Giving Thanks

Photo by K. Kendall

Story by Pete Shaw

I celebrate Thanksgiving. No, I do not get traditionally festive by wearing hats with buckles and pretending that the holiday itself is based in anything other than colonialism, imperialism, racism, misogyny, and white supremacy. But as a person who in general is extremely thankful for knowing good people doing great things to combat those roots, and perhaps one day tear them loose, Thanksgiving is a day to thank all of you who are doing what you can to make a more just world.

Last December I witnessed the launch of the US chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), a group fighting to “defend human rights and end all forms of US military aid and support for fascism in the Philippines” and to strengthen their efforts to “stop the killings and end all forms of fascist attacks against the Filipino people.” The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, under the guise of a war on drugs, has given the Philippine police and military the freedom to commit what a Human Rights Watch report called “a pattern of unlawful police conduct designed to paint a veneer of legality over extrajudicial executions that may amount to crimes against humanity.” The Philippines has long been a linchpin of US foreign policy in the region. As China gains power, the Philippines and US military bases in the Philippines are strategically important to US imperialist aims, so the US government has largely supported Duterte’s actions. The ICHRP is demanding otherwise. Thank you.

No surprise, there is still a housing crisis in Portland. One tepid but important step toward alleviating the problem was a proposal to build a shelter for people without housing in an empty storefront on the corner of Southeast Foster and 61st. While some people opposed it, in late January about 75 people gathered outside the prospective lodging, expressing support for it. In fact, the rally was a counter-rally to a group calling itself the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association which was opposed to the shelter, but it called off its rally at the last moment. Perhaps the LNLA did so because an email it sent out a month earlier included doctored lyrics to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that vilely stereotyped and dehumanized people without housing as crack addicts, junkies, prostitutes, thieves, and people with “mental defects.”

Photo by Pete Shaw

The housing crisis, of course, extends to renters. On August 1, tenants at Holgate Manor, an apartment complex on Southeast Mall Street, held a press conference where they declared a rent strike. Holgate Manor had long been owned by the Newsom family, but in October it announced it was selling the 82 unit complex to California landlord Fred Kleinbub who told the Newsoms he would “keep things as they are.” He lied, and Holgate Manor residents described ongoing attempts to displace them through misleading letters, rent increases, and evictions. Not only did they decide to withhold their rent, but they also proposed the Holgate Manor Tenants Act, demanding the City Council enact a campaign launched by the community group Living Cully called the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase. It would require owners to give tenants and the city ample notice of an intent to sell property, giving them first crack at purchasing the property, followed by the Portland Housing Bureau. If neither bought the property, then anyone else could purchase it.

The day before the Holgate Manor tenants declared a rent strike, Oregonbusiness.com published a study showing there were between 16,000 and 17,000 vacant rental units in Portland. Multnomah County estimates that on any given night, there are at least 4,177 people without housing. As Emily Golden-Fields, Co-Chair of the Portland branch of the Democratic Socialists of America asked at the press conference, “Isn’t it obvious that free market solutions are no solution at all, but in fact the problem we are staring at?”

To all people standing up with people without housing, acknowledging them as equal members of our communities whose lives are precious and full of meaning, thank you. And to all those who are fighting the landlord lobby and demanding affordable housing for all, thank you as well.

Photo by Pete Shaw

February began with a bang as the Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) organized a three day strike outside the Burgerville stores at the Convention Center, Southeast Powell and 26th, and Gladstone. From February 1 through 3, workers walked off the job and on to picket lines that great reduced the number of customers at those locations. The strike, along with the call for a boycott–which is still in effect–sent a message to Burgerville management that the union was going nowhere and was quite capable of flexing substantial muscle. The union has established solidarity with a wide range of unions and community, faith, and justice groups.

In April, Burgerville workers at the stores on SE 92nd and Powell voted to grant themselves federally recognized union status. They were soon followed by the workers at Gladstone, and earlier this month, so did the workers at the store on SE Hawthorne. The move requires management to negotiate with the union. Management has been resistant, and so the BVWU has continued applying pressure. In September, on National Cheeseburger Day, workers at the Montavilla Burgerville on NE 82nd and Glisan staged an Unfair Labor Practice strike to protest Burgerville management’s unilateral banning of workers wearing buttons with personal or political messages. Management had agreed to work with the union on constructing the policy, but then issued its edict, apparently taking a stand against issues promoted on buttons reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Abolish ICE,” and “No One is Illegal.” The lunchtime rush became a trickle, and when workers at the SE Powell and 92nd store walked off the job at dinner time to support their union brethren in Montavilla, crowds at both stores were severely diminished.

To the members of the Burgerville Workers Union and the wide swathe of people who continue supporting the Burgerville workers in their quest for a living wage and dignity on the job, thank you.

On February 7 at the Southeast campus of Portland Community College, seven bold and brave students without documentation told their stories at the school’s Mount Tabor Hall. With Republican Donald Trump’s extreme vitriol against pretty much anyone who is not a white man playing itself out in various ways, including his attempts to revoke President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), these students, with the support of the Dream Project, detailed their struggles, and thus their victories, as they resist. One of them, Sylvia, closed out her testimony by stating, “I’m undocumented, and I want to have a career. I’m not a rapist or a murderer. I’m just a girl pursuing her dreams. I have a dream to be in the medical field, and today I’m here today to say I’m brown, proud, and because I come from Mexico, I’m undocumented. And I’m still standing.” To all those who are doing their best to stand as well as help others get up, thank you.

Fresh off their Spring Break, over 200 students at Ockley Green Middle School inaugurated April by demanding social studies teacher Chris Riser be reinstated after being put on leave for participating in an unauthorized student walkout in memory of Quanice Hayes, the young, unarmed Black man murdered by the Portland police in February, 2017. The Ockley Green students, on the one year anniversary of Hayes’ murder, marched from the school to the Portland Police Bureau’s precinct on NE Killingsworth and held a die-in in the middle of Martin Luther King, Junior Boulevard. Riser, one of the few teachers of color at Ockley Green, where pupils of color make up over 55% of the student population, was not the only staff member who took part in the event, but was the only one who faced discipline for his involvement. Portland Public Schools (PPS) accused Riser of leading both the walkout and the die-in, even as students and parents disputed this. Riser was put on leave on March 23, just prior to Spring Break. Between then and the students’ April return, over 4,200 people signed a petition in support of Riser and demanding his reinstatement. PPS had planned on firing Riser, but because of student and parent pressure, Riser remained. To all the students and parents who got a first rate education in the power of organizing, thank you.

Photo by Pete Shaw

In June I visited my family in New Jersey. One day I took a bus into New York City to see what was going on with the protests at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison there. Throughout this country’s history, we have torn apart families, and Donald Trump was continuing the tradition. This time, it aroused a national outcry, and Occupy ICE was born. It began in Portland, just outside the ICE prison on Southwest Macadam. When I told the people in New York that I was from Portland, they were pleased that someone from “where it all began” was with them. I met many good people there. Of course, not everyone can take the time to try and shut down an ICE prison. But it is clear that the actions of the Trump Administration have sparked something that will further the longstanding and noble work of immigrant justice groups in Portland and throughout the country. To all the people who are working to make sure that one day no more families will be torn apart, thank you.

On the state level, the recent election saw numerous ballot initiatives put forth by various right wing and white supremacist groups. Measure 105 sought to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law which forbade local police from working with federal immigration authorities. It was a clear attack on immigrants, and more precisely, an attack on those immigrants whose skin is not white. At a rally at Terry Schrunk Plaza in early October, many people without documentation came forth and talked movingly about how Measure 105, if passed, would hurt them, their families, and their communities. Led by a large number of incredibly courageous people without documentation, the measure was opposed by numerous immigrant rights and other justice groups. They kicked ass: when the sun rose on November 7, over 63% of Oregonians had voted against the racist measure and the racist groups that crafted and supported it. To all those who worked on that campaign, thank you.

Photo by Bette Lee

The traveling white supremacist roadshow called Patriot Prayer has occasionally touched down in Portland, with the Portland police clearly taking their side. In August, as anti-fascists stood across Naito Parkway from the white supremacists, the police once again trained their weapons on the anti-fascists. One of them shot a concussion grenade directly at a front line anti-fascist, and the shell slammed into their head. They were not killed only because they were wearing a helmet. Police Chief Outlaw seemed to think it was a splendid showing, and Mayor Wheeler mumbled some gibberish that sounded a lot like Donald Trump, implying some kind of equality between the two groups. In October, it was revealed that the police had apprehended one of these white supremacists, with a cache of weapons, on the roof of a nearby parking garage. Wheeler and Outlaw knew about this would-be sniper, but did not inform anybody. And then when the police once again ran amok, Wheeler and Outlaw blamed their victims.

In response to the chaos that has often followed Patriot Prayer events, Wheeler recently tried to push through City Council a clearly unconstitutional ordinance that would require groups counter-protesting to gain mayoral approval for their events. I imagine Wheeler took the job of mayor as a nice, restful placeholder until Kate Brown backed out the moving trucks from Mahonia Hall, but it should not be hard to envision a mayor of a putatively liberal city saying fascists are not welcome in Portland. Then again, Wheeler did welcome them to Portland when they marched through Montavilla a couple of springs ago. One of those marchers was Jeremy Christian who a short while later murdered two people on a MAX train after they intervened between Christian and the two Black women he was verbally abusing because he believed they were Muslims.

Portlanders, backed by several civil liberties organizations, vehemently opposed Wheeler, and last week his proposal was defeated. Only Commissioner Dan Saltzman stood with Wheeler, and he will soon be replaced by JoAnn Hardesty. To the people and organizations that pushed back hard against Wheeler and helped inspire Commissioners Eudaly, Fish, and Fritz to oppose the ordinance, thank you.

The August protest against Patriot Prayer, as well as another one this past weekend, were organized by Popular Mobilization, also known as Pop Mob. The group has worked hard in making anti-fascism protests welcome to people of most degrees of comfort. On Saturday, with only 30 or 40 people showing up at Patriot Prayer’s rally for rapists, Pop Mob helped bring out over 300 people in support of survivors of abuse. To all the people who have shown up in opposition to white supremacy–that is, to people who are being anti-fascist–and to Pop Mob for helping bring more people out to protest white supremacist fascist groups like Patriot Prayer, thank you.

I would be remiss not to mention the people known as Antifa (which is short for anti-fascist) who help provide security and safety at rallies against the fascists.  Instead of vilifying them because of what you read in the corporate media, try talking with them and learning what they are about. Their values are remarkably similar to my father’s. Seventy-five years ago, he fought fascism and fascists. It was a good idea then, and it is a good idea now. To Antifa and others who stand on the front lines against fascism and fascists, thank you.

As always, thank you to our editors and photographers, and to our readers. And my deepest love, appreciation, and thanks to my family and Friends.

 

Photo by Pete Shaw

Every day I am thankful that I have the great privilege and good luck to have as my life partner the best person I am likely ever to know. She is kind and compassionate, and she is a wondrous moral compass. I Love you, Josette.  And after all this time, every day brings me new and greater realization how loving you makes my life sweeter than ever.

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