Portland Occupier http://www.portlandoccupier.org News From The Occupation Wed, 23 Nov 2016 19:34:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Giving Thanks http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/23/giving-thanks-2/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/23/giving-thanks-2/#respond Wed, 23 Nov 2016 17:00:33 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=11039 13641107_10154275321962440_3952170880656806640_o

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

So here we are, not long after an election that saw the man who will become President of the United States spending over a year hurling invective against just about everyone not a white, straight, Christian male, that has now clearly encouraged blatant and aggressive bigoted actions. Clearly, we must gather ourselves together, steeling for the fights to come. As such, this Thanksgiving, more so than usual, will give us ample time to reflect on the white supremacist settler, colonial, and imperial underpinnings of the day, as well has how to organize and defeat them.

But it also should be a time of thankfulness, for reflecting on the many gains that people have made toward greater justice, as well as how we can continue that work. So in no particular order…

The All-African People’s Revolutionary Party continues moving along. It’s free breakfast program has for the moment been shuttered, but the other component of that program–education–has expanded into the formation of the School of African Roots (SOAR). I have been unable to attend any of the classes which are held on Sundays from noon to 2 PM at the Abbey Arts Center in North Portland, but from what I have read, it continues the A-APRP’s mission of moving “forward ever, backwards never”–in this case in the education of young African people. Thank you.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Earlier this year some employees at Burgerville formed the Burgerville Workers Union to fight for safety on the job, dignity in their work, and greater wages. It is a union of, by, and for the workers at Burgerville, but it is built upon a deep consciousness of class and race, and sees itself as part of a wider workers’ movement. Its sense of workplace democracy is refreshing, and its actions are creative. Slowly but surely it is peeling away Burgerville’s facade as a corporation that supports community values. While the locally sourced ingredients for burgers, onion rings, and milkshakes separate Burgerville from larger fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, its commitment to poverty wages for its employees and its treatment of those workers does not. Thank you.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is, for the moment, dead. That is the result of many hard years of organizing and education by many people and groups, particularly the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. What should have been a slam dunk for corporations has been rejected. Everyone who matters, so to speak, wanted this. Multinational corporations and their lapdogs in government–including Oregon’s very own Ron Wyden and Portland’s Earl Blumenauer, as well as President Barack Obama, who in their support for corporate profits over people and environment represents so much of what is wrong with the Democratic Party–did all they could to further hurt working people. But the organizing in opposition to the TPP made passing it impossible. Thank you.

Tenant rights activists such as those composing the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) and Portland Tenants United (PTU) have been working hard to pressure the City to act boldly in the face of the renters’ crisis. The City has made some changes, and in the recent election, voters approved a ballot initiative that would put over $250 million toward affordable housing. And incoming City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who campaigned heavily on these housing issues, has clearly signaled a more aggressive approach to the problem. Despite these victories, the CAT and PTU show no sign of letting up. Thank you.

In June I attended a forum hosted by the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon that presented a history of solidarity of the Asian-Pacific Islander community and Asian-Pacific Islander organizations with other groups fighting for racial and social justice. The panel also discussed ways to further that work. There was nothing new in what they were talking about, namely the need to reach out and work together, but I had never covered an APANO event before. It is always nice to hear about what people are doing to further justice. Thank you.

Black Lives Matter and Don’t Shoot Portland continue doing their vital work promoting what should be a simple demand, that Black bodies be treated with the same sanctity that should be accorded all bodies. Historically, it clearly has not been so, and these groups keep building upon the shoulders of their ancestors. When their demands are clearly rebuffed, such as with the Portland Police contract that Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz recently approved that in no uncertain terms blared that Black lives do not matter, they keep organizing and agitating. Thank you.

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Related to that subject, Teressa Raiford, to use language often not found in a courtroom, kicked the shit out of the police and prosecutors who charged her with second degree disorderly conduct. She and her lawyer, Matthew McHenry, danced a whipsong on The City, exposing Portland Police Officer Susan Billard as a liar, and making Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Lowe–who was brought in off the bench to aid the woefully outgunned Eamon McMahon–look ridiculous. It was tough being inside for some very nice April days, but seeing Lowe only a few feet in front of me, fist behind his back clenched and shaking in anger as Raiford completely controlled his cross-examination of her, made it worthwhile. Her performance was impressive–she was calm and assured, a clear contrast to Lowe who was clearly frustrated that he was not having his way as he must have expected he would– and she and McHenry exposed The City and its police as thugs. Thank you.

After the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, thousands of people gathered in downtown Portland to pay respect to the dead and injured, as well as stand in defiance of the hatred that consumed the man who took those lives and hurt so many others. It was beautiful and brave. Thank you.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Right 2 Dream Too, the rest area for people without housing keeps up its work. Every time it seems it is ready to find a new home, something gets in the way. More accurately, some group of people–this time a bunch of business folks from the southeast industrial area near OMSI–always seem to get in the way. As with the move R2DToo was going to make a few years ago to under the NW ramp of the Broadway Bridge, testimony brought out some very horrible people. But as with that testimony from 2013, the various people without housing who attended and testified, comported themselves with a dignity and humanity lacking in their tormentors. The move to that spot in southeast has been aborted due to pressure from the business community, but R2DToo continues fighting. Thank you.

A 15 year battle between the Parks and Recreation workers and the City came to an end in February. Their agreement promised to create 130 new living wage, union-protected jobs, and that the City would recognize these “seasonal” Recreation Support staff as part of Laborers Local 483 once a majority show support for joining. As union protected employees, they will be able to collectively bargain for their wages, benefits, rights, and work conditions. Thank you.

The Justice for Keaton Otis vigils continue. For over six years now people have gathered on the 12th of every month on the corner of NE 6th and Halsey to demand justice for Otis and all those murdered by police. Otis’ father, Fred Bryant, is remembered as well for his quest to find that justice. The vigil remains a beacon of hope and memory, a long running reminder that even when things look grim, people are willing to fight to make them better. Thank you.

On November 17, 2011 eight members of an affinity group from the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC) infiltrated a Wells-Fargo bank downtown and caused it to shut down just as that day’s Occupy the Banks march passed by. The action was taken to call attention to Wells-Fargo’s role in helping bankroll the private prison industry. Flash forward through 4.5 years of organizing and educating to a March meeting of the City of Portland’s Socially Responsible Investments Committee during which the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the City divest its holdings in Wells Fargo due to the company’s financing of for-profit prisons and its “morally bankrupt” business practices. On Wednesday November 30–next Wednesday–the City will hear public testimony regarding whether it should drop its holdings in Wells Fargo with a vote soon to follow. Thank you.

11059293_10153742157237440_1634652430837081754_oThe charges against my Friend Francisco Aguirre for illegal reentry into the country were dropped over the Summer. Aguirre fought and fought and fought. He did so with the backing of numerous people and groups, too many to be named here. They had his back, as Francisco has for so many others in his work organizing day laborers. I found out last week that after all this persecution from the Attorney General and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Francisco had been approved for his Employment Authorization Card. Despite these victories, he and his supporters continue fighting, because he has always known that this was a fight for all people without documentation. Thank you.

Portland has lost some very good people this year. Ephemerally, perhaps, Walidah Imarisha is now teaching at Stanford University, and Alyssa Pagan is stomping the terra around New York City. I miss them, deeply, but our loss is a lot of other people’s gain. Sharing your lives with us has made us better. And if ultimately lonelier, sharing your lives with me has also made me better. Thank you.

We also lost Justin Buri, the former executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants. He was by all accounts a good and decent person, and his work, which will continue, has made a difference. I will always remember his testimony in front of the City Council in October, 2015 as he demanded the City declare a renters’ state of emergency. It struck me as the voice of a person who would not back down because he knew too many people who had no place to fall. Thank you.

I get to know many people on various levels while writing for this publication. I knew Michelle Mundt, who seemed to be at every event dealing with people without housing, for a nod, a warm smile, and an occasional hello that signaled approval. That was always kind and comforting, but now I am left wondering the intricacies of the beauty that composed that blessing. It is a warm, if incomplete, feeling. Thank you.

And as always, to my better 99%, my family, and my Friends–particularly over the course of this year, some of which has been trying–thank you. I Love you.

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Rural Organizing Project Offers Hope, Ideas for Fighting White Supremacist Movements http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/22/rural-organizing-project-offers-hope-ideas-for-fighting-white-supremacist-movements/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/22/rural-organizing-project-offers-hope-ideas-for-fighting-white-supremacist-movements/#respond Tue, 22 Nov 2016 17:00:39 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=11021 Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project

Story by Pete Shaw

Almost as soon it became clear that Donald Trump was going to be the next President of the United States, Democratic Party operatives, pundits, and supporters began casting blame for Trump’s victory. Much of that blame has fallen upon rural people, and integral to those accusations has been generalizing these people–variously labeled hicks, rednecks, or hayseeds, just to name some of the pejoratives–as ignorant racists, misogynists, and bigots.

Speaking to a packed house of over 300 people at SEIU Local 49 on Wednesday night, Jessica Campbell of the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) sought to dispel these myths as well as urge Portlanders and other city dwellers to reach out to rural people whom she described as “miners’ canaries” warning of what lies ahead for the entire country if urbanites do not respond to their needs. The program–Dispatch from the Frontlines: Oregon’s Patriot Movement, the Acquittal of the Bundy Bunch, and Discussion in Connection to Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and the Overall Quest for Social Justice–focused on rural Oregonians’ resistance to various white supremacist factions, particularly those militia groups that compose the Patriot Movement, and the need for people to reach out and support those rural people, offering them viable alternatives to the society sought by these white supremacist movements.

Beginning with the mobilization of various militia and patriot groups such as the Oathkeepers and Three Percenters in Josephine County in 2015 (similar mobilizations, Campbell said, have taken place throughout rural Oregon), Campbell outlined a basic pattern of how these groups go to rural areas and try to set themselves up as a kind of new legitimate authority. In the case of Josephine County, they were fighting to protect the owners of the Sugar Pine Mine from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The mine sits on BLM land, and the BLM had required the mine owners to file a Plan of Operations regarding unapproved improvements upon the land. As Campbell said, rather than dispute the need to fill the forms or call a lawyer, the mine owners called in the Oathkeepers “to protect them from the federal government taking their gold.”

Like those who staged the 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada, these self-styled patriots claimed they were liberating the land from the federal authority that had resulted in the extraction industry’s decline. From their point of view, laws and regulations were standing in the way of a God-given right to make profit off of the land, environmental consequences be damned. A similar pattern emerged when Ammon Bundy and his gang rode into Burns, Oregon and took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project.

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project.

Campbell stated that, contrary to reports in the corporate media, the rural residents of both Josephine and Harney Counties (the Malheur sanctuary is located in Harney County, on the Paiute people’s land) were not on board with the white supremacist militias and their aspirations. However, those who embrace delusions of grandeur often become completely convinced of the righteousness of their cause, and they do not well tolerate dissent from their vision.  So it was with these patriot groups.

The community was so terrified,” said Campbell, “that they were not willing to say anything.” Campbell talked about people being followed home from work and intimidated, and their children followed home from school.

But eventually, once people found out they were not alone in their disdain for these white supremacist groups, they did resist. In Josephine County, a small group of citizens held a press conference on the steps of the county courthouse, declaring their opposition to the militias that had descended upon their land. That event was attended by quite a few militia members, bearing weapons, and disrupting the speakers. In Harney County, large numbers of people demanded the militia members leave, and they staged a midday rally on Monday, February 1, on the Harney County Courthouse steps. Some 350 people attended, and businesses closed to let their employees go.

Campbell insisted that rural people’s resistance to the tyranny of racist militia groups is stronger than the corporate media–and now, many Democratic Party supporters–would have us believe. The unfortunate reality, she said, is this: rural people have been forgotten by our society. The Bundy takeover of Malheur was “like the first time people in the country cared about rural Oregon”–and these militia groups are moving in, trying to fill the void.

In many rural areas, Campbell noted, the economy has been hard hit, resulting in a cascade of setbacks for civil society. Public services such as libraries have been privatized. There is no 911 operator in many areas outside of 9 to 5 office hours. When some people in one county complained about nobody responding to emergencies after hours, an answering machine was installed with a message that told people to call back when someone was there. Systems of policing are not working. In short, the system is breaking down, and there are few alternatives.

The Patriot Movement offers its own solutions through a series of inside and outside strategies, explained Campbell, that basically delegitimize the remaining government institutions, and either fill them with people loyal to their white supremacist, anti-democratic agenda, or just replace those institutions with their own illegitimate ones leaning far more toward totalitarianism. The idea of a militia group creating its own court system may sound ridiculous, but having made inroads into some sheriff’s departments in Oregon (there is one Patriot group named the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association), they must be taken seriously. They are attempting to create a country not far from the one Donald Trump promised during his campaign, a hyper-capitalist place that benefits only the greediest individuals at the expense of everyone else. In a region already reeling from the effects of a capitalist system that has left most of its residents behind, patriot movements offer acceleration which considering how capitalism has failed so many rural people, would seem to be a loser of a proposal.

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project.

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project.

But where is the alternative? Where are the progressive Democrats who make up the majority of Oregon’s federal delegation and have a firm hand on state government? Where are the services that Democrats are supposed to provide? Campbell said that when people around Malheur called the police for help, they received no response. She described Oregon governor Kate Brown as “absent.”

There’s a whole lot of folks who don’t hear from progressive Democrats in this state,” said Campbell, adding that many of those Democrats don’t visit rural areas because they are “afraid to be yelled at.” She urged Democratic representatives to show up and do their jobs, because, she said, “these people feel disenfranchised.”

They let these feelings of abandonment be known on November 8. Not necessarily because they liked Donald Trump’s ideas, but because they had been getting screwed over for so long by establishment politicians like Hillary Clinton.

So what to do? Fortunately, ROP–which works with 50 member groups–has a template: reach out to people and organize with them so they will be heard and their demands met. This requires outreach from people who live in cities, such as Portland and Eugene, that are viewed as liberal Meccas (despite a history clearly showing a current of white supremacist movements from Oregon’s founding to the present day).

Following Campbell’s talk, she was joined by three activists on a panel that was moderated by Scot Nakagawa of ChangeLab.

Ahjamu Umi of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) spoke to the audience about why he has helped organize security for ROP events (which aside from disruptions, have seen Campbell shot at). Umi noted a connection between the historical exploitation of resources in Africa (such as those integral to cell phones, tablets, flat screen televisions, and other similar technological items, as well as chocolate, coffee–items taken for granted by many people in the US), as well as the ruthless exploitation of the African people, and people in rural America, also being strangled by capitalism. All of this barbarism is usually swept under the rug and promoted as democracy, although any rudimentary examination shows otherwise.

Photo by Chris Ferlazzo.

From left to right: Jessica Campbell, Danica Brown, Luis Brennan, Ahjamu Umi, and Scot Nakagawa. Photo by Chris Ferlazzo.

America’s never been a democracy,” Umi told the audience. “It’s never been a free society. It’s never been a society based on justice. It’s always been an empire. We’ve got to understand that now because of the declining nature of the capitalist system, now we see more and more European people, more and more white people impacted by the conditions we’ve been impacted for 500 years by….The reason I participate with ROP is because we recognize that all people–working people–are oppressed by capitalism.” He then urged white people to help organize movements, particularly with other white people and white organizations that will work with groups like the A-APRP to offer an alternative to capitalism.

America’s being exposed for what America has been for 500 plus years,” he told the crowd. “Wake up, smell the coffee, and get organized.”

Luis Brennan of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Burgerville Workers Union (BWU) noted how most Burgerville workers are white and that most Burgervilles are located outside of Portland, where the populations are even whiter than here. Noting that the white working class had been turned on by the Clintons and other Democratic Party stalwarts, Brennan said the BWU was not simply about winning approval from the National Labor Relations Board, but was far more expansive, “standing with conviction and fighting back against oppression” such as that brought on by the declining capitalist system as Umi had mentioned.

Brennan said it was important for the BWU to win its fight because “we need a durable organization to win over the white working class.” He noted that “workers are not stupid and don’t jump on sinking ships,” and that unless working people like those in the auditorium show that you can fight and win for their values–for the society they want to live in–then more and more white working people will join with white supremacists.

Danica Brown, a member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, stated, “What we’re talking about today is a continuation of white settler colonialism.” Brown has witnessed that continuity while fighting in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in their battle with Energy Transfer Partners, the company attempting to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. Describing that fight as one “about our children and grandchildren having clean drinking water,” she noted that the battle has seen over people shot at, maced, and tear gassed, and that over 400 people had been arrested–all on “treaty land not ceded by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.” (As this article goes to press, police have fired mace, concussion grenades, and water cannons–in sub-freezing temperatures–at these water defenders, resulting in at least 300 injuries.)

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project.

Photo courtesy of the Rural Organizing Project.

Of course it happened,” said Brown about the violence by various police and security forces. “White supremacy in this country reigns, and it’s indicated in these actions at Standing Rock.” Nonetheless, there is resistance, and it is growing stronger by day with allies streaming into North Dakota to work with “a bunch of ragtag Indians on the northern plains…fighting for the land, fighting for the water, fighting for you.”

That fight for clean water for all stands in direct contradiction to the Patriot Movement whose battle to privatize public lands includes getting rid of government regulation. The standoff at Standing Rock presents the interesting–if in a grimly repetitive historical fashion–wrinkle of seeing a corporation with government support ignoring treaties and running roughshod over land and people all in the name of profit. If the water is poisoned, that’s someone else’s problem, and perhaps a future chance to make a buck selling clean water.

Campbell then followed with a nod to Brown, noting that the ROP had organized a busload of rural Oregonians to go to Standing Rock. She used that as a lead-in to urge urban people to have rural Oregonians’ backs and to resist those who would label all rural people as white, dumb, and racist, among other invectives. Campbell added that a lot of rural people who voted for Trump did not necessarily do so because they liked his policies but because they “are sick and tired of being shit on” by putatively progressive people, particularly those in the Oregon and federal governments.

Everyone in that auditorium–maybe throughout the United States–perhaps felt a sense of burnout from an election that seemed to go on forever. Understanding both that weariness as well as nerves scraped raw from the results, Campbell urged everyone to get themselves together and start working on strengthening ties. Rather than “unfriending” people who voted for Trump, she urged people to reach out with honesty and sincerity.

Now’s the time to organize. It doesn’t matter how tired you are. Now is the time.”

Want to get involved?

Visit the webpages of the Rural Organizing Project, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, and the Burgerville Workers Union to find out how you can support these struggles. Also, please consider making a donation.

To read the Rural Organizing Project’s report on the Patriot Movement in Oregon and how to work in solidarity resisting it, go to: http://www.rop.org/up-in-arms/

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An Important Lesson http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/18/an-important-lesson/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/18/an-important-lesson/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2016 17:00:45 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=11014 Photo by David E. Delk

Photo by David E. Delk

Story by Pete Shaw

After last week’s election, the Portland Occupier published a column I wrote about how regardless of who won the election, the same work of organizing for a more just world faced us. Had Hillary Clinton won, she at most would likely have made slightly tepid changes, but I doubt those changes would have done anything to strike at the institutions that have buttressed the many bigotries that have composed a core pillar of the United States since its creation. After all, she was taking huge sums of money from interests who benefit from those institutions. While I do believe in using voting as a tactic–if only to buy time–I absolutely don’t see it as an end, and I fully understand the thinking of folks who are deeply involved in organizing work who do not vote. At the least, voting is a near-meaningless act if you do not have enough people organized to hold accountable the politicians they elect and bend them to your will.

About 4 or 5 years ago I attended a small meeting at the then office of Portland Jobs with Justice on in the AFSCME building on East Burnside. During the course of that meeting, people were speaking about another so-called free trade agreement (FTA) that was coming down the pike, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP had been in the works for a few years, but not long before this meeting the US and the eleven other involved governments from the Pacific Rim–whose countries’ economies made up over 40% of the world’s gross domestic product–began getting down and dirty in negotiations. Those discussions were being helped along by the corporations that would benefit most–at the expense of people–from the arrangement. And those negotiations were being done in secret, with even members of the United States Congress–the branch of government responsible for dealing with trade–prohibited from knowing their content.

The basic idea of the TPP was the same as prior FTAs: there would be reams of paper that would define the rights of corporations to extract as much profit as possible, as well as some ink giving lip service to environmental, labor, and human rights standards, albeit almost completely devoid of any way to enforce these. It was, as with NAFTA, CAFTA, and the trade accords involving Peru and South Korea, contemptuous of democracy.

And we needed to organize against it.

In early July 2012, the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign (ORFTC) held a rally at Pioneer Square calling attention to the TPP and the threat it posed. It was a gorgeous day, and before it was over, a contingent of about 20 people visited the Verizon store on Broadway, a FedEx in southwest Portland, and a Wal-Mart over in southeast Portland. I remember sitting in the back seat of Greg Margolis’ car, suffering through back and neck spasms, and Greg engaging me in conversation about John Coltrane to help ease the pain. When we got to Wal-Mart, a crowd of at least 50 people was there. It did not relieve my aches, but it sure made me smile. “This is how it works,” I once again thought to myself.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

A month later, Senator Ron Wyden convened a “listening session” in Portland to discuss the TPP. He expressed some opposition. It will come as no surprise to anyone who remotely knows Wyden’s stance on FTAs that his opposition was not to the contents of the TPP, but rather that because of the negotiations’ secrecy, he was left out of seeing what progress was being made. By that time, Wikileaks had published some leaks of the proposed text which was predictably horrible. Most of the people on that stage appeared to be happy listening to themselves as they talked up how wonderful the TPP would be for everyone, with that word “everyone” being the usual substitute for “me.” A large number of people in the audience were opposed to the TPP, and I remember seeing new faces.

I should add that a lot of people supporting the TPP were there in particular in the hope that the Northwest would become a haven for shipping coal to China. That fight was gearing up as well, and an obvious bond of solidarity was ready for the making.

From there followed a series of forums called together by the ORFTC that with each successive meeting seemed to bring more people and groups into the fold. Those expanding numbers of people who realized what a debacle the TPP would be for at least some major element of their lives were exerting their influence on politicians.

On January 9, 2014 Democratic Senator Max Baucus, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, and Republican Representative Dave Camp introduced legislation that would grant President Obama “Fast Track” authority for the TPP. In a nutshell, these leaders were urging their fellow congresspeople to abdicate their constitutional power over matters of trade. It would require an up-or-down vote on the legislation, and it would not allow for amendments.

In March, with Fast Track still not passed, the ORFTC held a rally in front of Wyden’s office. After the rally Elizabeth Swager of the ORFTC hoped to deliver to Wyden a bag of 5 inch floppy computer disks. These disks had long been obsolete, just like Fast Track, a relic from the Nixon Administration. They were not accepted because they posed a “security risk.”

It had been about two years since that Jobs with Justice meeting on Burnside, and still the movement was expanding. More people and groups signing on to the fight. More new faces at the rallies.

June, and yet another forum with yet more allies–these now being held at the First Unitarian Church, not only because that is a friendly space for those seeking justice, but because the numbers of people wanting to get involved had grown so much that the space of the church’s Eliot Chapel was needed–it was announced that in November Wyden planned to put forward his own version of Fast Track that he named Smart Track. The name was the only material difference. That gave people about five months to get the word out and put pressure on Wyden.

Such a task is never easy, but how hard could it be after the outreach and organizing that had occurred over the past few years? I don’t know that answer. I do know that I am pretty sure Wyden never introduced Smart Track because poll after poll showed he would get beaten like a gong for doing so. I’d gloat by writing “smart move,” but in a smarter move, Wyden decided his best bet was to add some of his provisions to Fast Track and then make some talk about the necessity of compromise, leaving out the closing words “by further sacrificing working people on the altar of corporate profits.” Fast Track would eventually pass, but in fights with an opponent whose backers are multi-national corporations worth trillions of dollars, you take every victory you can get. And you build on it. They had made Wyden cave.

In early 2015 Wyden holds a town hall on the PCC campus off SE 82nd Avenue.  A large crowed of people opposed to the TPP gather outside and flyer people entering the meeting. They later go in as well. I was planning on heading home because I was feeling ill when I saw a crowd marching toward the campus. It was a Don’t Shoot Portland march that was coming to demand Wyden start working to hold police accountable for murdering people, particularly those of color. The Don’t Shoot people entered and faced off with Wyden. Instead of engaging them in a substantive manner, he uttered some platitudes, but the activists were not going to let him off so easily. They demanded more. Wyden fled, and so members of Don’t Shoot Portland conducted the meeting without Senator Wyden. Some people left, but most stayed. It was not planned this way, and now Wyden had at least two vocal groups of substantial numbers who were giving him heat.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

Activists continue following Wyden around, protesting outside his office, and doing the same to Oregon’s other legislators who support the TPP, which includes Portland’s Earl Blumenauer who has a reputation for being prickly. Quite a few years back I was arrested for taking part in a sit-in at Earl’s office, this over the Peru FTA. The anti-TPP activists are visiting his office often now, and I always feel like I am in some way coming home.

The numbers build, as does the pressure. February sees the TPP signed by the 12 negotiating countries. It now awaits ratification from those countries’ governments.

But nobody in the Congress wants to touch the damn thing. President Obama wants it badly. But it is radioactive. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are a lot of the rage, if not all of it. They are hitting all the right notes when they talk about trade. Trump is also hitting all the wrong notes on issues of race, gender, faith, and really just about everything not white, male, straight, and Christian. Hillary Clinton is tepid on the trade issue, and nobody is sure where she stands. Not so long ago, she saw the TPP as the cat’s meow. Now she is opposed.

All politicians flip-flop, but Clinton has been dragged through the mud for so long by the Republicans and the corporate media that she likely feels she cannot make the stand against the TPP that Sanders does because she will lose her conservative Democrat base which includes the many multinational corporations that will benefit from the TPP. Clinton eventually beats Sanders for the Democratic nomination, but Trump wins the presidential election.

A week ago the word came out that, at least for the moment, the TPP was dead. The Republicans had announced they would not seek to pass it through the lame duck session. A couple of days ago, President Obama also announced its demist. My friend Arthur Stamoulis, who was once the lead organizer for the ORFTC and now is the Executive Director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, recently noted that while much of the corporate media place credit for stopping the TPP at the feet of Donald Trump, the reality is that it is the years of people relentlessly educating and organizing people and a multitude of various groups against it that is responsible for at least momentarily bringing down the curtain on the TPP.

It seems a perfect story at this moment, or really–considering that much of the fight was against the wishes of Democrat President Obama– at any time. The real work of creating a more just world does not lie in casting ballots, but in organizing people.

It is the only thing that has ever worked.

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Where Do We Go From Here? http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/11/where-do-we-go-from-here/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/11/where-do-we-go-from-here/#respond Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:00:20 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10993

Photo by Pete Shaw

Story by Pete Shaw

Judging from Facebook on the morning after the recent elections, it seems there are two very important things that need taking. One is that the proposed wisdom that we were watching the destruction of the Republican Party turned out to be false. Instead, it is the Democrats who have imploded, or as I would argue, further imploded. The Republicans gained the presidency and kept both houses of Congress. And while for the moment the Democrats will have enough numbers to muster filibusters in the Senate (assuming the Republicans don’t change the chamber rules, which is their right to do), the odds are very good that come 2019, the Republicans will seat over 60 Senators. As well, Republicans picked up governorships and state legislative branches.

The seed of liberal capitalism–or neoliberalism as it is called–was planted in Richard Nixon’s administration, sprouted under Jimmy Carter, grew and blossomed under Ronald Reagan, and then under Bill Clinton–who finally tore away the Democrats from its traditional, if by then nominal, working class political values–truly fruited, producing fantastic returns for the few at the expense of the many. The Democratic Party had remade itself into a corporate party, but one that at least had to give some scraps from the table to its base. And the scraps were few–if meaningful–wrung out of them by people organizing and struggling to get them.

In October 2015, I covered a rally for immigrant rights outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison on SW Macadam Avenue. It occurred a couple of months after Donald Trump first made his horrible remarks about all Mexicans being rapists and other sorts of violent criminals that had toppled the US from whatever great status he was projecting as lost.

It also occurred long after President Barack Obama had exceeded the number of deportations under President George W. Bush. I certainly don’t recall Hillary Clinton stepping up and saying those deportations were deplorable, particularly because many of those people left their homes due to US foreign policy, including trade deals such as NAFTA, which was signed by President Bill Clinton. I do not mean to paint Hillary Clinton as guilty by association. But she is guilty for her silence, as is much of the Democratic Party. Sure, they had some words against Trump, but their actions betrayed a bedrock support for his basic ideas, just without his rhetoric.

Obama pulled out DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in the run-up to the 2012 election. His hand was forced by the very real threat of not enough Latinos coming out and supporting him. That threat was largely due to the very visible and equally courageous actions taken by people without documentation, particularly the Dreamers who demanded they and their families not be torn apart by US immigration policies that completely ignored–actually, created–the conditions that led them to

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

leave home. Yet only a few years later, we saw droves of mothers and children fleeing rampant violence in Central America–brutality that was largely brought to them, once again, courtesy of US foreign policy, include support for a coup in Honduras while Clinton was Secretary of State. Those mothers and children were often taken to isolated prisons, treated like animals, and fast-tracked on the path to deportation despite the dire threats they faced upon their return.

Some remediation was achieved because a large clutch of dedicated lawyerly sorts, including from Portland’s own Immigrant Law Group and Lewis & Clark Law School (my apologies to others I have neglected), went to those prisons and did all they could to defend the rights of these people. Those rights were being trod upon by the ICE, and I don’t remember Hillary

Clinton or many other high level Democrats–including obviously the president–coming to their defense at all. In fact, considering how much this was kept in the dark until that group of lawyers found out about it and descended upon those prisons, it seems quite safe to assume they supported this.

That silence by those in power in the face of systemic racism and oppression is nothing new. It is as American as apple pie. The more vocal white supremacy on display by Donald Trump and his supporters is nothing new, although over the years it has been uncouth to be so open about it. Genteel and well-heeled Democrats and Republicans, for the most part, had been satisfied decrying overt racism while supporting policies that clearly targeted people of color, as well as other bigoted and misogynistic policies aimed at women and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and numerous other marginalized people.

As my friend Ahjamu Umi of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) has often noted–and frankly, as is apparent from any reading of history outside the managed version one gets through school textbooks and in the corporate media–this country has been racist since its inception. There is, for one example, a pretty clear line between how Black people have been treated in this country from slavery to today. First their bodies were used to profit plantation owners as slaves. Now their bodies are used to profit the plantations of the prison industry.

Locally, in Portland, which proudly bills itself as a liberal city, the issues at the core of the Black Lives Matter Movement–particularly that Black bodies are worth something more than targets for police who are rarely held accountable–were ignored as the City Council approved a new police contract that effectively says Black Lives Do Not Matter. Mayor Charlie Hales, Councilman Nick Fish, and Councilwoman Amanda Fritz would probably prefer other language, but that is where their liberalism has brought them and brought us. Nice language, same bullshit.

None of them, and certainly not Hillary Clinton (who once with the proverbial dog whistle referred to Black people as “super predators”) as far as I know, made mention of the racism that has always been inherent in police departments across the country. After all this time–after all these deaths, many of them now available for viewing thanks to modern technology–not only is this clear and painful reality left unsaid by those with power, but worse, in terms of policy, it is ignored, even applauded. In a capitalist society what else is a raise–and it was a very nice one the Portland police received–but an acknowledgement of a job well done?

I am sure you could fill quite a few books of such soft pedal white supremacy.

However, it is not in my nature to end things on such a low note. Sure, Donald Trump’s election is a stone bummer. I held my nose and voted for Clinton, and as the returns came in Tuesday night, I was not pleased. But it really didn’t change a thing in my calculus as it were because I see voting as a tactic and not an end. I would have probably written, with a slightly different angle, the same words had Clinton won. Well, sort of. In fact, I began writing something on Election Day–believing Clinton would win–about conducting near-terminal experiments with LSD so I could pretend for a few minutes that the world would, with a pull of a lever, change for the better. 

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

But I scuttled that idea, knowing damn well that at best that the change I wanted to hallucinate would be minimal, or more accurately, that it would, as always, not be gained without our collective demand.

And also, I have had no idea where to find good acid–or any acid–in years.

But the fact is this: when on Election Day my better 99% left the house and asked me if I was worried about the election I replied, “Yes, but regardless of the outcome, we will be doing the same work tomorrow. It just may be a little more uphill.” And so it is.

The other item that must be taken from this election–and which is far more important than a chronicle of the failures of the Democratic Party–is that if you are the sort for whom active citizenship means taking part in an election every so often as well as spending a good portion of your day posting inspirational items about Democrats and snarky ones about Republicans on social, you are not doing much (and a corollary to this, which I mentioned to my better 99% late on Election Day, is that if you were so keen on voting for someone other than Clinton because you thought she is evil incarnate no different than Trump, I have no idea why you are upset that Trump won). I cover a lot of activist groups in this city, and while some of the people in them are certainly upset about the results of the election–and for a lot of people in this country, namely marginalized people who are not white, heterosexual, Christian males, this certainly seems a dangerous turn for the worse–very soon, once they heal up, they will be back on their feet doing the same hard work of organizing people against the various injustices that occur regardless of which party is in power.  These are the people who truly make this country great, or at least drag it kicking and screaming to be something better.

There is no secret in this: organize, organize, organize. Educate and agitate as well. Push the system until it is stressed, and it bends to your will. This cannot be done alone by the mythical rugged individual. Take a tip from the 1% who are very well organized, so much so that a candidate like Hillary Clinton–who is worth millions upon millions of dollars, has been showered with Wall Street money, and has had President Obama’s ear when it came to issues of fragmenting children and other people by dropping bombs from drones on them–can be passed off as a candidate of the people.

It is hard work. It is often thankless work. And you lose an awful lot.

Photo by Bette Lee

Photo by Bette Lee

But it is also–and I write this as someone who even on his best days is often agnostic–god’s work. Find a group working on an issue that interests you. As I have told numerous people over the past couple of days, your problem is not going to be finding those groups. No, your problem is going to be dealing with a sense of guilt when you realize you have to pare down severely the number of groups with which you can work because there simply are not enough hours in the day to work with all of them. If you look through the articles here in the Portland Occupier, you will find a fraction of those groups in our stories.

And here’s something that might be a secret. Despite the hard, thankless, and often seemingly fruitless work, you will never regret getting involved in working with people to create a more just world. You will meet some wonderful people whose talents and capacities will bring you a unique joy as they amplify your own abilities. They will make what will often seem like a hopeless slog not only endurable, but enjoyable. You will be proud that you call these people partners, comrades, and friends.

Every once in a decent while you will win. Not very often, but if your goal really is a more just world as compared with a personal victory, often enough. And intermittently, you will win big. In a former life I was a history teacher. Every so often a student would ask me how I could remain positive in the face of some truly horrible stuff. Easy, I would say. We don’t have kings. We don’t have chattel slavery. While the world is replete with the awful, it seems to me there is less of it. That was not achieved simply by voting. Often, years and years of the hard work of organizing–including numerous losses that left little hope–doubtlessly seemed useless. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, WHAM!, a huge leap forward, but in fact a step just a bit noticeably larger than the many steps that led up to it.

But as Chris Hedges has said, you don’t fight because you might win, however wonderful that would be. You fight because it affirms your humanity.

And when you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you can take pride in saying you gave a damn and that you tried, and in the end, just perhaps, that you made a better world.

It is one of the most rewarding feelings you will ever know.

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A Memory of Justin Buri http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/04/a-memory-of-justin-buri/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/11/04/a-memory-of-justin-buri/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 20:24:28 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10981 5572aStory and photos by Pete Shaw

Thursday, November 3, late

Justin Buri, the former executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), an organization that fights for renters and their rights, died on Tuesday, November 1. He was 36.

I will not pretend that I knew him, but I did have the pleasure of talking with him a few times while covering various events surrounding the Renters’ Crisis that the CAT first declared on September 15, 2016, in Peninsula Park. It was obvious from his work that he cared about people. And if I may say so, I was pleased to be inconvenienced by that care.

A nice story is in order. Yesterday, as the news broke, people began reposting on Facebook Buri’s riveting testimony in front of City Council in early October of last year. I was in the balcony that day, covering the event. I forget how long Buri spoke–maybe four or five minutes. After about a minute I stopped taking notes. It was very clear that this was something special, and it demanded to be heard. I could easily enough go home, listen to it again on some Portland City government website, and take my notes then.

That was a very good decision then, and it seems a better one tonight as I deal with the strange emotion of feeling very sad that, in the words of Woody Guthrie, another man’s done gone, but knowing that person almost dsc_5583exclusively from his work, not his person. I approached Buri outside council chambers after his testimony to both tell him how impressive he had been, and as well ask him a few questions. He was talking with someone from the CAT, so I waited. And waited. Then someone else approached, and so I waited some more. Finally, maybe 20 minutes later, he finished talking with those who needed his words and Wisdom for far greater and more urgent reasons than I did, and turned to me. I told him my feelings about what he had said, asked him a couple of questions, and then noted that I had to get home and watch the footage so I could take down quotes for the article. Very kindly, he gave me the transcript of what he said.

Those pieces of paper, I am quite sure, lie in a box to my left. I have two boxes in this room with a bunch of paper in them. One, behind me against the back wall, has envelopes as well as a slew of notebooks varying in size, most of them filled with notes from various events about which the Portland Occupier has written. It would seem logical that his words be there.

But they are not. The box to my left contains letters and other documents of memory and inspiration. Every so often I will sort through it, pull out something, and read it. Memories reconstructed can placate a soul, however listless.

Perhaps later tomorrow I will do that. The weather cognoscenti tell me it will be a beautiful Fall day, and as I always do this time of year, I will hope for that warm, golden glow that comes with the late afternoon sunlight that can be so rare on a November day in Portland.

Just off the back porch lies a magnolia, a type whose leaves this time of year, help define my perfect Autumn. They are amber with brown veins, although soon enough their undersides will begin turning gray. When that low, descending sunlight hits them, they are beautiful. As with the season, they remind me that, as George Harrison sang, all things must pass, and that they do so at their own right time.

That, I think, will be a perfect moment for reading those words, adamant in their demands and compassion for so many left behind by a system that values profit over the lives of people.

And for reminding myself that every Autumn is eventually followed by a Spring.

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City Council Ignores Voices of People of Color; Rewards Police Violence with New Contract http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/10/18/city-council-ignores-voices-of-people-of-color-rewards-police-violence-with-new-contract/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/10/18/city-council-ignores-voices-of-people-of-color-rewards-police-violence-with-new-contract/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 16:00:02 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10950  

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

Story by Pete Shaw

Let’s skip the formalities and conventions and get right to the point: Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Nick Fish, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz are racists. They are dangerous racists whose recent support for the new police contract shows a complete disregard for the lives of people of color–particularly Black people–and an equally callous ignorance of the harassment, humiliation, intimidation, brutality, and murder the Portland police inflict upon communities of color, particularly Black communities. In supporting the pact, Hales, Fish, and Fritz have afforded even more protection to a police force with a well-documented history of racism and excessive violence.

Obviously Hales, Fish, and Fritz do not run around waving Nazi flags, shouting racist obscenities, and wearing Ku Klux Klan outfits (although Hales did reinstate Mark Kruger to the police force despite the man setting up a shrine to his fallen Nazi heroes on Rocky Butte). But they do represent this city, and they have the power of crafting and passing many of the rules and laws by which we live. One might hazard a guess that by now, after video upon video upon video of police murdering Black people, the police would be understood as an institution that wields inordinate power often at the expense of people of color.

And that is why Hales, Fish, and Fritz are dangerous. It is bad enough that the months-long negotiations between Hales and the Portland Police Association (PPA) were kept secret until a draft of the contract was released about a month ago. The lack of public input alone should have made the rest of the council members–if they cared–not just oppose the contract on the most basic of democratic principles, but as well condemn Hales for his clear contempt for those principles.

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

But the contract itself is, as Portland NAACP president Jo Ann Hardesty wrote in an Oregonian column “nothing short of criminal…(it) is woefully inadequate and will lock us in for another six years of the same old, same old pretend reform package that we got under the last contract talks. It reflects the narrow focus on money rather than vision and does not reflect the will or voice of the community.” Among those items valuing money over wisdom noted by Hardesty are allowing retired officers to be hired back for six years at the top of their pay grade and ensuring that the most expensive police officers are assigned to overtime first instead of an employee or officer not so high up the ladder, even if better equipped to deal with the situation. Combined with an increased starting salary and $6.8 million in raises, the contract largely rewards the PPB for its behavior. It reveals an all too typical view of the police that sees only a few rancid apples instead of whole barrel, rotten.

Pretend” and “reform” are two words that seem inexorably linked when talking about the Portland police. In June, 2011, the DoJ was approached by the Albina Ministerial Alliance which asked it to examine the Portland police interacted with people and communities of color. It was needed, but the Department of Justice punted and instead decided to focus on how the Portland police interact with people experiencing or seemingly experiencing mental crises. In its report, the DoJ wrote that the Portland police were found to have “engaged in an unconstitutional pattern or practice of excessive force against people with mental illness.”

Ensconced within the report was a small section on the Portland police’s race relations, noting “the often tense relationship between the PPB and the African American Community.” Noting that racist policing was beyond the scope of the investigation, the report stated that some members of communities of color “perceive” a pattern or practice of “bias-based policing.” A person quoted in this section of the report said, “They protect the white folk and police the black folk.” Despite not being part of the investigation, this section of the report was a stinging indictment of racism both within the PPB and between the PPB and communities of color.

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

With such an endorsement, one might think Hales perhaps would have considered inviting the public, particularly members of the Black community, to weigh in during the contract negotiations. And as well, one might think the City Council would have demanded at least as much.

Sure, there have been the putative accountability groups set up through the DoJ-City of Portland Settlement Agreement, seeking public input for how to reform the PPB. I attended three of those Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) meetings. The inaugural one featured nearly 80 minutes of the PPB dispensing propaganda and members of the business community all but presenting honorary halos to the police. To call the night a sham would be an understatement. The others I observed were exercises in futility, albeit some of it well meant. Really, what is there to say when police are part of a group that is charged with coming up with ideas to reign in the police? That’s called inviting the fox into the hen house. After all the COAB had no legal power. Its job was to recommend reforms. The City Council could consider those recommendations or throw them in the waste bin.

I finally stopped attending those dog and pony shows. It was at best a form of dark entertainment, a strange inversion of a show trial. At one of the meetings, a COAB member began talking about how nice one of the policemen on the panel was. Regardless of how true that is, one might ask Black people–who according to the PPB’s 2013 Stops Data Collection while making up only 6.3% of Portland’s population, compose 12.8% of total police driver stops–how they feel about how nice the police are. Or perhaps the Black people who make up 22.9% of police stops of pedestrians. Why not invite those who survive Kendra James, Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, and the other women and men murdered by the Portland police to talk about about how nice the police are? And most importantly, why not take them seriously?

This contract disrespects these people and sends a message to all people of color that their concerns are not taken seriously.  It shows that in the eyes of the Portland City Council, their lives do not matter.

One recommendation that presumably came forth from the COAB was the use of body cameras that police would have to wear and turn on prior to every encounter. Again without public input, Hales apparently negotiated this issue with the PPA, resulting in a draft of an arrangement that in her column Hardesty called “the opposite of an accountability policy.” Proposed rules regarding body cameras did not make the final cut for the contract and will be negotiated with police at a later date. But the draft of the prospective rules does not bode well.

As proposed,” Hardesty wrote, “police would be allowed to review video before writing their reports. Why would police need to see video before writing a report unless they need to make their report match what’s on the video tape–and possibly omit actions that weren’t caught on camera? This is totally unacceptable since the public has no access to the video…The body cameras become expensive tools only beneficial to police, doing nothing to contribute to transparency and accountability that is the expectation of the public in this new era of policing in America.

So a police force that has been subject to a federal investigation reaching damning conclusions–because even by our very violent cultural standards it has gone too far–is close to being granted one more tool for covering up its crimes and shaping its stories, now with its own privately available in-house video fact checker. I guess it was in the spirit of compromise that the rule giving police officers involved in a shooting 48 hours before they can be questioned has been eliminated. That is certainly important, but why are the police entitled to either?

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

In her Oregonian piece, Hardesty rightly takes the mayor and former Police Chief Larry O’Dea–the guy who shot someone while on vacation, but thanks to Hales, it was kept undercover for a short spell before seeing the light of day–to task for locking the public out of the negotiations surrounding how body cameras would be used. She then asked, “How can the public have any confidence in a tool that is supposed to create transparency yet is developed behind closed doors?”

The answer is clear: we cannot and we should not.

Certainly, some people involved with City governance do not.

Constantin Severe, director of the Independent Police Review–the body charged with investigation citizens complaints against the police–says the draft body camera policy, if implemented, “would set back oversight” according to Dirk Vanderhart of the Portland Mercury. Vanderhart also notes that Mary Hull Caballer, the City Auditor, “voiced similar concerns in an October 3 memo to city council members.” Furthermore, as Vanderhart notes, the draft body camera policy “falls short of the ideas advocated by national civil rights groups.”

Wednesday brought a sight that was a satirist’s dream. Hales, apparently tired of disruptions of recent council sessions over the contract, adjourned the meeting after 30 minutes and retreated to another room from which the rest of the session was livecast. Meanwhile, police locked down protesters, including some who wanted to give testimony, in another part of the building. Police, riot and otherwise, descended upon City Hall as their contract was being voted upon and City Hall was being interrupted by citizens opposed to the mayor’s secret negotiations and lies, as well as his, Fish, and Fritz’s votes to completely ignore the history of racist police violence in the city they are supposed to oversee. Institutional racism asked for a pass, and Hales, Fish, and Fritz gave it.

Photo by Kathryn Kendall

Photo by Kathryn Kendall

The police predictably exercised their power, violently ejecting peacefully assembled protesters from City Hall. They used pepper spray and batons, and left at least one person with a broken bone.

Mayor Hales is their boss, and on Wednesday, they were his goons.

In a public letter to Hales, Gregory Robert McKelvey, an organizer with Don’t Shoot Portland who was in City Hall at the time the police, had this to say to the mayor:

Yesterday, I showed up to testify. Many others showed up just do that same thing. We wanted to be in Council chambers, but within just a few minutes you moved the meeting and locked out the public. You then had armed cops force everybody into one part of City Hall. That is an occupation. We were not allowed to attend the meeting. We were not allowed to testify and we were not given a voice. The only thing we were allowed to do was be beaten.

Hales, Fish, and Fritz have now emboldened the police to do more of the same, and worse.

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A Letter From France http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/09/29/a-letter-from-france/ http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2016/09/29/a-letter-from-france/#respond Thu, 29 Sep 2016 16:00:24 +0000 http://www.portlandoccupier.org/?p=10911 dsc_0816aArticle and photos by Pete Shaw

September 24, 2016

Dear Mom,

Early morning at a very large table in a quite nice house in a really neat artists’ commune in the quaint Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, far enough from the madding crowd of Sacre Couer.  The tourists run wild there, which is hardly a bad thing, but it is also not my thing. In a few hours Jessica and I, who have been in France for two weeks, leave for home. I never sleep well before air travel, although I am happy say I am much better than the days when you used to plow me with drinks at the airport just so I could work myself up to conjugating the verb fly.

It has been a great trip–certainly much better than when we were here two years ago. Then, my body fell apart, rife with rheumatoid arthritis Only after returning to the US did I find out I had been running–or rather, hobbling–around with it for quite a few years. Only a few months prior had it gotten out of hand, and while I still had a great time–hell, it’s France, and I was with Jessica–after nearly collapsing in the SeaTac airport, I knew I had to figure out what was wrong. Taking a page from Denny, I decided once we found out the problem, we would find as good a remedy as possible, and then I would make sure we got back here so Jessica could enjoy it. She understandably–particularly because she thought I was dying–did not have a good time two years ago. The past two years have been challenging, but I have been lucky enough to have good doctors and a cadre of great Friends who have provided support for me, and more importantly, Jessica.

A sundial by Salvador Dali.

A sundial by Salvador Dali.

Paris is a beautiful city. You would have loved it. Perhaps you remember the advice given to people going to New York City: don’t look up (because you might make eye contact with a panhandler). That is terrible guidance if only for its striking lack of humanity and compassion. But in Paris, it would also be stupid. There is so much going on above you, on the buildings. Many of those structures, at least the more famous art nouveau ones with their seductive curves and gorgeous inlaid carvings and sculptures, are the product of the Haussmann Plan which created Paris’ wide boulevards. At the time of their creation, the impetus was not completely aesthetic. With various rebellions throughout the city, the powers that be saw it as imperative that armies be able to repress those uprisings, and Paris’ narrow streets made that difficult. But yesterday’s whiffs of grapeshot have given way to a city whose streets themselves are works of art.

I should add here that this beauty, as well as the many wonderful aspects of French society–particularly its social welfare programs–did not come from nowhere. They are the product and legacy of people fighting for those gains, and as well, of a brutal imperialism that killed, raped, and pillaged many people and their lands, providing much of the wealth that has funded those programs. In short, for all of its good, it has been built on the backs of many, the majority of whom have not reaped its benefits. There is, however, always tomorrow. I apply that optimism to both my health and the health of humans, and I think I owe a lot of that lemonade making to you.

One day Jessica and I took a train to Vernon, a small town in Normandy, and from there we rode bikes to Giverny, where Claude Monet lived. You can tour his gardens which he designed and planted. While they are not my taste–I prefer things more sauvage–they are impressive. And seeing his water lily pond in real life only a couple of hours before seeing them on giant canvasses in the Orangerie Museum made for an interesting experience. I still am not sure which was more real. I am quite sure that it does not matter. I know you would have enjoyed seeing the paintings as I remember you telling me how much you liked the photos of them in the Monet calendar I got you one Christmas. You kept it, and I took it back here with me when we moved dad out of the house.

dsc_0966

Monet’s water lily garden at Giverny.

Our time in Paris has bookended a six day jaunt down south. First we went to Arles, a venerable city in Provence that had some prominence around the time of Julius Caesar. The dry climate has helped preserve a Roman coliseum, and in the countryside are other remains that look like they could be used with just a few upgrades. You and I will not look so good in 2,000 years. Hell, I don’t look so good now.

Arles is a small place. Its historic district takes about 15 minutes to walk across, although you would be foolish to be satisfied with just that. Like most medieval cities, it has narrow, winding streets that lead to hidden alcoves, through darkened passageways, and past a host of jutting buildings, creating angles that are a geometry junkie’s dream. At 3 AM you can wander those streets, alone in your thoughts, at peace, or perhaps convening with echoes of the past. You may even find a few fellow travelers, hoping the city will reveal some of its secrets, if not their own.

Fifty years ago in London, Ray Davies wrote one of the most beautiful works of art I have ever experienced, beginning with some lines about the Thames, “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night?” The Rhone is perhaps as old and dirty, as it slowly winds past this ancient citadel at its own particular pace. It is not terribly picturesque to my eyes, but then again, at one point I stood on the spot where Vincent Van Gogh painted his Starry Night. Much like “Waterloo Sunset,” it strikes me as a gorgeous ode to loneliness–to those things of beauty that we hold deepest within to help us make it through another day, no matter how much of a dirty, old trick it might seem. Sadly, all too soon, Van Gogh one day found there was nothing and nobody he could hold on to.

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Garlic at the Arles Saturday market.

The countryside of Provence is gorgeous, and from both Arles and Marseilles we explored it. Unlike in Paris, English is not widely spoken down south, and in the small villages outside of the major towns, it is often not well-understood. Fair enough, and that is why I took a couple of French classes at Portland Community College with a wonderful teacher who actually coaxed me into talking in class. Fear not, I am still poor with languages. After all these years I still cannot read music worth a damn, and perhaps you remember that I took seven years of Spanish to finish on a third year level. Nonetheless, I ruthlessly worked out my minimal skills on people, always to their appreciation and nearly as often to their amusement.

The people of France get a bad rap in the US for being snobbish, and I am sure some of them are. But with one exception, every person with whom I have interacted in our visits has been kind, and when needed, helpful. When we first got into Paris via train from the airport, a man named Emile–born in Normandy, but now living in Paris–took it upon himself to guide us to the proper train. Which I suppose he did. But between all the wending and winding through stations, plus three rides on the metro just so we could avoid dragging our luggage up the large number of stairs at Gare du Nord, getting to our rented apartment in the Bastille took about an hour instead of the ten minutes it should have taken. I am glad we took the long way if only because Emile was so happy to help and talk with us.

The stereotype, I suspect, largely emanates from US citizens coming over here like cowboys, expecting people to speak English and act like France is the United States. It is at best counterproductive, and it is rude. I am still hardly a paragon of manners, but one reason for taking those French classes was so I could show I cared to respect these people’s culture, not to mention that I would have a terribly difficult time enjoying France, particularly Provence, if I could not communicate effectively with people. At its best, language allows us to receive others’ beauty and transmit our own unto others. So why not get as good at it as I can?

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Marseilles.

One day while visiting a small town named Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie, we stopped to grab some lunch at a small restaurant with a gorgeous terrace. As usual, I let Jessica choose my meal as she enjoys food more than I do, and this allows her more things to sample and enjoy. It seemed my quietude upset the woman who owned the place. Perhaps it would have been good manners to utter some substantive French, but honestly, I was enchanted with my surroundings, and as is still my wont, I became lost in my thoughts. But after the meal I told her, in no doubt very poor French–but nonetheless, French–that I had only begun learning this pretty language and that her cooking was wonderful. She beamed at me, grinning ear to ear. Every time we talked with people, I made a point to note how beautiful I found the country, its people, and their language. Sometimes the truth does not hurt.

Marseilles, where we went after Arles, is a grittier version of Paris, feeling in many ways like New York City. We only had three days there, and we spent two of them exploring the Vaucluse department north of it. But the place where we stayed was across from the Les Calanques National Park. Calanques are these steep walled inlets along the coast that on calm, sunny days produce those azure waters so often seen in photos from the region. We, however, checked them out on a very windy day, one which saw me often losing my balance because of the gales’ strength. I really was scared I would be tossed into the battering waves.

Scattered along the rocky coast, as well as on some islands not far from shore, are many crosses, wrought iron and ancient. On days like the one we had, you can completely understand why you would thank every deity in the book–and perhaps invent a few more–for surviving your journey. Treachery lies everywhere, on land, in water, and in air. Living through the experience would be miraculous.

The one day we got into the city itself made me regret not having more time there. It is alive, bustling with activity. There is a wealth of artists, and you get the feeling that you could strike sparks anywhere, and someone would come around to spread the flame. It feels like anything is possible.

We returned a few days ago to Paris for the final leg of our journey. Since then it has been more walking, about five miles a day minimum. We probably cover in one hour all of what I was able to do two years ago. Every moment is one of wonder and beauty, but I suppose that is the story of life with Jessica. After all this time, my cup still runneth over.

The people who own this beautiful place, Zahia and Marc, are, as the fellas say, some of god’s original good people. We were lucky enough to break bread with them last night, getting to share in some stories of their lives. It was a wonderful experience. Zahia is from Morocco, and she expressed some worry about rising Islamophobia in France, helped along by Marine LePen, who leads a political party with fascist overtones that is gaining traction. It was a dark reminder of home.

Just as dark were the names we all seemed to know: Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, whom police murdered during the time we’ve been here. They were just, sadly, the most prominent names. During our trip, police have murdered at least 38 people according to the website Killed by Police. Twelve of those victims were Black, one Indian, and one Latino. This year, police have murdered 848 people in the US. Why, at this point after all these police murders–including the ones over the past few years that now cannot be denied thanks to the wide availability of cell phone cameras and other similarly common technologies–do people not, or perhaps more accurately choose to not understand that Black Lives Matter, and only when on an institutional level that this is affirmed–as well as for the lives all people who daily bear the oppression of institutional bigotry–will all lives matter?

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Standing on the edge of Calanques des Goudes.

But the Friendship we shared in the simple acts of eating and conversing–sharing food and life itself–recalled the good that also lay here and there, as well as the capacity for forging bonds of love, compassion, and humanity regardless of distance.

Earlier in the day we met up for lunch with a Friend who was a student in our French class, and her mom. Zonna is studying fashion in Paris, and I assure you that despite the seeming absurdity of us sharing a table–I still dress completely for the seemingly paradoxical reasons of keeping warm and keeping the sun off my Irish inherited skin, not caring much about the look of my garb–it really happened. Zonna’s mother, Tina, is spending a month with her in France before Zonna starts class. It was not as bad as I imagined it would be, but as ever in crowds even as small as two, I was nervous.

I still spend a lot of time worrying I am going to be a complete embarrassment when in social situations, and it did not help that I had a lot of green tea that morning. At one point I began jabbering on like an 87 year old man who had just discovered meth, my gums flapping at an incredibly high velocity. Jessica, used to this behavior that in a Parisan restaurant must have seemed highly aberrant, got her usual kick out of it, and this seemed to put Zonna and Tina at ease (although I should not discount the possibility that their brains had become paralyzed with a very bad fear, and their looks of serenity were actually their default positions as their bodies seized up in horror, allocating energy only to the most rudimentary functions necessary for survival, much as a lungfish will when it ensconces itself in its home waters’ muddy bottom in preparation for the dry season). Which is good because they are nice people who don’t deserve to be subjected to the likes of me without someone like Jessica around whose calm in the storm for nearly 20 years now is doubtlessly assuring.

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Vaugines.

At one point I suggested Zonna start a line of clothing based on my sartorial tastes. Because she is kind, she did not reply that she was studying fashion, not zoology. After lunch was said and done, nobody seemed any worse for wear, and I suspect Tina and Zonna came away largely unscarred, and hopefully, highly amused. At the least, as we walked with them to the metro, and at no point did they seem ready to find a garbage compactor and stuff themselves–or me–into it. Such things are still major victories in my book. Still, while waiting for the train, I kept one eye on them, and made sure I was far from the tracks.

Between those wonderful meals, Jessica and I hit the Salvador Dali Museum. Now there was a true prince of the Freak Kingdom, and did he ever proudly wave his flag. And he was a damn good artist to boot. In one way, the museum was a shrine to weirdness in one of its highest and loudest forms. It was comforting, and even Jessica admitted she had rarely seen me so at ease, as if I was a completely in touch with my environment.

Well mom, I need to start getting ready for our flight. I am sorry I have not written in awhile, but over the past few years I have become…comfortable…is that the word? Kind of. Yeah. So kind of comfortable with your absence. I still miss you, but I have gotten to a point where while I still think of you many times every day, those memories have seen their jagged edges worn with time to smooth contours, gentle instead of harsh. Consequently, I rarely feel the need to write down the feelings those memories engender to let them out to the light of day. Much like the butterflies in our backyard back home, I admire their beauty, and if they land on me, I am content with them to stay until they or I feel compelled to move along.

Despite all the hurt, pain, and cruelty, this can be such a beautiful world. Behind it and stronger than all is Love, which if given the chance, can cut through any darkness. Thank you for showing me that in so many ways.

For good or ill, I don’t much believe in an afterlife. We live and we die, and in between, if we are lucky, we get to share in lives well-lived. In our decay, life springs anew. If there is something beyond here, then I will see you.

But with all my heart, I hope not too soon.

I Love you.

Love,

Peter

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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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