Giving Thanks

Story and photos by Pete Shaw

Another year with Covid in the air, and so another year where I was largely grounded due to health concerns. As well, as comes with age, there were health issues with which I had to deal. But as someone who makes a lot of lemonade, I am once again, with no reference to the horific underpinnings of the holiday, thankful for much.

I was only able to cover one story over the past year. The Portland Association of Teachers have now been on strike for a few weeks. I’ve walked a few picket lines and gotten to talk with some of the teachers. I listened to stories of standardized curriculum and students trying to learn in classrooms that are often uncomfortably cold or hot. Schools that are falling apart, and teachers not having enough prep time. New teachers who either burn out or simply cannot afford to teach in Portland because the rent is too high and the wages too low, and the pay is better in Vancouver and Beaverton. And so many other stories of what should be unacceptable if we truly value students and the future we want for them, complaints about which fall on the deaf ears of a bloated Portland Public Schools Administration. I heard anger, I heard sadness, but most of all, I heard optimism that Portland’s schools and the communities they serve would emerge stronger if the PAT holds strong.

Thank you to all the teachers for making demands which, if we lived in a city that truly valued students and their education, would have been met long ago. And thank you to staff, students, and community members who have supported our teachers.

One of my favorite stories to cover prior to the pandemic was that of the Burgerville Workers Union. From its debut to its ratification of the first contract ever gained by a fast food workers’ union, it was a constant source of uplift, and a textbook case of how you win. Now the union is negotiating a second contract. There have been a few actions to let Burgerville management know that the union still has a vast reservoir of support, the result of the hard work of community outreach and creating solidarity. Due to a boycott during the runup to the first contract, I gladly put aside my craving for a chocolate-hazelnut milkshake and Walla Walla onion rings, the latter so good they named it twice, and the former beyond compare. And I along with many others will gladly do so again.

Thank you to the Burgerville Workers Union for the work you have done toward what was once considered an impossibility–organizing fast food workers. Assuming Burgerville management is intransigent during current negotiations, thank you in advance for the fun actions that I hope to cover.

As I type, the state of Israel has murdered over 13,000 Palestinian people in Gaza, including snuffing out the lives of at least 5,500 children, over 1 of every 200 children in Gaza. Many more people, including an estimated 1,800 presumed dead children, are buried under the rubble. Over 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced. In the West Bank, Israeli citizen terrorists continue attacking Palestinians, stealing their homes. We are watching a settler colonial, apartheid state act with impunity, and these murders, as they have been for decades, are funded by US tax dollars.

But we are also seeing resistance. Across the world, including in Portland, hundreds of thousands of people have marched in support of the Palestinian people, demanding an end to Israel’s ethnic cleansing, and the United States government’s support of it. Years of organizing, as well as the reality laid bare that Israel targets people, ambulances, and hospitals, has come too late for those who have been wounded or killed, and all those who love them. But for many outside of Palestine, it has been eye-opening.

Those many years of organizing have led to a potential multi-day ceasefire that will see an exchange of Palestinian prisoners of Israel and hostages taken by Hamas.  It is far from perfect, but it is also far from what would be expected even five years ago.  People in the United States have put pressure on President Biden, and Israelis have put pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu. Israel has signaled that it will continue its ruthless assault on the Palestinian people once the ceasefire ends. No surprise there. But for now, it will slow down its slaughter. That should be seen not only as a victory, but also another step toward a free Palestine.

There has been a meme going around, stating, “If you’ve ever wondered what you’d have done in 1930s Germany, congratulations: you’re doing it right now.” Thanks to everyone who has stood up and continues standing up, declaring they would have clearly identified oppressor and oppressed, and stood with the latter against the former.

I’ve lost some Friends over the past year.

Luis Brennan, who was one of the Burgerville Workers Union’s original members and organizers, left town earlier this year. He and his partner, the Wonderful Amelia, split for Dallas, Texas. Their absence has proven a hindrance, but I am thankful for years of Friendship.

I lost some Friends to more than distance this year, and I would like to share them with you.

Peter Teneau passed at age 94. I met him during the Occupy Movement, and I will always remember him beating on his drum, and greeting me with his chesty baritone, “Hello, Pete!” Peter was an artist, and we went to the same university, although some years apart. I enjoyed hearing his memories of the place, as well as pretty much anything else he had to say. When I last saw him about a year and a half ago, he was part of a drum group, and he was in his usual good spirits, building a drum.

I met Ken Little about 18 years ago. He was shuttling around Juan, a worker and labor organizer at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Columbia, who was speaking to labor groups in Washington and Oregon. They stayed a couple of nights here. Juan did not speak English. I took seven years of Spanish to finish on a third year level, and Ken knew less Spanish than me. One night, sitting around and drinking beer, I asked Juan what the word for hummingbird was. Or at least I began doing that. “Cómo se dice…que es la palabra por…la cosa que…” The only thing I could think to do to expound upon what was to that point asking Juan how you say that thing, a thing not remotely identified, was to put my hands out like little wings, flap them as fast as I could, and say, “Más rápidamente!” Juan then put his hand to his nose, and drew it forward like a proboscis. “Sí, sí!” I exclaimed. I do not remember the word–Google’s translator tells me it is “colibrí,” but that sounds as unfamiliar as any other. I remember Ken getting a kick out of it all, and a meal the next morning at the long gone Old Wives’ Tales. He twice ordered a triple espresso followed by a hearty breakfast, after which he shook his head, smiled, and said, “Now that’s a start.”

It proved the beginning of a relationship with a truly Good person and better Friend. I am the sort of person who does not like to announce his visits. If you have time, great. If you don’t, great. Ken was a man after my own heart on these things, a few times riding his motorcycle to or from his Home in Tacoma to my driveway. I miss going about my days having in the back of my mind that at some point he might drive up and knock at the door, and then for however long he was here, I would be living the good life.

My old Friend Kevin, who passed in December, would have turned 54 yesterday. The last time I saw him was three summers ago. He had battled a horrible ailment for some years, but was in good health. It was a classic Portland summery day, and we sat on the back porch eating and drinking, making music, telling stories, and making plans, as we had done so many times since meeting over 40 years ago. I could tell you many stories, each one in some way portraying a remarkably Kind person who was willing to get Weird whenever you were. Kevin was an extremely conscientious person, and he was deeply committed to having Fun. His model is not one for mass production, and he takes with him a part of me that cannot be filled.

I exchanged Facebook messages with him a few days prior to his passing. He had begun a new treatment that seemed to be holding promise.

Me: How are you feeling, Kevin? Are you out of the hospital?

Kevin: Hey there Pete – things are going pretty ok for me. My GI and energy levels are significantly better than before…

Me: That’s fantastic.

Kevin: It really is & I hope it continues. My quality of life is much better. I got out of hospital on Wednesday night. On Thursday & Friday I started my photopherisis treatment. Happy there have been no big side effects with that other than wanting to nap.

Me: Best side effect around.

Kevin: Gosh it is, isn’t it, now that you say it!

In his elegiac “All Things Must Pass,” George Harrison sang, “Daylight is good at arriving at the right time.” More than fair enough, but Friends are also particularly good at it, and they remind you that indeed it’s not always going to be this gray. My Thanks to you all.

As always my Thanks and Love to my brother John and my sister in law Nancy who graced our back porch for a few evenings this Summer. I had not seen them since July 2019. What a time.

And finally, my deepest Love and gratitude to my better 99%. I often offer her absurd dares, such as, “I’ll give a buck if you punch this guy approaching us in the groin.” She has a 100% rate of demurrance. Once, after a particularly foul offer was met with a disgustedly calm refusal, I asked, “Aren’t you my Friend?” She sternly replied, “I’m not your Friend. I’m your wife.”

In both and so many other ways, The Bestica, indeed.

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