Portland DSA calls on Mayor Ted Wheeler and Governor Kate Brown to put an immediate freeze on all rent and mortgage payments and evictions; a freeze on all utility payments; an immediate end to all displacement and sweeps of houseless camps; and the opening of additional shelters throughout the city of Portland and the state of Oregon.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that our nation and our city are unprepared for the challenges ahead. In order to respond to this pandemic, public health officials and scientists have recommended that people stay home, that all large public gatherings be cancelled, that everyone should get tested if they have symptoms, and that business not go on as usual. Yet, capitalism demands that working class people leave their homes to go to work, often in high-traffic areas and even when sick; if they do not, then they will face the consequences of unemployment, eviction, homelessness, starvation, and death. This is without the threat of a virus. This is everyday parasitic capitalism. Yet in the midst of this crisis moment, the capitalist system still demands that business go on as usual. It fears economic slowdown more than it does the poverty of its laborers. It is content to have sick people go to work for fear of losing their homes or their healthcare.
Without a remedy for this massive slowdown of economic activity, we will see companies lay off and shove aside the very workers who provide them with labor and profit. As people are laid off from their jobs, with rent and car payments and utility bills due, childcare, student loans, and healthcare bills pending, and no relief from our society, it is a guarantee that houselessness will increase and more people experiencing houselessness will die, all of them forgotten and rejected by the owners of capital. Nearly 100 unhoused people died on our streets in 2018, according to county statistics. This was without the threat of a virus. Business as usual was already fatal for our houseless neighbors, and in the midst of crisis, the owners of capital are naturally ignoring their suffering and protecting themselves.
Mayor Wheeler and Governor Brown have both declared a state of emergency, which grants them considerable powers that they must use to mitigate the crisis. The progressive leaders of our city and state must use their powers to call an emergency halt to all evictions, collections of rent, mortgages, and utility payments, and must open emergency homeless shelters throughout the city that are prepared for containing the virus and helping those who are already sick. Furthermore, the Governor must release as many incarcerated people as possible as well as shut down all immigrant detention in our state, and ICE must cancel all check-in appointments. Governor Kate Brown has closed all public schools for the time being, as recommended by the Portland Association of Teachers, but she must ensure mechanisms are established whereby students who receive food or resources from school have their needs met. Mayor Ted Wheeler should also put a permanent end to all sweeps of houseless camps by the Portland Police, a practice that was unjust and cruel before the pandemic and is unconscionable now. They must also use their emergency powers to institute price-fixing for essential household goods and medical equipment to prevent corporate price gouging and ensure all have equal access to necessary supplies.
The Governor and Mayor should publicly demand that all corporations and businesses freeze layoffs, create remote ways for their employees to work, and continue to pay their staff — using public funds if necessary — until the virus has been contained. Those working in retail, transit, caregiving, and the service industry should not be expected to stay home for public health reasons, and also receive no pay. Any CEO in Oregon who uses this crisis as an opportunity to maximize profits by cutting workers loose should be held accountable, including the CEOs who have contributed money to Mayor Wheeler and Governor Brown. This is a test of the progressive leadership of our state, to show that private industry is not above the law or exempt from public responsibility, that our leaders will support the wellbeing of our community over Capitalist greed.
Finally, we call on the public to read the listed documents below for resources on how to prepare personally and collectively. We also encourage you to examine the mutual aid networks below to find out how you can help. And we ask that if you believe a crisis like this should not threaten the wellbeing of your family and your neighbors, please join the Democratic Socialists of America so we can build a better world together.