Giving Thanks

Story by Pete Shaw

Although it is not often listed in podiatry and infectious disease journals, one of the primary attributes of erythrasma is boredom. Erythrasma is a superficial skin infection caused by a bacteria, Corynebacterium minutissimum, that we all have on our feet, but most people can fight it off. However, in July of this year, I was not one of those people, and I spent a good part of the next few months lying on a couch, my foot elevated. On most days my companions were books, notebooks, pens, and my cats.

If you give me lemons, I will, however desperately, make lemonade. It helps that I am often content just letting my mind wander. And nothing overcomes potential bouts of ennui like seeing people fight for justice. Despite being laid up, I got to follow from afar the good work of good people and good organizations fighting the good fight.

As happens so often, but is sharpened this time of year, while I am aware that Thanksgiving celebrates white supremacist colonialism and imperialism, attempting to paper it over with the soft verbiage of founding stories and systemic-buttressing myths, I find it important to be thankful for this good work of these good people and these good organizations. And so, in no particular order…

Jamaali Roberts at the 9th anniversary memorial for Keaton Otis. Photo by Kendall.

I began the year revisiting the monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, and later in May 12, I attended the Ninth Year Memorial of his death. Every month on the 12th, people gather at the corner of Northeast 6th and Halsey to remember Otis, his father Fred Bryant who began the vigil and fought to find justice for his son, and all those who have been murdered by police and whose families and friends will carry these weighty pains for the rest of their lives. I referred to it as a sacred space, hallowed ground. Like any place worthy of that description, it inspires. The Portland police will soon be negotiating a new contract, and already there is a substantial, organized community resistance to the usual giving the police what they want. That is a step whose lineage comes toward, through, and from the vigil for Otis, an important link in the chain leading to justice.

For those who organize, attend, and as best they can, go forth and push further, thank you.

In February, news came down that Portland Police Lieutenant Jeff Niiya, the commander of the police’s Rapid Response Team, was exchanging friendly texts with Joey Gibson, the guiding light of the white supremacist group, Patriot Prayer. In August at a white supremacist rally and anti-fascism counter-demonstration, one anti-fascist was nearly killed when a police officer fired a tear gas canister directly at their head. Then in October we learned that just prior to the August rally, police had apprehended some white supremacists atop a parking structure with a healthy supply of weapons. The police released them with little trouble and no fanfare. Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw did not inform the public, yet soon after the rally, Outlaw made time to go on a right wing radio show and declare that her police had “kicked your butt,” in reference to attacking anti-fascist demonstrators.

Photo by Pete Shaw

The Niiya-Gibson text revelations were some kind of last straw. Chief Outlaw quickly called for a listening session, held at Maranatha Church, to try and tamp down the community outrage over her police clearly making nice with white supremacists. Many, including Gibson, came from out of state to attend these rallies and attack Portland citizens standing in opposition to white supremacy. Mayor Wheeler and four police officials sat at a table on the altar at Maranatha. For whatever reason, at this listening session where presumably the words that needed listening to would be coming from people who were in fact outraged by this unseemly relationship, there was a contingent of white supremacists who did a fine job of illustrating their extreme comfort with police violence against people opposing white supremacy and with authoritarianism in general.

The listening session, already only allotted a couple of hours, finished early amid chaos. It remains the only time I have ever been in a church and have seen people cast from it on the tide of a vigorous chant of, “Nazis go home!”

To those who came out that night and demanded justice, thank you.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Much of the resistance to white supremacy has been organized by Popular Mobilization. The genius, however obvious, of the group is to reach out to people and inspire them to oppose fascism at whatever level makes them comfortable. In late June, the group gave out vegan shakes, and for a short spell, folks milled about Lownsdale Square, drinking those shakes and enjoying each others’ company. A few blocks away, white supremacists had gathered at Waterfront Park. Some of the Lownsdale group put down their cups and began moving toward the Waterfront. Others remained in Lownsdale, drinking the shakes and continuing their conversations.

Later, in August, white supremacists again held a rally. Pop Mob swung into action, and over a thousand Everyday Anti-fascists met the white supremacists with a festival. Clowns, anthropomorphic bananas, meditating Buddhists, and a marching band were among those who shut down the white supremacist rally and forced them to flee across the river, complete with a police escort. Ridiculing the ridiculous can be a fine tactic.

For all Everyday Anti-fascists, thank you.

Over the years, there have been numerous horror stories surrounding life working in Amazon’s warehouses. Those workers are the backbone of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ obscene fortune, gathered at a pace of $9 million an hour while the full time workers at his warehouses–only about half of those workers are full time–make something less, $15 an hour. On July 17, one of the company’s Prime Days, some of its workers around the world took part in protests, demanding safer working conditions and better wages. In Portland, on a day that more resembled later-Autumn than Summer, backers of the PDX Amazon Workers Solidarity Campaign gathered outside Amazon’s DPD1 warehouse on NW Yeon Avenue and held a rally, picket, and picnic to show their support for Portland’s Amazon employees. Even though the day was cold and storms were threatening, participants happily ate and communed, creating their own sunshine, while also listening to testimony and speeches from workers and advocates.

Thank you for such a lovely break on a gray day, and thank you for standing up for another set of workers who, as Reverend Sandra Decker stated, are “disrespected, overworked, and treated like they are disposable.”

Just before being laid flat by my foot infection, I attended a forum hosted by Portland’s Immigrant Law Group and Innovation Law Lab regarding the work they have been doing to assure the United States lives up to its obligations under both domestic and international law regarding the rights of people seeking asylum. I left that event limping, but I was buoyed by the thought that so many people have determined that despair, for them, is not an option, and that countering that despair through sheer grit, determination, and a commitment to community values of fairness, compassion, and justice can result in victory, if we are willing to push for it.

On November 12th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the legality of the Trump Administration rescinding the protections provided for some people without documentation in President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That day, over 200 people showed up in Terry Schrunk Plaza as part of a nationwide series of rallies to save DACA. Their stories moving, their courage inspiring, and their resolve undeniable, they were another iteration of the impressive organizing that has long been done by the immigrant and immigrant justice communities.

Photo by Pete Shaw

The next night at Causa, one of the many groups doing that impressive organizing, I went to what was billed as a celebration of last year’s legislation that allowed people without documentation to get licenses. And indeed, there was coffee and donuts, and about 14 people. All fell short of what I think of as a celebration. Instead, I was treated to something far greater. Seated around a table, all who attended were given a quick but highly informative summary of how the bill became a law: all the hard work that went into knocking on doors, coordinating letter-writing campaigns, visiting state legislators, and most of all, getting more people involved had led to this moment. That was the celebration.

Among the immigrants under attack from the Trump Administration are those holding temporary protected status (TPS), a designation established in 1990 for people who cannot safely return to their home countries due to extraordinarily dangerous circumstances including armed violence, environmental disasters, economic collapse, and other catastrophic conditions. They are largely absent from media discussion of the Trump Administration’s inhumane policies toward immigrants. There are currently over 300,000 people from ten countries who have TPS, many of them having established their homes here in the US. On April 2, a small slice of them held a press conference at Augustana Lutheran Church, asking elected officials to recognize the contributions of the nearly 1,000 TPS holders living in Oregon and to resist the Trump Administration’s desire to revoke their status.

For those fighting for immigrant rights and immigrant justice, thank you.

The Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) remains in contract negotiations with Burgerville management. In the 2.5 years of its existence, the union has reached out, organized, educated, washed, rinsed, and repeated. In October, Burgerville management claimed it had made its “last, best, and final” offer regarding wages, a bid that the union refused to accept. A few days later, the union went on strike. Across Portland, Burgerville dining rooms sat near-empty and drive-thrus trafficless. The call to picket and disrupt quickly pushed management back to the negotiating table. That is a result of the hard work the members of the BVWU have put into organizing.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Thank you to the workers of Burgerville for standing tall and providing a textbook example of how to organize effectively.

In February, City Commissioners Eudaly, Fritz, and Hardesty led the removal of Portland from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), deciding that cooperating with the JTTF posed a threat to the safety and security of the city’s Citizens. Between Oregon’s strict laws surrounding surveillance and the FBI refusing to share information about how the JTTF was using the two Portland police it had been working with–including providing reports that were described as “grossly inadequate,” “pointless,” and “ludicrous in the absence of meaningful information”–it was clear there was little reason to trust that the FBI was operating above board. And if that wasn’t enough, numerous people came forth on the day of the vote to talk about how untrustworthy and abusive the FBI has been, both historically and currently.

To all those who organized around this issue, including Commissioner Hardesty who had made leaving the JTTF a major focus of her campaign, thank you.

We lost some people this year. I miss my Friend Bill Ritchey. He was a good and decent person, and I will always cherish my discussions of music with him.

We also lost Sean Kealiher, who was also known as Yaka and Armeanio. I did not know him well. I do know that when I saw him at any event I was attending, I knew I was on the right side.

I am thankful for both of them, and my condolences to their families, those who knew them, and those called them Friends.

As always, my thanks to the good people who keep the Portland Occupier running, in particular, my editors, the people and organizations about whom we write, and our readers. People often thank me for writing those stories, but the fact is that writing is easy. Organizing is where the hard work lies. I just tell the stories.

Photo by Pete Shaw

Being laid up with any illness is not fun. An extended bout, such as with my foot, is an overabundance of not fun. I am lucky that I have a stable of family and close Friends, most of all my better 99%, who keep a good eye on me. I am forever thankful to and grateful for them, and her.

Oddly, I am thankful for that foot infection. My father, as I have occasionally noted, has Alzheimer’s Disease. It is not terrible, but his short term memory is quite poor. On phone calls, he repeats himself often, and I often must repeat things, most of which I know will be forgotten after I hang up. He is 95, and I am always mindful that each conversation might be the last, and I am always thankful for these moments. What he does not remember, I will, at least for a time.

Yet when I would talk with him over the past few months, his memory surrounding what was going on with my foot was very good. I was both touched and intrigued that his mind would hold on to that information. In some deep biological sense, I suppose, it matters. I am his son. I matter to him. He Loves me and makes me feel Loved.

And I am thankful that in my nearly 50 years on this earth, I have never felt otherwise.

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