The Bitchtucci Voter Guide: PDX Special Election August 2k20
God, can you believe?
It’s so unbelievably boring to talk about how this has been a rough year. But, uh. Do you still find yourself laughing sadly at even the most lowbrow 2020 jokes?
Believe the lifelong organizers when they say that this much pain occurs when we crack something poisonous wide open. I laughed out loud when I first read this sneering appellation of this summer’s #BLM uprisings: the Great White Awakening. Good morning, bitches!!!! It’s okay to be embarrassed that it took so long. It’s embarrassing. More embarrassment comes as we watch enthusiasm for revolution wax and wane with annoyingly predictable news coverage. Even the goodhearted are won over most of all by blips like the Wall of Moms or the presence of Feds in our city. I keep checking my own pulse, reminding myself in moments of despair or numbness of the vastness of changemaking, of the deep roots of systems overhauls. Listless in my house, I flip through Marxist texts from 1923, smelling the pages that I highlighted and underlined as a furious undergrad. (In the margins: “FUCK!!!!”) With the wonderment of having found treasure, I come across a poster for a poetry reading in solidarity with Assata Shakur — Friday, February 25th, so I think the year must be 1977. Feeling lucky to know visionaries in my own generation, I think of my friend Leila’s perpetual call to join a movement on purpose if you really give a shit. Just this summer, they wrote, “If you don’t join an organization after your second protest, you’re in it for clout.”
Even with the complexity of some Hong Kong protesters (not all, you reductionist goons who love to cast “well, actually” aspersions most of all when it comes to people of color) ostensibly being pro-cap nationalists, and even with how much white and non-Black hubris and self-centeredness litters the Portland protests, I often find myself dissolving into tears when I talk about walking into a crowd to see a wall of black umbrellas. We learn from each other.
Earlier this summer, the Chinese government issued a sweeping national security law to essentially suffocate Hong Kong protesters. Chillingly, the morning after the law passed, key activists in the movement resigned, deleted their Twitters, and vanished. We can’t know the full extent of this suppression yet, but bad shit is happening. Still, in Portland, we have learned from our comrades — and we need to keep learning so much more. I shudder with grief. I want my people to be free. I want my people to be free everywhere, in every colonized country, including here.
Of all things, a line from Thoreau’s Walden, and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1854) jolts the core of my sentimental heart when I think about the umbrellas. I read Walden in high school when I went through a weird transcendentalist phase (did you not?). It’s basically about this white dude who goes into the woods to build a house, live simply off the land, and really ~*think*~ about shit, so you can go ahead and eyeroll. Would we have Marie Kondo without Thoreau? I mean. Probably.
Anyway, the line is this: “Take up a handful of the earth at your feet, and paint your house that color.” Gather whatever you have and make something with it. I think of the first protestor who did this, who knew they were going into the streets tonight and needed something to block the teargas. Maybe at the door they saw an umbrella leaning against the wall beneath a mess of jackets and unopened mail. They grabbed it and left. When lots of us do this, a sea of us, we can protect others besides ourselves. We don’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect supplies to fight back against fascist, racist trash. We learn from each other, we toss what humble tools we have over our weary shoulders, and we share.
As usual, I am profoundly uninterested in thinking about voting as a way to save the world. I am interested in voting as one in a whole junk drawer of tactics designed to make life more livable for our most vulnerable people. Are you willing to do anything in your power to that end? Today? Right now? Are you willing to quit stalling and paint your house that color?
I love you. Let’s get to work.
- #BlackLivesMatter forever and ever. Keep donating, organizing, and centering Black trans women and youth. This is a long, long game.
- Election Day is Tuesday, August 11, 2020. Mail your ballot for free by Thursday, August 6. Track down a ballot drop box until 8pm on Election Day if you miss the mailing window. Info about this special election is available in many languages here.
- If your ballot is missing, or if you’ve changed your mind and need a new ballot, you can pick up a replacement ballot at the MultCo elections office until the end of Election Day. 503–988–3720/ 800–735–2900, Fax: 503–988–3719, or email@example.com. You can order your new ballot in advance and do a no-contact pickup too because they care about your sweet little safety.
- Then track your ballot. Good job, babe.
- I still find it extremely important for those of us who have that magic combo of able-bodiedness, transportation, and free time to make a wide call to our communities offering to pick up ballots for our neighbors and friends. Maybe you do this on Election Day or the day before. Maybe you meet your future wife this way???? YOU BOTH APPROACH THE BALLOT DROP BOX AT THE SAME MOMENT AND YOU LAUGH BECAUSE YOU ALMOST WALKED INTO EACH OTHER, NOT RESPECTING SOCIAL DISTANCING. GOD, YOU’RE SO RANDOM! HEHE. SHE COMPLIMENTS YOUR MASK, WHICH HAS SUNFLOWERS ON IT. YOU LOVE SUNFLOWERS. YOU FEEL THE ELECTRICITY. “FIRST DAY OF MY LIFE” BY BRIGHT EYES FLASHES THROUGH YOUR MIND. WOW GOOD DEEDS REALLY DO PAY OFF. Just kidding, do it because it’s the right thing to do and community care is its own reward.
- I found this OPB interview of Loretta Smith and Dan Ryan to be helpful for gleaning personal style and priorities. This Trib debate summary has a tedious title but is a fair enough rundown of a few key points.
- Ballot jams: I saw a TikTok at like 2am about how every queer on the internet has lost their mind over the new Dirty Projectors EP and I was like, “oh yeah?” so I listened to it. I love how Felicia shines, especially on “Lose Your Love,” so yeah. Thanks, TikTok. For everything.
The song “Saturday” by Kota the Friend is so sweet, so good for your morning cup of coffee filling out your ballot.
“Eso Que Tu Haces” by Lido Pimienta is for riding in your car at dusk with the windows down searching for the first signs of autumn in the trees.
It’s just the one
and you’re going to hate this —
Portland City Commissioner: Dan Ryan, with caveats
I have turned this conundrum over in my head like a Rubix cube. I have never solved a Rubix cube. I might get as far as getting one side a solid color — red!!!! — and then I go make myself a drink.
I trust you to know your values and vote accordingly. I know research feels daunting, so I hope merely to be a humble compendium for your conscience. I’ll tell you why Ryan has my vote, but also build a case for why Smith could earn yours.
Here’s my lens. We are experiencing one of the worst economic disasters in history, and it’s likely to get even worse. I’m a school counselor in Rockwood, East Portland, the neighborhood where my mama lives too. She and all of our community’s families had already been gasping for air to pay for rent before COVID hit. When the moratorium on evictions expires, we’re going to see absolute hell, and it’s going to hit our communities of color the hardest, as fucking usual. I am interested in a City Council that bends toward absolute, fastidious clarity and precision in how we reallocate funds and disburse aid. I believe every inch matters on this. I was willing to be swayed by the candidate that I felt could tip the scale even just for one more family.
This brings me to the candidates we have in front of us.
I have a hard time seeing the merit in a mixed-white Asian-American woman going through a line-by-line critique of a Black woman. Black women receive scrutiny that is magnified beyond what any other demographic experiences. So I’m not going to cite every article that goes through certain missteps in Loretta Smith’s career and campaigns. You can find them easily if you search. Some things do give me pause. In a recent interview for this particular race, Smith said that she’s made mistakes and has learned from them. I believe people can grow and change.
I also believe that Dan Ryan, a white man whatever his sexuality or lived experiences, has no idea what it’s like to have a political career as a Black woman, and has never received scrutiny to the extent that Loretta Smith has. I see a certain narrative arc in this election paint Dan Ryan as a political outsider with integrity, and Loretta Smith as a political insider who has done questionable things, even lacking integrity altogether. I need us to be extremely careful when we see this because, y’all, without context and taken at face value, it’s fuckin’ sexist and racist.
In the spirit of transparency, I tried to contact Loretta Smith or someone on her campaign and no one got back to me. I do not take this personally; after all, I’m not a news outlet, I’m just a punk with a bunch of uncomfortable questions, and their campaign is very busy. I did speak to Dan Ryan and he very kindly fielded my questions, which went as blunt as: “Why would I vote for you over a Black woman in this current political moment?”
To his credit, he didn’t say shit about Loretta Smith. He went to one of his talking points: his experience working on education boards and nonprofits, where outcomes have to be clear and measurable. He says that true change happens with long-term investment and tracking over time, not with surface-level victories that look good for legacy or reelection but do not actually move the needle toward markedly more equitable outcomes. Ryan astutely identified that Portland’s political space tends to be “selfish in terms of taking credit for things,” where disjointed projects are agreed upon at kiss-the-ring meetings with too few people at the table. Everyone congratulates each other for having done very little. In the classic conflict-averse Pacific Northwest fashion, folks are reluctant to disagree and rely on quick consensus or they stall out. So, sure, resolutions pass, but people in communities feel slow or no change on the big, looming issues plaguing Portland — homelessness! housing! disproportionate policing and displacement of communities of color!
We can’t doooo this anymore, and especially not right now. I don’t think this single City Council seat will ~overhaul~ and ~totally revolutionize~ the system, but I think some bold policy could begin to shift us out of responding-to-bleeding mode and more into a proactive, long-term shift away from the shameful dysfunction that traps us in incremental, moderate change in spite of an electorate that overwhelmingly supports more radical action. Ryan has specific plans around this and has said, “I am looking to serve my community in this capacity as the culmination of my career and then move into retirement. I am not concerned with reelection and people-pleasing.” Though much could go wrong, though promises are often made and not kept by candidates running for office, though of course this attitude is informed by his whiteness and maleness, this statement took me by surprise. He also cites his HIV+ status as a reason for this spirited recklessness. I think this is a very relatable queer perspective, actually: so many of us never expected to survive past high school or early adulthood, and when we do, we look around and say, “Okay. What shit can I fuck up?”
This dynamics shift needs to happen at the exact same time as the most intense responding-to-bleeding mode that our city has ever seen. When I pressed Ryan on this, I got lots more specific answers than in Smith’s materials or interviews. For instance, he identified city vs. county revenue streams, and the tension between Portland’s high revenue from property tax and the county being the implementer of most of our social service agencies. “To serve communities at the margin, we’re going to have to look at the budgets as one. If that means we transfer millions into the county, we do that. We repurpose the budget, delaying some projects that someone might be attached to for their own political careers to take care of most vulnerable people first.” These kinds of decisions make sense to me when I think about how Ryan says that he’s not here to make friends. I can see him upsetting some people at City Hall by postponing good but not absolutely necessary projects in favor of releasing more funds to rental assistance, for instance.
And indeed, I have heard from folks who’ve worked with Dan Ryan about not appreciating his approach. (Edit: 8/6/20 4:00pm) These critiques range from outright clumsiness and backwardness around racial justice practices, to accidentally getting overheard saying impolite, judgemental things in response to legitimate concerns, to missing clear opportunities to move the needle radically toward serving students of color during his tenure on the PPS board despite purporting to do just that.
Ryan speaks about being comfortable with tension, even saying with pride that onlookers have commented that meetings he’s facilitated (on the Portland Public School or All Hands Raised boards, for instance) appear to be rife with conflict. “I always say, ‘Thank you!’ We have all that arguing because we’re getting at really hard issues. If we get so escalated during meetings about these issues, imagine how hard these issues feel for the people being directly affected, for the families or the students.” I understand Ryan’s critique of Portland’s self-congratulatory consensus politics and his defense of what he believes is generative conflict. I know, too, that a different read looks like a candidate who can rub people the wrong way or bulldoze dissenting opinions.
He earns my vote because I buy him as the candidate who will be more effective at crisis-response in a way that could be different than the drippy, inconsistent, scarce shit we’ve seen in the past. I am sick to death of asking my families to call 211 at a specific time and date and keep calling if the line is busy on the off chance that they get an appointment for rental or energy assistance. I am sick to death of our affordable housing projects taking forfuckingever. Because I center families and youth of color in danger of losing housing, when I look at both plans and run ideology temperature checks based on career-spanning decisions, I land closer to Dan Ryan. I don’t love Smith’s track record in the county with real estate and property, and I think if some of the sloppy bookkeeping in her professional history is reproduced in City Council, money for families will get lost in inefficiency. I simply believe more families will stay housed in a Dan Ryan City Council.
I picked him over Loretta Smith, and I am compelled by friends and Black community members who have said versions of this to me over agonizing conversations in the past weeks: “It is its own kind of neoliberal white Portland guilt to just automatically vote for a Black candidate, even one who has broken our trust.” As a non-Black person, I am sitting with this statement in extreme discomfort and trying to return to my guiding light: what’s best for kids and families of color in this city? Whose plan swayed me to believe that more kids stay in their homes and their schools and their city? I said in an instagram DM to a friend: Kids of color are more important than politicians of color.
But I do deeply understand the case to elect Loretta Smith. I am going to lay out some of those points and I hope you will have the information you need to make your own decision on the matter. In spite of misgivings about decisions she’s made or campaign finance issues (again, Google those, I don’t need to restate them here), we are talking about a smart, accomplished Black woman who has changed her previous stance on policing to align more closely with protesters and those wanting significant police reform. Dan Ryan also wants police reform, and identified not passing frustratingly permissive police union contracts as a place he’d dig in, beyond defunding. He says that he remembers being gay-bashed and knowing that he couldn’t go the police for help. I recognize that this is categorically not the same as what a Black woman and mother like Loretta Smith experiences when she thinks about the police, though she did accept campaign contributions from the Portland Police Association in her first City Council bid. She says she changed her mind on this over time by listening to community members, and I believe her. In the OPB interview, she says, “And I have totally grown and looked at the data and looked to see what was going on here in Portland. And I don’t like it. And I’ve grown into this position.” Folks have hesitations about whether this is a policy change for political expediency, and though we can’t know for sure, I would like for us all to chill the fuck out and heed the call that went viral on Twitter: normalize changing your opinion when you get more information. Smith had a hand in creating SummerWorks, a pretty genius summer internship program for underserved youth to get paid to acquire job skills.
The simple fact of additional racial representation has the potential to change dynamics on City Council too. Thanks to my very smart friend Emily for her sharp perspective in this particular race: anytime a group has just one member of a marginalized community in a city like Portland (white! obsessed with performative virtue signaling! incapable of tolerating uncomfortable conversations out of a fragile, selfish fear of being canceled!), that person will be swept into the undertow. The amazing thing about tokenization, and part of what makes it so uniquely fucking evil, is that the subject of the tokenization does not need to consent in order to be used as a rhetorical pawn. The “token” is put in the position of having to constantly announce and behave in a way that betrays the oppressor, yanking back their individualism often at great personal and political cost.
Our City Council in Portland is not immune to this. In fact, tokenization is happening in a very ugly and unfair and slippery way. Namely, with only one Black person on City Council, Ted Wheeler has sometimes used Councillor Jo Ann Hardesty as a sort of political embodiment of the very tedious phrase, “I have a Black friend so I can’t be racist!” At times, she has identified when this has happened without her consent; at other times, she has offered her support to the widely-detested Wheeler for her own well-considered reasons.
(Note: I respect the work that Commissioner Hardesty has done in our community. I believe she overwhelmingly tries to do what she believes is in the best interest of the people. As an establishment public figure, of course, we can expect that she has made choices or compromises that don’t align ~perfectly~ with radical principles of police abolition or anticapitalism. I am not interested in using this voter guide to do a deep dive into Hardesty, but I will say this: when she says stuff like, “Ted Wheeler, if you can’t control the Portland Police Bureau, give it to me” to the standing ovation of white Portlanders, there’s an abolitionist critique to be made. Though she has made decisions like preventing PPB from using fire stations as tea party locations for cops, she is not going to significantly curb systemic police corruption by being in charge. And it’s a real shame: though I’m sure she’s done internal calculations about reform vs. abolition vs. harm reduction etc. etc. etc., it sure would be nice to hear a clarion call toward significant defunding and disbanding of the cops — not the $15 million cut that City Council voted on for the Portland Budget we’re locked into for years to come, but something bolder. In a small, progressive city like Portland, one where taking progressive political risks doesn’t have huge consequences with voters who tend to keep progressive incumbents in office, if we don’t have the political will to attempt more than that shit, then we’re as bad as I thought we were. And great news! We are exactly as bad as I thought we were!!! Happy 2020!!!!!)
Emily’s point is one that deserves your special attention each and every day. Once we have elected officials who better represent the diversity of the electorate, it’s harder to get away with tokenization because there isn’t just one of a certain demographic in the room. It’s harder for that person to either be recruited or mischaracterized as a token, whether that’s as a scapegoat, a political shield for white politicians (“I have a Black friend!!!”), or a false messiah (“I speak on behalf of ALL Asian-Americans when I say this!”). A City Council with Hardesty and Smith, both Black, and incoming City Councillor Carmen Rubio, who is Latinx, will change the discourse that happens in and about that room.
Edit: 8/10/20 12:30pm
Melissa Kimble’s iconic June 17th tweet was turned into a billboard in LA and it is beautiful to behold.
The world certainly does not move without Black creativity. The world does not improve without Black analysis.
Since posting this voter guide last week, I have been lucky enough to participate in dialogue with some Black folks who have challenged me on what I wrote. I know that when Black people offer feedback, it is nothing short of wanting their humanity to be more clearly understood, and nothing short of being offered grace, skill, and magnanimity with the hope that I can listen and learn. I want to do better and feel so fuckin’ humbled and lucky to be in community with folks who are willing to work with me on this. THANK YOU.
In writing this section of the guide, I consulted several people, including some Black folks who were voting for Dan, for Loretta, or who were abstaining from voting altogether. Though I felt conflicted (still do!), I ended up personally being most swayed by arguments for Dan, for the reasons I shared with y’all in this guide, and for some personal experience reasons that I was asked not to share publicly. I represented my takeaways in a way that didn’t adequately represent more Black community opinions about the candidates in this election. I see now that I had an obligation to be more explicit and transparent about my limited scope in this matter, and that my limited scope has 100% to do with my non-Blackness.
No one is arguing that we ignore poor choices or harm committed by either of the candidates in this race. But there are aspects of my analysis that were too simple or missed the mark. For instance, I wrote about tokenization dynamics and some ideas I had about political choices being made by LS and JAH. With the help of those patient and kind conversations, I can see that I missed an opportunity to either: not speak on those issues because I can’t know the full range of complexity from my identity’s vantage point, or to dig deeper into reasons for voting for LS beyond my articulation of tokenization. By focusing on alleviating tokenization as a key reason for a LS vote, I am still rhetorically centering how white folks treat POC in political dynamics, and doing the strategy and individuality of these agents a disservice because I didn’t speak more deeply on why the Black politicians in question might be doing what they’re doing.
All of this happened in a piece of writing in which I ended up being more comfortable with white male leadership because of all the implications I worried about. Woof! Those implications and concerns don’t disappear. Neither do the critiques and analysis of all the people I spoke with along the way. Black folks are not monolithic in opinion or vote, a fact that nearly every Black person I spoke with stressed. The choice of whom to vote for always and forever stays with you, and the fact of voting at all is still one problematic element in a very problematic system.
There’s more to critique in my thinking process and writing, and I always want to hear from you and do right by you. The Bitchtucci guide was always intended to be just one resource for folks who find mainstream newspaper endorsements or campaign materials to be tedious, confusing, inaccessible, or upsetting. I am sorry to folks who came here for that and found themselves hurt or frustrated that I was not more careful in articulating my limited scope, or who wished that I had included more perspectives. I am open to hearing from you and working with you to repair harm you felt. And in future guides, I want to do a better job making sure that if I’m going to write about something that specifically concerns a group of people — in this case, Black people — that I can increase my effectiveness in honoring and uplifting more voices and more nuance.
I love you and am so grateful to you.
One eye on the future, daddy: Write in Teressa Raiford 2k20
It’s quar, so I was listening to a podcast episode that was recorded earlier in quar, and it referenced a tweet from far before quar that still applies to quar, and also to electoral politics, and also to, like, *sweeps hand widely through space and time*
Here it is:
So we know that November is waiting to sink her vicious teeth into the fleshy exposed undersides of our elbows. It’ll feel like it takes forever to arrive but then suddenly it’ll be tooth in tendons.
And we wanna be READY, BABY. For us here in Portland, that means throwing our whole weight behind the campaign to get Teressa Raiford elected as Mayor. Raiford has been doing the real, hard work in this city for AGES. You may know her through Don’t Shoot PDX. She has gained significant traction in this Great White Awakening and her campaign believes she has a shot, largely based on calculations they’ve done about how many voters identified as undecided in late June, and how many folks have engaged with Teressa Raiford on social media this spring and summer. Their campaign language is focused on Teressa’s track record, on-the-ground realness, and consistent ideologies over time; they use the future-tense language that breathes hope into political movements, and they don’t bother tearing down Wheeler or Iannarone too much in their materials, focusing on their candidate and the amplification of Black voices.
Token Rose, Raiford’s Campaign Director speaking as one member of a unified, 12-person, Black-led team, was able to give me a peek into the FAQ that they will be releasing on the website soon:
Is [a vote for Teressa] going to end up just being a vote for Ted?
No way! A June 24th poll shows ⅓ of Portland voters unsure who to choose for Mayor.
Almost 150,000 have joined our networks since May 19th, not even including the 18,310 votes received on the May 19th Primary.
We strongly believe if the primary were held today, we would win, just like we anticipate winning in November. We also anticipate a large voter turnout, so we project 200,000 write-in votes. Teressa purposefully has been doing the work to successfully sue Ted Wheeler instead of campaigning, all in an effort to protect Portland protesters against the harmful effects of tear gas. The fact is, Ted didn’t win the election! The run off with Sarah as a contender was determined by her getting only 24% in the primaries. Comparatively, we’ve seen an influx of almost 150,000 people into Teressa’s networks since May 19th. Not only are we going to win, we’ll be sending a clear message to the establishment! No more status quo!
Further, Token summarized, “We know once people are aware of Teressa’s work, her coalition, and legacy, they will quickly realize Teressa is far more qualified to lead than any other candidate. Frankly, two white saviors trying to learn how to solve problems they don’t understand, while simultaneously yelling over a Black activist would be very on brand for Portland Neo-liberalism. We want to change that. We can and must do better.”
The Write-In Teressa Raiford campaign is accepting donations via Venmo @writeinteressaraiford. The team has also requested that we circulate this petition widely. Token says, “The more people who sign it, we know more people might feel more comfortable knowing they’re not in this alone!” Most of all, stay engaged with what the Raiford campaign actually wants. They are thinking things through deeply and we should all be at the ready to listen and act.
Get a yard sign when they drop ’em so people see her name everywhere. Talk to your family and friends, especially those least likely to see campaign materials on social media or at the protests, which is where Teressa Raiford supporters are most visible. Make sure everyone knows how to spell her name correctly. And using your best active listening of their concerns, your most luminous displays of empathy, your most compassionate and patient explanations, inspire them to tell others.
I have worried feverishly over feasibility and splitting the vote and all the other pragmatic considerations that would suffocate Teressa Raiford’s chances. I still worry about those things. But if we can’t be bold now, what the fuck are we waiting for? This dream only works if we all believe it’s possible and start to act like it.
Take good care of yourself and each other. Stay absolutely voracious for information to keep your ideologies and politics sharp, and make sure above all that your personal relationships align with that shit too. Here is that COVID-19 emergency resource list, which is still being updated. I hope you get what you need in every single way. I love ya.
If you still have disposable $$ after you’ve donated to the Black-centered places you’ve chosen, you can help me pay my mama’s rent. I’m @marissayangbertucci on venmo/cashapp.