Portland Occupier http://www.portlandoccupier.org News From The Occupation Mon, 30 Nov 2015 17:05:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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/#comments 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/#comments 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/#comments 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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Public Support Welcome at Wednesday Trial of Community Activist Aguirre http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/19/public-support-welcome-at-wednesday-trial-of-community-activist-aguirre/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/19/public-support-welcome-at-wednesday-trial-of-community-activist-aguirre/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 16:00:45 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10329 Photo by Romeo Sosa

Photo by Romeo Sosa

Story by Pete Shaw

Francisco Aguirre, the immigrant and labor organizer who is being persecuted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DoJ), will have a trial  this Wednesday, October 21, at 11 AM that will determine if he is guilty of illegal re-entry into the United States. The case has profound implications, not only for Aguirre, but also for other immigrants who have fled horrific violence in their home countries.

Aguirre is a person loved by many in this community. He has been tireless in his efforts to help others who share his plight, but do not have as large a platform as he has. He has turned the spotlight that shines in him on all those who share his ordeal. He is as decent a person as I have ever met.

He is also my friend. I believe I wrote those same words a little over a year ago after Francisco was confronted at his home by ICE agents who sought to take him in. He rebuffed them, bravely asserting his rights, and soon took sanctuary in Augustana Lutheran Church.

Francisco was over at my house today. I needed some help doing work in the backyard–moving 4 cubic yards of dirt to be precise–and he gladly lent a hand. Moments like this are rare between us despite known each other for about 13 years now. I have seen him often at various activism events, usually as a participant, marching with one group or another demanding a more just world, always friendly, always committed. He often played guitar and sang at these events, a sweet man with a sweet voice that belies what he has endured and the fortitude that lies within him.

I first met Francisco through two friends of mine. That day he had gotten into a bike accident and broke his arm. He needed some money to pay the bill, and I gave him what I could. I never expected he would pay me back–I was not even sure I would ever see him again. He did pay me back, and his friendship, as with all friendships, has produced dividends that cannot be measured.

Francisco, from El Salvador, has experienced some horrible stuff, far more than I ever have and hopefully ever will. Yet he smiles freely. As do his children, who are as all children should be: happy, curious, and enchanted with a world of wonder that surrounds them. His wife, Dora, is a pillar of strength and a courageous person in her own right.

Photo by Doug Yarrow

Photo by Doug Yarrow

On the way to my house this morning, Francisco found out that his petition to the judge to toss out his case had been denied. I suppose that should come as no surprise. And no matter Wednesday’s verdict, Francisco should be here another 3 years, as he is applying for a U-Visa that he expects to be granted. That U-Visa, which is available to immigrants who are victims of serious crimes and who have cooperated with authorities in prosecuting the crime, is related to his experiences in El Salvador.

But a guilty verdict Wednesday would make it very difficult for him to get US citizenship after the U-Visa eventually expires. This would make him vulnerable to deportation.

Community resistance to ICE has been strong. Pastor Mark Knutson of Augustana Lutheran Church which provided sanctuary to Francisco, has been one among many stellar people who have worked hard to help Francisco, both for his sake, and for the sake of other immigrants in similar circumstances. VOZ, for whom Francisco has worked, has been there. Jobs with Justice and numerous other faith and justice groups have rallied to his cause. And people who simply understand injustice have come out for him.

It was that pressure from the public that forced ICE to drop its detainer for Francisco, and that public pressure must continue both for Francisco and other immigrants who are fleeing their countries, often because of circumstances that are a direct result of US economic and foreign policy. It is no coincidence that the large numbers of mothers and children who were crossing into the US in 2014 came mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, countries in which the US has had a strong hand, and in which our impact has been devastating.

As we took a break from moving dirt, sitting on my back porch drinking water in the unseasonably warm Autumn sun, Francisco looked out over the yard and said how nice it would be to have a place where he could grow plants. A few feet in front of us was a pineapple guava. It is a thin, delicate looking tree that in the Spring bears beautiful flowers, pink petaled with long, bright red pistils. This year it bore fruit–a rarity, and a testament to how unseasonably hot it has been.

Francisco told me the guava trees in El Salvador are very different. They have shinier leaves, and the trees are more stout and stalwart. He also told me about another tree in El Salvador, a very large one, that bears inedible fruit. The tree’s flowers are rarely seen. But legend has it that if you lay a cloth under the tree at night, the next morning you will find it covered with blossoms.

History textbooks concentrate on big events, but usually leave out any mention of the hundreds or thousands of smaller events that led to those big events. Francisco’s trial on Wednesday may be one of those small events (although it is certainly huge for Francisco, his family, and his friends). That is up to us. If you have the time, come to the Federal Court House in downtown Portland on Wednesday and show your support for Francisco. It may make a difference and when Francisco and other immigrants receive their overdue justice, you can say that in some way you helped. That is a very good thing.

Francisco Aguirre’s trial is on Wednesday October 21 at 11 AM at the Federal Court House, located at 1000 SW 3rd Avenue in downtown Portland.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

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Portland Police Campaign Takes Shot at Black Lives Matter Movements http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/17/portland-police-campaign-takes-shot-at-black-lives-matter-movements/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/17/portland-police-campaign-takes-shot-at-black-lives-matter-movements/#comments Sat, 17 Oct 2015 16:42:07 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10324 Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

Story by Pete Shaw

The Black Lives Matter movement, which sprang up in the wake of the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer George Zimmerman, exploded into a major ongoing human rights struggle a little over a year ago with Michael Brown’s murder by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. The revolt has been instrumental in pushing the US public to confront the fact that people of color, particularly Black people, experience a very different reality than white people in the United States It’s a reality that has been true for the entire history of this country, a reality complete with violence and indignities that most white people cannot fathom.

The organizing in various Portland groups working for greater justice for Black people, including Black Lives Matter and Don’t Shoot Portland, is largely being led by young people who are continuing the civil rights work of their predecessors. Their message is mostly positive and motivated by the simple desire to be treated with the dignity and respect that all humans deserve. The phrase Black Lives Matter is not intended to raise the value of Black lives over other lives; it is an affirmation and a demand that Black lives must matter as much as any others.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

Thus, when people respond by saying all lives matter, they are missing the point. As just about any person involved in these groups will tell you, of course all lives matter. But when Black people are being killed by police and vigilantes once every 28 hours, it is clear that some lives matter less than others. That must change. And when that changes–when Black people and all people of color are truly valued simply because they are alive–then, and only then, will all lives matter.

Though working for a positive outcome, the language and actions of the Black Lives Matter movement can seem disruptive, inconvenient, and even uncomfortable That is the point–to draw an awareness and understanding to the everyday indignities and injustices that Black people endure and in so doing to reach for a world where, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

It seems especially important right now to consider the positivity of the message in the wake of a new Portland police campaign called “Having Enough Police Matters,” a crude and obvious co-opting of the Black Lives Matter movement. The police have installed a sign with that slogan on a billboard across from the Unitarian Church downtown, seemingly placed to counter the “#Black Lives Matter” banner hanging from the church.

The billboard sign shows an empty swing, but the shadow it casts has a child seated on it. The implication is clear, that the child has either been kidnapped or killed. It is the language of fear.

The new campaign depicts a tone deafness that perhaps borders on willful cruelty, considering the history of a police force that includes leaving dead opossums in front of a Black owned business and wearing “Smoke ’em, don’t choke ’em” t-shirts after a Portland police officer choked to death a Black man. Did no one in the Portland Police Bureau consider Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy whom a Cleveland, Ohio police officer murdered on a playground?

Perhaps the Portland police have realized how bad that looks. Its online campaign now features a prowler breaking into a house as well as a couple of tires by a tree, implying a bicycle has been stolen.

Photo by Don't Shoot PDX.

Photo by Don’t Shoot PDX.

This campaign comes at a time when the last thing this city needs is more police. The history of police is one of violence and repression. The job of police is to keep down, often brutally, any group of people who might organize and seek to change the system that oppresses them–historically people of color. In short, for many people, the police more resemble an occupying force that commits acts of terror than a group whose goal is to serve and protect the community.  We have more than enough police.

For over 5 years community members–at times over 100–have gathered on the 12th of every month at 6 PM on the corner of NE 6th and Halsey to remember the lives of Keaton Otis and his father, Fred Bryant. Otis was executed by the Portland police on May 12, 2010, and Bryant passed away almost two years ago, struggling for justice not just for his son, but for all Black people and all victims of police violence. The vigils are powerful, always pushing for justice, demanding that memory never be extinguished, that it always light the way.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

Those lights are important. They get under the skin, demanding reflection and consistently posing a challenge to the goodness–the thirst for justice–that we believe lies within us. Pushing, pushing, pushing. As Ahjamu Umi of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party often says, “Forward ever, backwards never.”

“Having Enough Police Matters” is an affront to the possibility of Black people achieving justice. The unequal treatment Black people receive at the hands of police will not be solved by adding more police to a rotten barrel from which there appears to be no intention of discarding the so-called bad apples. In over 30 years not one Portland police officer has been held accountable for killing anyone, including Keaton Otis. Addressing this deficit is where change must begin.

If “Having Enough Police Matters” in Portland, Black lives still do not.


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Eritrean Refugee and 33-Year Portland Resident in Fourth Year of Detention, Faces Deportation http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/14/eritrean-refugee-and-33-year-portland-resident-in-fourth-year-of-detention-faces-deportation/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/14/eritrean-refugee-and-33-year-portland-resident-in-fourth-year-of-detention-faces-deportation/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2015 16:00:53 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10314 DSC_5520

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

The Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) and the Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition held a rally in front of Portland’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison on Wednesday October 7 calling for the release of Thomas Amanuel, an Eritrean refugee. Amanuel, 38, has lived in Portland for 33 years. He left Eritrea when he was one year old and has almost four years in prison for refusing to sign travel documents that could lead to his deportation back to Eritrea.

“We have one goal,” said Kayse Jama, Executive Director of the CIO. “We want to make sure Thomas comes home to his family. It is completely inhumane to hold someone in indefinite detention and threaten to deport them back to a country with no regard for human rights.”

Eritrea is in the Horn of Africa, bordering the Red Sea. Its people have long been subject to European and US imperialism, including support for Ethiopia’s annexation of the country in 1962. After a protracted war that included US support for Ethiopia’s war against Eritrean nationalists, Eritrea declared its independence in 1993, but very quickly fell under the control of an authoritarian government that since then has not allowed national elections.

A United Nations Human Rights Council report found “systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the Government” and that “some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.” The report cited cases of people being “routinely arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured, disappeared, or extrajudicially executed.”

Amanuel and his mother, Elsa Mengis, fled Eritrea during the war for independence. While Mengis is a US citizen, according to #Not1More, she did not apply for her son to be a citizen due to bad legal advice she received when they first came to the country. “Now,” reads a statement from #Not1More, “a simple theft conviction has not allowed him to naturalize. The charge was a result of a plea bargain that Thomas agreed to, even though he had no appropriate legal representation and little understanding of his options. This charge, and a DUI conviction from almost 10 years ago, are the factors ICE has relied on to detain and place Thomas in deportation proceedings.”

Elas Mengis, right, mother of Thomas Amanuel.

Elas Mengis, right, mother of Thomas Amanuel.

If Amanuel is deported he will be returning to a country to which he as no connection beyond it being his place of birth. The US State Department, which has maintained an embassy in Eritrea since 1993, considers relations with the country “strained.”

“He poses no threat to our community,” said Jama, “and deportation back to Eritrea–a country he does not even know–is a threat to his life an his human dignity.”

Amanuel is currently being held at the Mesa Verde Detention Center, a 400-bed jail in Bakersfield, California, operated by the private prison company GEO Group. Jama said that $200,000 a year in taxpayer funds was being given to GEO Group so they could profit from keeping Amanuel in jail.

“This is part of a larger issue,” Jama said. “We have a broken system and we need to fix that. We want to make sure this is a movement that encompasses all our community.”

It is difficult to understand why the US would deport Amanuel to Eritrea. That possibility–along with his lengthy detention–becomes even more problematic when one considers that that Amanuel is Mengis’s only son and provides her support she needs due to her being disabled.

“I struggled to raise him all by myself,” Mengis told the 30 people who had gathered outside the ICE prison on SW Macadam. “I’ve worked my whole life. I’m disabled. He’s my only support. I have no one in Eritrea. I don’t have family. If you take my son, I will die. If they take him there, he will die, and I will die too because I have no other choice.”

Amanuel’s case not only highlights the broken immigration system in the US, but also the plight of refugees that has been splashed across the news in recent weeks. Most of those refugees come from Africa and the Middle east, regions whose crises have direct links to European and US interventions and incursions. According to the BBC “at least 350,000 migrants crossed the European Union’s borders in January-August 2015,” a figure that does not include those who “crossed a border undetected.” The BBC goes on to add that 62% of those refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.

Speakers at Wednesday’s rally noted the US responsibility to welcome refugees it has helped create. Baher Butti of the Iraqi Society who came to the US in 2007 and works with refugees, spoke of the “slow procession” from refugee to citizen. “I wonder when they (refugees) are going to develop the sense that this is their home. So much money and process is spent to deport and jail, but not to bring them in.” He urged those in attendance to hold the government accountable to be “accepting, welcoming, and helpful to people.”

Reverend Cecil Prescod of the Ainsworth United Church of Christ talked about how when he was in college, his roommate Ephraim, who was from Eritrea, helped him pass calculus. Prescod said that while he only got a C+ in the class, he “learned about terror in Eritrea.” He asked Ephraim how he could help, to which Ephraim replied, “Just let people know what is happening in my country.”

After Prescod spoke, a small group attempted to deliver a petition signed by over 5,500 people demanding Amanuel’s release to Elizabeth Godfrey, the Assistant Field Office Director for ICE. Nicole Brown, Leadership Director for the CIO said the group reached Godfrey by phone, but she would not meet with them. Brown said Godfrey also refused to meet with or have anyone in her office meet with Mengis.

DSC_5518Earlier, Jama had said, “We want to make sure this is a movement that encompasses all our community.” Fittingly, the people gathered outside the gates came from a wide swathe of Portland. People from Jobs with Justice, VOZ, Enlace, and the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party showed up, as did people from various faith groups. Francisco Aguirre, who also is being persecuted by ICE as well as the Department of Justice came out. They were there to open those gates, as Prescod said, “to welcome the stranger, to welcome the immigrant, to welcome the refugee…to build a society where all can be reunited.”

Amanuel’s godson, Michael also attended the rally. He seemed overwhelmed by the turnout, grateful for the support for a man whom he described as “more of a big brother to me.” Michael said he found it “kind of ironic” that the US wants to send Amanuel to a place “they know has no human rights.”

Like other rally attendees, Michael understood that this was about something bigger than Amanuel, about taking on an unjust system. “There are many Thomases around the country,” he said. “This is a small fight toward a greater mission, a greater good.”

Another kind of irony could be seen in the guard house near the driveway gate of Portland’s ICE jail has two very large photos in it. One is of the Portland, Oregon sign that rises high over the west side of the Burnside Bridge, and the other is the glittering 65 foot Portland sign that hangs off the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall on SW Broadway. Both are Portland icons. Their images in that guard house imply welcome–an odd, even perverse, juxtaposition with where they hang, in this place that is not about welcoming, but being inhospitable, and often, discarding.

“We have a higher calling to welcome those from other places in the world,” said Prescod. “This is Thomas’ country. This is where he grew up. This is where he now lives.”

Want to get involved? Go to http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/portfolio/thomas/ and fill out and send the form demanding Thomas Amanuel’s release.

After sending the form, call the Bakersfield Detention ICE Field Office at (661) 328-4500 and demand Thomas Amanuel’s release. A sample script is available at http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/portfolio/thomas/.

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Housing State of Emergency Formalized in Portland; Renters Insist Urgency of Problem Demands Greater Action http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/09/housing-state-of-emergency-formalized-in-portland-renters-insist-urgency-of-problem-demands-greater-action/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/09/housing-state-of-emergency-formalized-in-portland-renters-insist-urgency-of-problem-demands-greater-action/#comments Fri, 09 Oct 2015 19:14:32 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10299 3Dq4DStory and photos by Pete Shaw

The Portland City Council unanimously passed an ordinance declaring a housing state of emergency in the city on Wednesday. The ordinance theoretically paves the way for steps to ease the housing crisis affecting a large swathe of people who rent housing, as well as those experiencing houselessness, stating in one section that, “It is appropriate for the Council to declare a housing emergency to allow for temporary housing, emergency mass shelters and day storage units to serve the homeless.” In addition, the Council authorizes the Bureau of Emergency Management Director to ask Governor Kate Brown to declare a housing emergency in Portland.tr5

The clinical language of the ordinance belies the suffering many Portlanders are experiencing as meteoric rent increases have resulted in displacing them, their families, and their friends, thereby devastating the communities they once called home. Their stories, some given in testimony before the Council, highlight the state of emergency, but also show that the steps currently being considered by the Council are terribly inadequate.

On September 15 the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) declared a renters state of emergency. The CAT, which bills itself as a statewide, grassroots, tenant-led, renters’ rights organization thay works to empower tenants to demand and obtain safe, stable, and affordable housing, insisted the City declare a one year moratorium on no-cause evictions and require one year’s notice on rent increases of over 5%.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman quickly responded with proposals that very weakly mirror the CAT’s demands. Those motions, which Saltzman announced on Wednesday call for renters receiving 90 day notice for no-cause evictions, as well as when a landlord wishes to increase the rent by over 10%. Saltzman describes these proposals as “a safety valve for tenants” that were inspired by the ideas of the CAT. They may have been inspired by the CAT, but they fall far short of its demands. It was Saltzman’s proposals that formed the backdrop to most of Wednesday’s council testimony.

DSC_5583“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Katrina Holland, Deputy Director of the CAT at a rally outside City Hall prior to the session. “But we need more. We can send a loud message (today) that says, ‘Thank you for the proposals, but we need more. Much more.’”

A small step toward the CAT’s demands was taken when Commissioner Amanda Fritz proposed an amendment making the 90 day notice for rent increases apply to a raise of more than 5%. The amendment passed with only Saltzman opposed.

Saltzman also stated that at the end of the month he would propose a demolition fee on developers who destroy old housing to build new dwellings. It remains unclear how Saltzman’s proposals will stem the crisis. Saltzman–along with other council members and City attorneys–expressed worry that if the proposals went further, they would be perceived as rent control and struck down in court as a violation of state law.

Tenants, landlords, and representatives for landlord trade groups also testified. At times it seemed people came from two different worlds, one requiring immediate and bold solutions to a problem that is ravaging people’s lives, and another where the only problem is that government is already meddling too much in the free market, and that if it would just loosen up regulations, more housing would be built and the problem would be solved.

Justin Buri, Executive Director of the CAT, spoke passionately about the challenges and suffering that renters are enduring. Noting that Portland is already “one of the most gentrified cities in the nation and has among the highest rates of rent increases and no-cause evictions,” Buri stated that landlords and developers issuing these evictions and dramatically increasing rents “are forcing responsible and reliable tenants out of housing, into one of the worst rental markets in history, without considering the impact on the individual tenants, or our community.”

He went on to say that the low vacancy rate in Portland gave “landlords more power over tenants, increasing incidents of discrimination and retaliation” which presented renters with challenges “especially dire for tenants with high barriers, and members of protected classes under the federal Fair Housing Act.” Buri then asked the commissioners to imagine themselves facing the hardships Portland renters currently are experiencing. After running through a litany of these challenges–including finding new housing on short notice while working a minimum wage job for far longer than 40 hours a week, raising a family, paying all the costs associated with finding and moving to a new place–Buri asked the council, “How long would that process take for you? Is 30, 60, 90 days enough? Do you have the money in your savings to do that? For the majority of tenants the answer is no.”

“Low income tenants, people of color, people with disabilities, working families making poverty wages, and seniors on a fixed income are being told, ‘If you don’t like it, move,’” Buri said, “which really means, ‘You are no longer welcome to live in this city.’”

He then reiterated the demands of the CAT, stating, “We can no longer wait for incremental change, or accept the bread crumbs that are thrown to us, so we can count that as a win. If the intent of this 90-day proposal is to act as a first step and building block to real change, and have the commitment of this Housing Commissioner, mayor, and council, of enacting real immediate change, then we can support it. If the intent of this 90-day proposal is to say that you all have done something, and then go back to business as usual, then we cannot support it.”

Buri closed by urging the council to “demonstrate the courage and leadership necessary to either change or challenge” the preemptions of Oregon state law that do not allow cities to craft their own rent control rules. “Those unjust laws and policies should be challenged, just as landlords will challenge this modest, meager proposal.”

DSC_5595aSaltzman’s proposal was, in fact, challenged by most of the people who gave testimony. Numerous tenants, often with steep emotion, talked about their hardships.

Keith Schultz, a disabled Gresham resident who has lived in Portland for 41 years, saw the apartment complex in which he has lived for 10 years sold to a Colorado company that went on to enact exorbitant rent increases which displaced many of his neighbors. Schultz worries he might be next. “Where are we supposed to go?” he asked the commissioners, a question echoed by many others.

Misty, who is on disability and a subsidized housing program has seen her rent increase from $844 to $959 a month. “We’re gonna be out on the streets with nowhere to go.”

Linda Lloyd rents a mobile home. An investor bought her home forcing her to spend 90% of her fixed income on rent. Like many of the people who testified, Lloyd comes across as a person who has spent her life playing by the rules, and now finds herself getting plowed under by the very people who make those rules. “My retirement,” she said, fighting back tears, “has been fighting a no-cause eviction.”

A woman whose name was inaudible stated her rent had gone up by $400, nearly 40%. “It’s so inhuman to push people out,” she said. “If the law isn’t serving us, and it seems we are serving it, we need change.” She also told the council that renters should “be at the discussion table, not talked about.”

“You need to hear the voices of us,” said a woman named Carolyn. “We’ve heard you enough.” Her statement held resonance in a council meeting whose subject was the crisis being faced by renters, yet took over 90 minutes of various other deliberations and consultations before allowing those renters to speak. Indeed, numerous people who had signed up to give testimony that they thought was to start at 2 PM were forced to leave because of other obligations.

“The rental packages that have been proposed are just band-aids,” said local activist Joel Spector. “But we need band-aids to stop the bleeding.” He then said that the commissioners needed to break out of the “small scale thinking” of Saltzman’s proposal listen to the community to which Commissioner Nick Fish retorted that Saltzman’s ideas were drawn from the community. While technically true, the scope of the ordinance seems woefully inadequate when balanced against renter needs.

Sixty-year-old June Johnson said the rent in her low-income housing had risen $350 a month, an amount she cannot afford and for which she will need a cosigner who must make at least $5000 a month. “I’m lost, I’m stuck,” she said.

DSC_5573Margot Black, is 36-years-old, and married with 3 children. She and her husband make “slightly above the median income.” After her allotted time had expired, Mayor Hales attempted to stop her explanation as to why her family has difficulty making ends meet, but Black would have none of it, saying she had sent emails unanswered emails with this information to the mayor’s office. “I want it on the record!” she shouted at Hales. She soon finished, asking the council who could afford to live in Portland if she and her family could not.

Holland then talked about calls received by the CAT hotline from people regarding excessive rent increases and no-cause evictions. She held up about 100 pages of documentation gathered since July and read about 15 of them which detail the struggles of choosing between paying high rent, food, or medicine, as well as people trying to figure out to find a new place when faced with a short time line on a no-cause eviction.

Jessie Sponberg talked about how the housing crisis did not arise from nowhere, but that it was the product of a council–particularly those who had served on it for so long, a comment seemingly aimed at Fish and Saltzman–that had done nothing except help create and exacerbate the problem. Just prior to Sponberg, Fish had spoken about earlier testimony in which the speaker talked about the council members less than kindly, exalting how wonderful it was that people had the right to speak before the commissioners. Yet, when Sponberg was making his points, Fish kept interrupting him. This resulted in an expletive-laced tirade from Sponberg that for some may have obfuscated his valid points about the housing crisis being a systemic problem.

Brent Ari Rosenthal, who spoke just after Sponberg, perhaps summed up Sponberg’s thoughts. “Fuck money,” he said. “This is about flesh and blood life.”

A few landlords also testified. Longtime landlord Wayne Stoll stated he never gave a no-cause eviction in order to raise the rent, using it only for people “who do not live by the standard code of society.” Stoll stated he “agonized” over even 3 to 5% wage increases, saying, “We don’t raise rent just to raise rent.” Fritz asked Stoll if he was opposed to the 90-day notification for rent increases. Stoll was not. Fritz asked if he would oppose the 90-day notification for rent increases of more than 5% instead of Saltzman’s proposed 10. Again, Stoll said he would not.

Similar to Stoll, Jessica Blakely came across as what she termed “a responsible landlord.” She stated that that she too never used no-cause evictions to raise rents. She thought a 60-day period for no-cause evictions, the standard for people who have lived in a place for more than a year, (30-days notice applies to those under a year) was acceptable, as was 90 days if a building was being swept “to push a large amount of people out the door.” When asked how much her rents had increased over the past year, she demurred on giving details, stating only that of the over 2,000 units she owns between Portland and Seattle, the rates of the ones in Vancouver increased 5 to 10 percent.

5569aWhile Stoll and Blakely seem to be reasonable people concerned with their tenants as people, the same could not be said for those who represent landlords on a mass level. Deborah Imse of Multifamily Northwest, which bills itself as “The Association Promoting Quality Rental Housing,” essentially stated the renters crisis was not a social or people problem, but a market problem that needed a market solution.

The same cold argument was also taken up by Cindy Robert, a lobbyist for the Rental Housing Association. Robert, who said that changing the regulations to which landlords must adhere “does not lead to more housing” called upon what has become one of the popular, if highly disputed, points embraced by landlords–that rent control makes people want to leave where they live because it makes it more difficult to evict people causing trouble.

She also stated that landlords are not in their line of work because they want to make money, implying instead that they rented houses and apartments solely because they wanted to provide people with safety. Saying that landlords are good people for the most part, victimized by “bad actors,” Robert expressed dismay that landlords were under attack, as if they were the ones suffering during this housing crisis.

Another spokesperson for landlords talked about how much landlords sacrifice in terms of receiving paltry tax breaks, having to pay taxes, shelling out money for upkeep on units, and being forced to obey all sorts of regulations.

Prior to entering City Hall, a woman named Tabitha displayed a letter from her management company showing her rent renewal options. Tabitha rents a 1 bedroom unit in an apartment complex in Gresham for $885 a month, with utilities boosting it to a total of $942.50. Tabitha was presented with 3 options that would result in an increase ranging between $270 and $470 a month, representing a 30 to 53 percent increase in her rent.

Tabitha, who has lived in Gresham for almost 40 years, has never seen her rent increase by more than $50 a month. She says if she wants to keep living in her apartment–emphasizing that by living she means surviving–she will need to borrow money.  “I don’t know where to go,” she said. “I have no idea what to do.”


Want to get involved?  Visit the Community Alliance of Tenants webpage at: http://www.oregoncat.org.

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An Afternoon on the Willamette River Dredges Up New Horror Faced by the Houseless http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/07/an-afternoon-on-the-willamette-river-dredges-up-new-horror-faced-by-the-houseless/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2015/10/07/an-afternoon-on-the-willamette-river-dredges-up-new-horror-faced-by-the-houseless/#comments Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:00:53 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10273 DSC_5364aStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Anne Christopher of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and I have a few things in common. We are both from New Jersey, and thereby, as the joke would have it, we both are intimately knowledgeable about toxic waste. Now, 3500 miles away from our roots, we are again sharing a close connection to toxins as we stand on the bow of the Willamette Star, heading north on the boat’s namesake, toward the Columbia River where we will be shown the poisonous areas of the river, as well as hear about EPA and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) efforts at cleanup.

While I am interested in the work they are doing, both for the sake of the river and the surrounding lands, as well as because my father used to work for the EPA, I am here because Ibrahim Mubarak, one of the founders of Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo), the rest area for people without housing, invited me. On a day so beautiful as this one, with the temperature in the low 70s, the sky a brilliant blue punctuated by puffy clouds, and a slight breeze blowing, a free boat ride has proven irresistible.

Prior to boarding, I am offered a series of handouts, one of which shows a map of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Between the Willamette Star dock near the new Tilikum Crossing, and the Fremont Bridge, there are few notations on the map; however just north of the Fremont, there are 14 sites listed as “high priority,” 12 as “medium priority,” and 15 as “low priority.”

DSC_5247The poisons, according to the Lower Willamette Group, are mainly four types: PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxin, pesticides–particularly DDT and its related breakdown products, and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). At some point, someone from DEQ also mentions mercury and petrol hydrocarbons. Though I am not 100% sure what all these chemical are, I am confident I would rather not ingest any of them.

During the recitation, I sing to myself the opening lines of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night?

But for now, this is is beautiful Portland–or at least a beautiful facade. Passing under the bridges, which I have never done before, is wonderful. The buildings, old and new, form a nice backdrop to the river. Even the US Bank Tower, whose nickname shall not be used out of respect to Bob Dylan and The Band, is pretty. I’ve walked, biked, and driven by all these, but from the river, I am seeing most of it anew.

The landscape changes. There is the dry-dock that recently held the Shell icebreaker that was delayed for nearly two days by the Portland and Greenpeace activists’ blockade. Over there is a ship-building facility. We encounter sites where it’s fairly obvious that bad things are being emitted, such as Exxon-Mobil (high priority) and Owens-Corning Fiberglass (medium priority). Then there the places that are just ugly. Big piles of rusted scrap metal near the Oregon Steel Mills site, or was that Schnitzer Steel?

DSC_5277Up here the river is a place of industry, and it is that industry that has polluted the area.

There are also people here. Along the sides of the river are encampments, presumably people without housing. They are the reason Mubarak and the other people associated with R2DToo and R2S are on this boat. Mubarak has been working to educate people without housing, such as those we see camped out, about the dangers posed by the Willamette River. Alanna Conley of the EPA mentions how Mubarak has brought forth to her the voices of the people along the river, and while the EPA does not specifically craft policy regarding people without housing, she notes that all public input must be considered. That public input can be made now, but it will be really important starting early next year when cleanup policy–how people are informed of work, who gets jobs, and how people get training for those jobs, just to name a few–is cobbled together.

For now, a little knowledge could go a long way. A handout from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) says that tests show high PCB levels in carp, bass, and catfish–resident fish of the harbor. Their recommendations are startling. Women of childbearing age–between 18 and 45–should not eat these fish. Healthy women beyond childbearing age and healthy adult males should have “no more than one 8-ounce meal per month.” OHA says that PCBs are “highly persistent chemicals that can build up in the food chain.” That is, they stick around a long time, starting with animals that eat food in the sediment, get eaten by smaller fish, who are then eaten by larger fish. Thus, the larger resident fish tend to have the most contamination of all in the cycle.

DSC_5342However, the OHA says there are no restrictions on non-resident fish such as salmon and steelhead. I note to myself that I will avoid any fish caught up here between the Fremont Bridge and Sauvie Island, while recognizing that the people encamped on the banks, who I am told eat fish from the river, don’t always have that choice.

The folks from the EPA and DEQ talk about how those toxins are not in the water itself–although they are not asking anybody if they want to take a dip–but rather in the sediment, both at the bottom of the river, as well as on its banks. I hear numerous people mention how some people without housing grow food in that soil on the side of river.

When we pull into Willamette Cove on our way back, a man named Dwight Leslie, whom I think works for the DEQ, talks about the history of the place. It had a dry-dock that was heavily used during both World Wars and the Korean conflict. There were also timber related industries, including lumber and plywood mills, and barrel manufacturing. Those industries dried up by the late 1960s and left behind heavy metals, diesel fuel, PCBs, and dioxins in the soil in most of the cove. According to a DEQ fact sheet “some of these contaminants have been identified as unacceptable risks to users of the property.”

DSC_5341Dan Hafley of the DEQ, who is managing the cleanup here, then starts talking about the work that needs to be done to mitigate the damage. About 20 feet inland from the shore are plastic orange fences, marking the high point of toxic pollution. In November, much of that dirt–about 5,000 cubic yards–will be removed, put in trucks, and taken to the Wasco County Landfill. It is, as with most of the dirt on the shores of this portion of the river, dangerous stuff.

Earlier, Leslie had mentioned the signs around the cove warning of the perils of the poisons, yet right there in front of us are some tents, people, and their pets. It strikes me as no small irony that they must feel this is a place where they are less likely to be rousted by the police, though in settling here they will face much greater unseen dangers.

Hafley registers concern about people without housing setting up shelter in these toxic areas. He says that making skin contact with contaminated soil, inhaling contaminated dust, or ingesting contaminated food–that is, taking poison into the body–should be “avoided at all costs.” Interestingly, another handout from the OHA says “the levels of chemicals found in the water, dirt and sediment do not pose a health risk for recreational users, including children.” Clearly, the people we are seeing in the cove are not recreational users.

DSC_5273aTen years ago Portland and Multnomah County set forth a plan to end houselessness. It is no surprise that it failed. What is shocking is that it failed so badly–or for the cynics, perhaps succeeded so grandly–that some people without housing feel the need to sleep in areas that almost without doubt will severely shorten their lives. I feel angry that our leaders constantly make excuses for the corporations that so foul the air, earth, and water–giving them chance after chance and dollar after dollar, despite every shred of evidence that shows they will continue to pollute–and so few chances to real living people like the ones who have set up camp in Willamette Cove. These people are not responsible for despoiling the river and have committed no horrific environmental crime but there will be few funds allocated for their welfare.

All the same, I am honored to be in the presence of these good people from Right 2 Dream Too who continue fighting not only for themselves, but for all people without housing whom the leaders and much of the business community of Portland have treated little better than these companies have treated our river.

As we head back toward the dock, the sun is getting low. There is a glow, what the photographers call the golden hour. It is almost beautiful enough to forget the horrible implications of the past couple of hours. There is a question and answer session. Someone asks Christopher and Conley if any funds for the river cleanup are being set aside for relocating people and assisting people who get sick from the toxic stew. They are not sure and suggest people check with the City to see if they have something available.

The prospect distresses me.

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