An open letter regarding Portland’s upcoming mayoral runoff


I have never been as infuriated by a politician’s deliberate attempts to limit their electorate’s imagination as I was this morning by Sarah Iannarone, the candidate set to face Portland’s incumbent mayor Ted Wheeler in a run off this November.

In an exchange with local Black, Indigenous, queer activist Lilith Sinclair on Twitter, Iannarone wrote, “Furthermore, there is no political reality in which a candidate who spent the last two years to get 8.5% of the vote in the primary overtakes the incumbent who got 49% in the general, but if y’all want to spend the next five months de facto campaigning for #TearGasTed…*yellow person with long blonde hair shrugging emoji*”

It didn’t take Iannarone long to delete this tweet, perhaps realizing that now is not a good moment to be taking public strikes at queer Black activists online. Or perhaps realizing that she has never actually scanned global history for all “political realities.” It sure would have been embarrassing for someone to come back firing with a situation where this exact thing happened. In fact, write-in victories have happened. (Write-in candidates that have been elected.) But no, Sarah knows that she is just making up arbitrary definitions of “political reality” on the spot. She doesn’t want to look at the self-threatening fact that if there were ever a time that an upset could actually happen, now is the time. Now has to be the time.

Sarah, let me say this point blank: now is not a good time for white women to be policing the boundaries of political imagination. White women have been policing the boundaries of political imagination for far, far too long, and seeing as that is your intention, I will never support you as mayor of Portland. But Sarah, let me say this too: this letter is not for you. It is for people in Portland that are being gaslit into believing that their only political reality is a choice between two mediocre apples to lead the gang of apples. It is for people in Portland that are witnessing a global uprising and ready to make its demands manifest here.

There is a lot of history behind this twitter exchange that I’m referencing to unpack, and I’m not the person to unpack it. Full disclosure: I actually, unfortunately, voted for Sarah Iannarone in the primary. That being said, I am realizing quickly that it doesn’t take much digging at all to learn some critical history of Iannarone’s campaign’s relationship with Don’tShootPDX. I’m going to let the people involved in that history do the telling. (I do wish that I could just link this morning’s whole thread to show more of it, but unfortunately Sarah’s out here policing our understanding of our own political history too.) My intention here is to encourage other people — especially other white people — to do some of this pretty simple digging that I’m scrambling to do after realizing that I really fucked up my ballot this spring. But it’s so much more than that ballot. I should have known Teressa Raiford’s name. I should have known a hell of a lot more than her name. It’s long past time to learn the history of Portland’s Black organizers who have been doing this work.

We are in the midst of an uprising that finally, overwhelmingly demands the impossible. This uprising is not about asking for incremental change. The rose-colored glasses of incremental change politics only ever fails us. Reform is zombie in a suit with cufflinks that feeds off of radical impulses and further entrenches violent institutions. And many of us (myself included) have a lot of catching up to do, because there are people that should have been heard saying all of this for too damn long.

Sarah is feeding off of disillusionment with the entire system of policing, imprisonment, detainment, and endless imperial warfare, trying to convince us that Ted Wheeler is the problem and if we just get someone a little bit better in office things will be the little bit better that we’re looking for. Today she actually admitted this, retweeting someone’s argument that, “she won’t fix every problem the city has, but it’ll be better than this insincere bullshit.”

I am not looking for sincerity. I am not looking for a little bit better. I am looking for someone with imagination. I am looking for someone committed to dismantling white supremacy and building something that we’re all told is unimaginable in its place. Right now, Sarah is proving that she is butter for the bread of institutions that try to limit what we believe is possible. We’re too creative for this shit.

Some might say that I’m arguing against electoral politics altogether. They might be right. What I’m also doing is listening to Black elders and queer Black activists in my community who are endorsing an abolitionist for Portland mayor. That candidate is Teressa Raiford, and I’m going to write her name in on my ballot this fall.

It’s enough to have the entire Democratic establishment limiting revolutionary imaginations at the national level. Portland doesn’t need this too. We could have something else. Unsurprisingly, Sarah Iannarone actually understands the toxicity of white liberalism (at least intellectually), and she persists anyway. On twitter, someone noted that she enthusiastically responded to a tweet that bumped Matt Hern’s What a City Is For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement, and more specifically the strategy he refers to as “the Portland achievement.” Iannarone, apparently, is a fan of the following passage by Hern:

“The more I study Portland, the more I encounter this particular civic strategy of power: liberal affirmations of tolerance, sincere apologies for historical traumas, listening sessions, broad mandates for consultation, and effusive evocations of solidarity, followed up with resolute inaction, re-entrenchment of white privilege, and business as usual. It’s a common strategy pretty much everywhere, but Portland has perfected it as a fine art. I suggest this strategy henceforth be named the Portland achievement — the broadly branded maintenance of a liberal reputation and compelling evidence to the contrary.”

Sarah needs to do the homework that she assigns. Setting aside any fantasies about a good liberal candidate that the present abolitionist uprising demands that we throw out, let’s consider for one moment the implications that Sarah claims to understand this dynamic, and yet is still running for office. Give me one good argument that Sarah Iannarone is not the Portland achievement par excellence. This exceptionalist attitude is the very thing that makes her exactly the same as Ted Wheeler.

Iannarone needs to wake up and see herself as just another white roadblock. Doing so means encouraging her supporters to write in Teressa Raiford’s name this November. Iannarone needs to dump every last resource she has amassed for herself into the people with the politics that she pretends to have. We need to demand this of her. We need to demand that she redirect her resources towards the only future that is worth fighting for — towards abolition, towards a Black future.

Adie Bovee (she/they, White)


indexer / future archivist (she/they, white)