to protect our prosperity by protecting ALL families and that means also the family of Akai Gurley who has lost their loved one forever.”

In her introduction to the forum, Kara Carmosino, APANO’s Director of Programs and Strategy, stated that Liang’s trial had “raised tensions around racism, community loyalty, and solidarity” in the Asian American community. Specifically, those tensions were between Asian-Pacific Islanders and communities of color, particularly Black communities.

Scot Nakagawa of ChangeLab moderated the panel.  He provided important background for understanding some of the historical relationship between Asian American and Black communities, focusing on the year 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act was signed. That law resulted in the abolition of the earlier quota system based on national origins and created a new immigration policy that while still maintaining per-country limits, focused on reuniting families and attracting skilled labor to the United States.

The legislation, said Nakagawa, was pushed along by the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. In particular, the Vietnam War resulted in a shortage of skilled workers in the US such as doctors and engineers, and many Asian immigrants filled those roles. These professionals were, as Nakagawa put it, the cream of the crop. But those professionals helped give rise to the myth of the model minority. Nakagawa noted the irony of this myth being used as an argument against racial justice policies, even as studies show that Asian Americans, despite the promotion of their aggregate economic success, are less likely to receive promotions at work.

The myth is also used against other people of color, particularly Black people. During the Civil Rights Movement, Asian American stereotypes were held up as examples of how minorities should act. According to the myth, Asians were quiet and obedient, while Black people were loud and rebellious. Nakagawa explained that prior to the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, Black people had a lower rate of unemployment than white people. But once they received legal protections, employers began looking for other workers they could exploit, such as many do today with immigrants lacking documentation.

As Black people were pushed out of the labor market and their unemployment rates skyrocketed, President Richard Nixon began getting tough on crime and launched the war on drugs, which was drastically ramped up under Ronald Reagan. As a result, huge numbers of Black people–stereotyped as lazy and prone to crime–were sent to prison (and at extraordinarily higher rates than white people who were committing the same drug crimes). Because of these practices, young Black men became the face of criminality in the US. In contrast, Asian Americans were held up as examples of how minorities should act and what the results could be if people just did what they were told and did not rock the boat.

It was these myths and stereotypes, Nakagawa said, that animated racial tensions that came to the fore during the Liang trial. And it is these myths and stereotypes that stand in the way of greater justice for Asian-Pacific Islander Americans and Black people.

The first question before the panel was what the appropriate roles were for leaders and community institutions in addressing the divide between the Asian American and Black communities. Jennifer Phung, who leads Organizing People/Activating Leaders‘ (OPAL) Youth Environmental Justice Alliance, replied that it was important to “have spaces to talk about the complexities of how we are addressing anti-Black racism in our communities.” Phung noted that when Liang was on trial, much of the Chinese media called for Chinese people to band together and fight for justice, but that she sees this idea of justice as an unhealthy form of nationalism. She explained that organizers ought rather to show how “our struggle connects with other people’s struggles.”

Helen Ying, an expulsion hearings officer for the Parkrose and Reynolds school districts who was a teacher for many years, agreed with Phung, saying organizers need to reach out beyond their communities and seek common ground with other ones. When a rally for Liang was held at Pioneer Square earlier this year, Ying organized a conference call with leaders of Chinese American and Black community groups to foster an understanding of common values. To that end, Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot PDX spoke at the rally alongside her Chinese American counterparts in justice.

Photo courtesy of APANO.

Photo courtesy of APANO.

Nakagawa then noted the importance of transforming the understanding of solidarity “from ‘me for you’ to ‘we for us.’” To that end, he wondered how the Asian American community could create solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Kyle Weismann-Yee, who grew up in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Northeast Portland, said that solidarity comes from education. That education must come from leaders, but individuals also have to educate themselves. In particular, he noted the importance of recognizing “Black people’s lived experiences.”

Weismann-Yee said it is important to teach people that it is in their self-interest to forge bonds with others outside their communities, while Phung talked about the importance of recognizing how many of the “rights we benefit from come from prior liberation movements.” Phung also emphasized that people in the Asian American community are also affected by police brutality and police violence, albeit in different ways from the Black community. “Our liberation is connected,” she said. “If the system doesn’t value Black lives, then it doesn’t value us.”

So how can Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue building power in solidarity with others? Ying stressed empowering Asian-Pacific Islander students to build relationships with other communities. Phung added that people in Asian communities need to keep building with other leadership groups, that what people are fighting for should lead to “a collective liberation that embodies everyone’s justice.” Weismann-Yee added that it is important to understand where to provide needed support to other communities as well as to “see the shared values that make us complete people.”

One of Aesop’s Fables tells a story of a father with three sons who are heading out into the world. He instructs each of them to gather two sticks. When they return he takes one stick from each of his sons, and he breaks each one individually over his knee. Then he takes the remaining three, but is unsuccessful in his attempt to break them. The message is clear: together, the brothers are stronger.
The solidarity necessary for achieving transformative liberation is significantly more difficult than gathering sticks. But as history has shown many times over, when that solidarity is achieved, the gains are far greater than could ever be accomplished by any group on its own.

Thanks to Lokyee Au for her help in writing this article.

For more information in how you can help build deeper solidarity between communities of color, go to APANO’s website at: http://www.apano.org.

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As American as Cherry Pie http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/15/as-american-as-cherry-pie/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/15/as-american-as-cherry-pie/#respond Wed, 15 Jun 2016 16:00:43 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10776  

Photo by Kathryn Kendall

Photo by Kathryn Kendall

Where’s evil? It’s that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It’s that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive.”

                                                                                                     –Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

 

As I type, it’s been about 36 hours since the horrible news came out of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida: 49 people dead, 53 people injured. Many of them people of color. Twenty-three of them were of Puerto Rican descent. The news is saturated with coverage of the massacre and the investigation. Depending upon where you tune in, there are all sorts of questions awaiting answers, the same questions that get asked time and again when awful stuff happens, as well as the same questions that should get asked, but never do, when the victims are deemed unworthy.

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and candidate for Vice-President, has uttered some of her inimitable vitriol, claiming, “We’re dealing with a deadly, evil ideology that’s embraced by those who live a lie…they love death more than life.” I knew it was only a matter of time before she waded into the waters, her fame clock seemingly stuck at 14:59. I don’t spend much time on Sarah Palin’s musings, or at least how she presents them. Her content, however, is always worth taking seriously.

In some circles, I suppose this was part of a major foreign policy speech by Palin. In it, she took Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan to task for his tepid response to the murders in Orlando, for refusing to talk about what the fear mongers at Breitbart and so many other right wing media outlets call “radical Islam.” She also likened Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who only hours after the massacre took to Twitter to thank people for congratulating him for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” to a “blue collar billionaire in touch with the people.” Two rotten peas in a rancid pod. Two very damaged people who in a more rational society–one that truly valued people for their humanity instead of seeing them as commodities–would be isolated and studied.

Over the course of his administration, right wing sorts have taken President Obama to task for not using phrases like radical Islam, which I suppose is the international version of Black on Black crime, obscuring history and deflecting attention from real problems such as US capitalism and its accompanying imperialism. I am not sure why folks like Palin feel the need to hear that term. Perhaps their bloodlust requires it to make some sense of the relative lack of focus in US foreign policy whose architects don’t care who they bomb as long as it promotes capitalist expansion.

H. Rap Brown once said that violence is as American as cherry pie. While people like Palin and Trump are trying to put the focus on Muslims, the reality is that Omar Mateen, the man who shot the people in Pulse, was born and made in America, a country that was founded on the stealing of native land and built upon the backs of enslaved people from Africa. A country that has inflicted horrific violence both overseas and within its borders, while paying lip service to creating a freer, more just world.

Photo by Kathryn Kendall

Photo by Kathryn Kendall

I imagine Mateen probably heard this phrase, in some form, which has been running through my mind: love the sinner, hate the sin. Every so often I hear that line from someone who identifies as a Christian, applied to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). It creates a separation where none exists. The so-called sin is the so-called sinner.

There is a lot to unpack in that. First, it relies on the fallacy that people choose to be LGBT. People may choose to engage in sexual activity that some people categorize as LGBT, but who they are is, to use a phrase, just as God made them. For those who believe God is infallible–and really, shouldn’t knees, backs, and the fresh hell that qualifies as pizza here in Portland show this to be false?–there is a dilemma because if being gay is a sin, and God created gay people, then God made an error. Or perhaps the error is in thinking being LGBT is a sin because by the same logic, God, in His perfection, created LGBT people too. So why, if there is such a thing as sin, is condemning people for who they are not a sin?

Second, it is bullshit. Complete, total, and utter bullshit. According to the American Civil Liberties Union about 110 pieces of legislation designed to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender as second-class citizens–that is, deny them their civil and human rights–have been introduced across the US this year. These have nothing to do with the so-called sin. Nothing. They are all about demonizing, dehumanizing, and hating people who are LGBT. And they are not being written by Muslims.

What becomes interesting is that people like Palin so easily and readily call out Muslims for being atavistic agents of repression while they engage in and promote hateful acts of repression themselves. These are the people who have brought to our lexicon phrases such as “legitimate rape” and “unwanted sex,” both of which obfuscate a simple word: rape. They have also justified rape because “she was asking for it,” a phrase used to excuse rape because a woman was drunk, wearing “provocative” clothing, flirting, or generally having a good time, and thereby deserved to be raped. Even so-called progressives can engage in misogyny, as numerous women activists in Portland can tell you.

And this just in from Gawker. It seems Mateen frequented Pulse and used a gay dating app. If true, there is perhaps a link to be made. Here is what happens when toxic masculinity combines with the self-loathing produced in a society that says a LGBT people’s very existences are wrong.  Larry Craig helped craft legislation to oppress LGBT people. Ted Haggard told LGBT people they would be going to hell. Sow hatred; reap death. And, of course, it helps when there are virtually no restrictions to purchasing an AR-15.

Perhaps, as some reports have it, Mateen was in league with Isis. Maybe so, but he spent 29 years as a US citizen. He was born here. He was raised here. He learned to hate here. He killed here. He is our very own homegrown radical American terrorist.

In Portland a candlelight vigil was hastily thrown together for Sunday night while people were still reeling from the shock–and those who boycott commercial media were first hearing about the massacre. Despite the last-minute nature of the vigil, over 2,500 people on Facebook said they were going. The standing crowd filled NW Broadway between Burnside and Davis, centered on the podium at The Embers Avenue, a sprawling gay bar and nightclub at the intersection of NW Broadway and Couch.

In the crowd, two people, who perhaps were partners, wore shirts reading, “Two men kissed.” This was a reference to reports that Mateen went on his rampage because he saw two men kissing, and this disgusted him. Two men, perhaps in love, and certainly happy in each other’s presence at that moment, sent him into a rage. In a society where “pro-life” is so often synonymous with anti-woman, where non-heterosexual relationships are often regarded as deviant or evil, and where too many people feel–and are–empowered to hurt and even kill other people who are not like themselves, I am sometimes surprised people like Mateen don’t come along more often.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

But I don’t want to end on a stone bummer, nor even a minor one. At least a couple of thousand people came out to that vigil outside The Embers Avenue on Sunday night. Another several hundred attended a slightly later vigil organized by the Trans Community and held at Salmon Fountain along the waterfront. Both vigils were wondrous and wonderful. They displayed people at their best, reaching out to each other with tenderness, compassion, and courage. Strangers hugged each other. People handed out bottles of cold water, Voodoo Donuts, gifts of flowers and candles. They told each other their stories, sang, held hands. In a dark moment, this was Light.

For more light, I leave you with the beautiful words of a friend whose eloquence goes far beyond anything I could ever give:

My heart is so heavy right now, I’m filled with grief and anger. My heart goes out to all my LGBT friends and the greater LGBT communities for enduring yet another act of atrocious hatred and violence against our bodies and our humanity. I want to extend my love and solidarity to all of you.

I also need to say that as sensationally violent as this attack was, it shouldn’t overshadow the violence and abuse that the LGBT community endures daily. We are mocked and ridiculed, beaten and murdered, queer children are thrown out of their homes by hateful parents, or they run away because their parents are violent, abusive, and cruel. I don’t know one LGBT person who hasn’t been bullied or harassed, many of my friends have been physically attacked multiple times. Many LGBT people take their own lives because they simply can’t endure what it takes to keep living.

We’ve been dying all along and we will keep dying. The fifty people killed last night are just another drop in the bucket of hateful violence directed at our communities, just a few more dead queer bodies to toss onto the pile next to Matthew Shepherd and Lela Alcorn and all the rest.

Which brings me to Pride. It’s pride month and sometimes people say, “I don’t understand what gay people have to be so proud of.” And if you’re still confused about it, it’s this: our survival. We face this hatred and violence every day and we keep living. We leave our houses and we go to work, or school, or whatever. We don’t know when or where, but the next assault on our humanity is just around corner. It could be a mass shooting or a bigoted law about which bathrooms we’re allowed to use. We don’t know when or where or how or what, but we know it’s coming.

Love and solidarity to all my queers out there. All of you are in my heart today.

Stay safe and stay strong. And happy Pride.

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Down in the Flood: Vanport’s Living Memory http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/04/down-in-the-flood-vanports-living-memory/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/06/04/down-in-the-flood-vanports-living-memory/#respond Sat, 04 Jun 2016 16:00:57 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10736 Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

Lord, I’ll tell the world the water,

Done crept through this town.

                                                                                        –Charley Patton, “High Water Everywhere, Pt. 1”

 

History is written by the victors.

–Walter Benjamin

Story by Pete Shaw

History is about memory. Whose memories are respected? Whose memories are taken from them, and whose are considered important, and to whom? Who decides what truths to tell and what truths to hide. And what is truth?

The Memorial Day weekend, as always, was a contest of competing histories. My better 99% and I took in a few of the programs that were part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival, a remembrance of the city that once lay in the floodplain between the Columbia River and its slough, between North Denver Avenue and what is now the BNSF Railway. Protected by levees and a railway berm, Vanport was built essentially as barracks for people working in the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II–people who were not wanted in Portland. The city was literally wiped off the official maps on May 30, 1948 by a great flood which swept it away: after a very wet Spring combined with snowmelt to swell the river, the railway berm–which also provided something of a levee–burst. The city existed for six years and numbered as many as 42,000 people–including veterans. It was the second largest city in Oregon, but it has now been replaced by the Portland International Raceway, the Herons Lake Golf Club, and a wildlife preserve.

Very little remains of the Vanport infrastructure, which makes sense, since nearly all of the city’s 447 buildings were made of wood and set on wooden foundations. Its lowest point was 15 feet below sea level, so perhaps any foundation would have been doomed in the flood. On Memorial Day, we went to the race track to walk a 5 kilometer loop that along the path provided information about the former city’s structures. Tables under canopies pointed out where schools, the hospital, a bus station, and other buildings once were, with photographs showing a community going about its daily life.

Any sort of concrete evidence that Vanport existed is difficult to see. There literally is one such, a slab of concrete that was part of a theater’s foundation. Now the Mud Slough gently meanders just beyond it, with the golf course to the right and the race track to the left, so it is difficult to imagine that theater in use. It was open nearly all hours and held 750 people.

Further along the Mud Slough, a sign points across the water to where an administrative building once lay. An old concrete balustrade and staircase leads down to the slough and may have been part of a larger building which once stood atop the now gravel covered lot.

What does remain is memory. On Saturday May 28, we were lucky enough to attend Cottonwood in the Flood at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. The play centers on a Black family from Selma, Alabama who move to Vanport so Lonnie can work in the shipyards for a much higher wage than he now earns. Lonnie’s son Henry narrates the play, both as the young boy whose family made the trek Oregon in 1943 and as an adult who much later in life looks back upon his days in Vanport, his father, his father-in-law, Granddaddy Kenyon; and his wife Alma, who clearly is the family engine. Another son, Will, has joined the army, and after the war, he too settles down in Vanport. When Will returns from the war, he searches for work, but he is denied employment because of his skin color, and as well he must endure bigoted taunts. This is what he risked his life to preserve, it seems. However, he and his wife Lola open a dance academy which proves successful.

Photo from Portland State University Library

Photo from Portland State University Library

I presume the characters are composites of actual Vanport residents. Oregon was a free state during the Civil War, but the desire to keep the state as white as possible included keeping slaves outside Oregon’s borders and exclusion laws that denied Black people basic rights. In 1940, less than 1,800 Black people lived in Oregon. Just as in Selma, Vanport’s Black people found their neighborhoods segregated, even though that was not an explicit policy of the Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) which administered Vanport’s housing. However, other aspects of Vanport were integrated. Henry attends a school dance and takes to the floor with a young white woman who cannot understand why Henry is nervous about dancing with her. The audience knows that Henry recalls his mother’s admonition that he should mind his actions lest he find himself hanged from a cottonwood tree by a white lynch mob.

Vanport was built shoddily because it was never supposed to outlast the war. It was a temporary city for a temporary need. But public housing had never appealed to the citizens of Portland. In 1938, the city opted not to take the large amount of federal housing money it was offered, making Portland the largest city in the country without a federal housing program. That lack of public housing, combined with racist and classist attitudes, helped keep Vanport afloat following the end of World War II, even as its population dwindled due to the lack of demand for ships of war. By the time of the flood, the population of Vanport had dropped to about 18,000 people, but there were still few welcome places for these people in Portland.

On the morning of May 30, 1948 Vanport residents, who had been wary of the rising waters surrounding them, received a typed message from the HAC at their homes informing them all was well and there was no reason to panic. “The flood situation,” it read, “has not changed since the prediction made last Thursday that the highest water will come next Thursday, that the dikes were high enough and strong enough to withstand the crest, and that barring unforeseen developments VANPORT is safe.” Its final words are, “DON’T GET EXCITED!”

A little after 4 PM, the water breached the railroad berm. Thirty-five minutes later, Vanport was going under. By nightfall it was destroyed. Photos taken at the time show ravaged apartment buildings torn from their slipshod foundations, cast upon the water like large, roughly torn crusts of bread. Fifteen people died, although in Cottonwood in the Flood, the narrator Henry suggests there were more.

Cottonwood in the Flood does not present the Vanport deluge as a moment in time, but rather as part of a continuum of marginalized and oppressed people resisting and struggling for something better. The flood brought that resistance and struggle to Portland, with a Black community taking hold and flourishing in the Albina neighborhood surrounding Williams Avenue. But much like Vanport’s residences built on and of wood, it was not meant to last. Redlining assured that very few Black people owned their homes, much less owned property outside of Albina. Soon, urban renewal saw the Rose Quarter and the surrounding interstates cut into the heart of the Black community. In 1970, Legacy Emanuel hospital, with the support of Portland’s government, demolished houses, took the plot bounded by North Williams Avenue, Vancouver Avenue, Russell Street, and Knott Street–which only in the past couple of years has shown signs of actually being used as anything more than field with a parking lot–and tore another hole in the Albina neighborhood.

Redlining as a practice has technically ceased, although subprime mortgages, which were often foisted upon people of color even when they qualified for a prime loan, continued the basic process along with the recent foreclosure crisis. Gentrification has now pushed a large number of Black people from the Albina area. As rents soar, Black people–as well as other people of color– are being driven from their homes to the fringes of Portland, or beyond.

The foundation of the theater that once sat 750 people, one of the few remaining physical pieces of Vanport. Photo by Pete Shaw.

The foundation of the theater that once sat 750 people, one of the few remaining physical pieces of Vanport. Photo by Pete Shaw.

Which is where Vanport once lay.

Portland likes to bill itself as a liberal city, one which welcomes all sorts of people. But it has never been welcoming toward Black people. Oregon’s founding as a white utopian state–on land stolen from indigenous people–points to that. In 1943, in an article in the Oregonian, Portland Mayor Earl Riley commented, “Portland can only absorb a minimum number of negroes without upsetting city life.” And it is notable that Vanport’s housing was never improved despite it being built for the short term, yet in the end clearly intended for long-term use. The Black people who lived there were never welcome in Portland. Today, institutional forms of racism remain, most prominently in the form of a police department whose relations with communities of color, according to a 2012 Department of Justice report, is “tense.” Who needs cottonwood trees when you have a badge and a gun?

The Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), formed according to the Settlement Agreement between Portland and the Department of Justice, is charged with suggesting unbinding reforms to maybe, possibly, perhaps–pretty, pretty please?–change this. It seems like the members of it have been having pleasant conversations, but especially with a few of those members being police, it is hard to see how anything other than the City giving itself a gilded star can come from it. It seems like it was meant to fail or at least accomplish nothing more than create the illusion of change.

That is one of many reasons not to forget Vanport. Its history is deeply woven into the history of Portland and Oregon. On issues of race, it is part of a continuum. The state, much like the country as a whole, has never truly reckoned with its history and legacy of racism. So much gets swept away because so many truths are inconvenient, contradicting the official history. While Charley Patton was singing about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and the racial disparity and injustice it exposed, his song has flown through time and space, passing through Vanport, and more recently, New Orleans. Its continued relevance is haunting.

In Cottonwood in the Flood, Lonnie tells Henry that although cottonwoods were used for the lynchings his mother warned him about, they are strong trees. He says you can bend them every which way and knock them down, but they will get back up. They are tough and resilient. In the quarter-mile south toward the racetrack along North Expo Road from the Expo Center Max Station, near the site where Japanese and Japanese Americans were herded before being shuttled off to concentration camps during World War II, there are quite a few cottonwoods. The breeze off the Columbia River sends their seed aloft, drifting like summer snow over the area where that was once Vanport.

It is now gone. Many of the people who lived there have also departed. Some went back to their former homes. Some established themselves in Portland. Most have passed on. What remains is memory. What becomes of that memory and how it informs the present and future is up to us.

 

Cottonwood in the Flood plays at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center through June 12.  For more information on the play, as well as how to purchase tickets, go to: https://www.facebook.com/CottonwoodInTheFlood/

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