Oregon Blog Updates
By Cameron Whitten and Chuck Currie of Portland, Oregon. Cameron is an activist for an intersection of social justice causes. Chuck Currie is a long-time activist and minister in the United Church of Christ, who regularly blogs at the Huffington Post.
The face of City Hall has dramatically changed in the past year. What was once an open forum for human beings to voice their opinions about societal causes has become a barren slab of concrete dominated by a food cart and lawn chairs.
Portland is a city that is recognized worldwide for facing Homelessness head on, partnering with community organizations and experienced advocates to design innovative and humane solutions. That shining legacy has been tarnished in the past few weeks, as proactive policies have been aggressively replaced with strong armed tactics focused on slapping a ‘criminal’ label on every homeless person living on the streets and deeming them unfit to be seen in public.
This year, City funding for housing services flat-lined, while campers protesting for the right to sleep have been displaced from what was formerly constitutionally protected sidewalk outside of City Hall. Unarmed security personnel, some of whom have literally saved lives, received the pink slip with the blame thrown at budget woes. At the same time, the Mayor’s Office has risked sliding into a double-standard by dishing out thousands of dollars to purchase a lawn table and house a food cart that had been conducting business 40 feet away.
Clearing away camps of unhoused people from the urban core is nothing new. When there are valid concerns about violence, drug use, or public health, trained officers are called in to serve eviction notices and restore safety to the area. What is different about the Mayor Hales’ decree is that every single person, whether they are a parent, a traveler, a veteran, or someone suffering from mental health crises, is now in danger of being labeled a ‘lawless criminal’ and can be punished for having no other place to go.
This mandate from the Mayor draws into question how conservative our nation has become with the use of the term ‘lawless’. It is sadly reminiscent of Reagan-Era politics, where poor communities and people of color were disproportionately incarcerated and labeled as ‘crackheads and criminals’ during the War on Drugs, while more affluent white families received drastically lighter sentences for cocaine, which is chemically almost identical to crack.
Housed citizens often break laws without being punished, dehumanized, or labeled. We have seen many individuals who have admitted to lawbreaking move on to become Mayors of progressive cities, and even the President of the United States.
Mayor Hales actively defends his sidewalk eviction rule, claiming it is not about discriminating against any person who is homeless, just people who have no respect for the law. I’m not sure if anyone else knows a person who sleeps on a sidewalk with all of their possessions and is not homeless. The messaging from City Hall should be seen as it is, a game of semantics that labels people experiencing homelessness in a negative light.
For too long, the Portland region has been running on the fumes of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. We've done a lot of good work as a community but we are far from ending homelessness. That won't happen until we have a permanent source of revenue to create affordable housing in Portland and the larger community. What will be our legacy? Building more shelters and camps or finding the moral courage to create lasting change that actually brings us closer to that goal of ending homelessness? The alternative is we continue on this path that Mayor Hales is walking down, of criminalizing the less unfortunate, the homeless, and the poor. We need our Mayor and our entire community to quickly change direction.
Setting up Food Carts will not fill the void for the leadership that our City needs to fight homelessness. There is room here for all of us.
This week the President of the United States will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
President Obama will be surrounded by men and women gathered to celebrate the progress made – the challenges ahead – of our ongoing march towards equality.
This past week the US Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs (General) Eric Shinseki visited Portland to celebrate the critical WWII contributions of the Nisei soldiers in an event at the Oregon Historical Society.
Shinseki – a Japanese-American himself – served as the first Asian-American US Military service chief as the Chief of Staff for the US Army (before he was dismissed for speaking too much truth to power in the run-up to the Iraq War).
During WWII the intrepid Nisei fought the tyranny of Hitler with amazing grace and heroic valor – even as a large number of their own families were confined to the camps of the West.
Shinseki is heir to that legacy: in his life the past, present, and future of racial opportunity can be known. The US Military was an agent of social change – then as it is now.
Earlier in his trip Secretary Shinseki addressed his recent policy change that allowed the burial of Nancy Lynchild the same sex partner of USAF Veteran Linda Campbell (of Portland) as well as some of the challenges associated with reform of the US Department of VA benefits procedures.
It was not accident that Shinseki tied these together. For in America service to community and country is not determined through ethnicity, gender, or skin color; honorable service is determined through demonstrated character – undaunted commitment to the larger cause.
Over the coming weeks the US Attorney General Eric Holder will orchestrate legal remedies for the recent overreach of states’ rights on voter identification/suppression laws.
Holder – like Robert Kennedy and Nicolas Katzenbach before him – has determined to use the office in defense of access to justice for all Americans. Despite his defense of unpopular policies associated with national security, Holder is a stalwart advocate for the rights of all Americans under the law.
King’s vision echoes still: a Republic founded upon law cannot long survive if some citizens are provided greater access to legal remedy than other citizens. There is no more important duty for any, for every, American than defense of universal justice.
And soon, though not soon enough for some of her most ardent supporters, Hillary Clinton will inform the US of her decision to seek or not seek the US Presidency in her own right.
Just imagine what King might have thought were he able to live in our America today. We have significantly expanded the vote – and the roster for whom to vote for – in every community throughout our nation.
Looking back over the past fifty years we can be proud of the achievements made. There has been significant, undeniable – universal progress made in regards to our approach to civil rights.
And though a fair evaluation of our past must illustrate our stumbles as well as our accomplishments – the march towards a more equitable and just America continues still.
The US is a land of freedom, liberty, and opportunity. It is a land of pioneers and the sons and daughters of pioneers.
Pioneers that tamed the Wilderness; pioneers that transformed an agrarian society into the mightiest of industrial powers; and pioneers that took steps both large and small that blazed a trail for a multicultural America.
Barack Obama, Eric Shinseki, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, and all that follow in their steps are pioneers – blazing new trails and making progress easier for all that follow.
We are a nation of people that struggle with balancing our needs with our wants: we a people that seek justice – in fits and start – as we become uncomfortable with the consequences of our selfishness.
Unfortunately, there are barriers for equality, jobs, and justice for large cohorts within our national community.
As a nation we incarcerate minorities at different rates. We to often illegally profile upon cultural, ethnic, and racial traits. And too often fail to remember that our ideals are more valuable than our comfort - or our toys.
The US is far from realizing the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and the courageous men and women that led the struggles for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 60s.
But we are better, stronger than we were – and we are a nation that has an inspired capability to learn from past mistakes. It is critical that all Americans pause this week to consider the realities of our circumstance.
We have not achieved the dream, but we have achieved much. We must remind ourselves and our posterity that progressive change – though hard and slow – is possible within the structures and systems of our Republic.
We must accept the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement as a case study in evolutionary democracy: succeeding generations manifest changed conditions.
Not that long ago Barack Obama commented upon the world his children will know: a time when gender, race, and other previous obstacles to high office became less relevant.
Together we will realize a multicultural society because each, every day people choose to expand their horizons. We will recast our America through the billion interactions taking place today, tomorrow, and the next day (and the next).
Over time we will realize the dream of King because our nation took purposeful steps to change the conditions of past circumstances – because over time we elevated the values of love over hate, of inclusion over segregation.
We have a long way to go. There will be bumps along the way that will frustrate us. Those that oppose equality will become more desperate as they recognize the futility of their labors. We must not lose heart – or focus.
In the end, we will build a More Perfect Union because Americans are more interested in what could be, then what was.
A few years ago, I discovered that my body doesn't react well to gluten. My issues are not at the Celiac Disease level. My system reacts to gluten by building up painful mylofacial material in my neck and shoulders. Since that discovery, I eat gluten (and dairy, same problem) free.
This kind of diet can be tough to follow, but the good folks at Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukie have made it much easier. Bob's has been a leader in creating gluten-free products, so much so that they even aided the Food & Drug Administration as they set up their guidelines for labeling gluten free stuff. Three cheers for a local company making good stuff for people that need good stuff. Well done, Bob's.
And now, let's Span the State!
The southern coast city of Bandon is struggling with a serious mosquito problem. The region's rehabilitated salt marshes have created an ideal home for salmon and birds, but also for oodles of mosquitoes causing tourists to cut short their stays and sending local residents fleeing for the indoors. These particular critters don't carry West Nile, and no public health threat appears imminent. The US Dept of Fish and Wildlife has been pressed into service to come up with a solution, but this is apparently outside their wheelhouse. In short, there's a lot of red tape ahead before these bugs are going away for good.
Things at the Springfield Police Department have been rocky, to say the least. The city is conducting a search for a new chief after the resignation of Jerry Smith, who resigned under threat of an investigation that could have led to his dismissal. An outside firm has been engaged to help fill the position, which pays $109,699 to $127,254, plus benefits.
For the third time in two years, the Culver School District is going to try to get a school levy passed. A $14.5 million levy failed November 2011. A reduced $9.75 million levy failed in May 2013. This November, they'll try for $8.8 million. The school board decided to cut out an ask for $1.9 million to pay off debt for property purchased in 2008 for future expansion. If the levy passes, money will go toward classrooms, safety and HVAC systems.
The Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative is a nonprofit collaborative that's trying to come up with solutions in the federal timber harvest debate. This week, the only timber/logging industry representative on the board resigned. Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association left the board in frustration over what he says was 10 years of work that yielded almost no accomplishments. Schott also expressed concern that only one environmental group was at the table with them, meaning that those groups were not "bound by the considerations of the collaborative."