An update on Portland Tenants United
A couple of months back, I joined the chorus of folks taking Cameron Whitten’s lead in discussing the racism we witnessed from organizers affiliated with Portland Tenants United. In response, PTU is embarking on what they refer to as a “transformative justice dialogue,” and they’ve asked me to participate in that process:
We know that some time has passed since you last heard any public statements from PTU specifically responding to your allegations of harmful and oppressive behavior by PTU organizers. We are reaching out to you about the transformative justice process which the union committed to last month. Since that announcement, PTU has been in discussion with several pairs of professional mediators and equity trainers to facilitate this process, help evaluate the internal work we have been engaged in prior to and since these allegations, and train a team of organizers to drive internal emotional support and accountability work moving forward.
PTU’s Organizing Committee is currently deliberating on a proposal from Bahia Overton of the Chalkboard Project and Jennine Smart of Project Access NOW. That proposal, developed in collaboration with our Organizing Committee, is attached to this email and includes a proposed first step in the transformative justice process. Specifically, Overton and Smart are prepared to facilitate a mediated dialogue between people with grievances, PTU organizers accused of oppressive behavior, and witnesses who wish to share their experiences with oppressive behavior in the union. Members of the PTU Organizing Committee can come if you wish to discuss grievances against the organization as a whole. The purpose of this dialogue is to establish the harms done, uncover root causes of these harms, and identify ways the union should improve. Overton and Smart would work with all parties to determine next steps, which may include one-on-one mediations if desired.
We are reaching out to you because we would like to know whether you are interested in joining such a mediated dialogue in the next month or two. We would also like to hear any suggestions you may have for ways Overton and Smart’s transformative justice proposal should be changed or revised.
Portland Tenants United
Here’s my response to PTU:
Hi there, PTU,
Thanks for reaching out. I will be happy to review the attached proposal this weekend.
As for participating in an ongoing transformative justice process, I have to confess that I’ve got some strong misgivings based on my experience after I shared the racism I’d witnessed within PTU. Although I am no longer on social media (and honestly, I cannot recommend deleting social media accounts highly enough), I have occasionally been made aware of current or past PTU organizers posting some pretty viscerally negative things about those of us who have spoken up, which have gone unchallenged by the organization as far I can tell. That’s made me a little worried about how seriously your organization is taking these issues.
Rather than categorically reject your invitation to participate, though, I’d like to turn this around into some questions for PTU, the answers to which will impact my ability to participate in this process:
1) Is PTU’s leadership and core organizing team aware that past and current PTU organizers have been attacking those of us perceived as “disloyal” for sharing our experiences with PTU’s racism?
2) What responsibility, if any, do you feel PTU has when it comes to holding your core organizers accountable for their problematic behavior?
3) If you are aware that this has happened, why has the organization and its leadership remained silent as high-quality local organizers like Cameron Whitten, Lynn Hager, and Ben Pollak are criticized in, frankly, racist and ableist ways? Or, if the organization has indeed publicly responded, could you link me to your statement(s)?
4) If you have not been aware that this is going on, what steps will you take to address this issue moving forward? Put another way, will this be addressed through the proposed transformative justice process, separately, or not at all?
I look forward to your response.
Cheers and solidarity,
I’ll update this post if and when I hear back.