Reflections on the 1/21 Portland Mayoral Candidate Forum
Choose your own adventure:
To read about my political perspective, read the first six paragraphs.
To read my reflection on the Portland Mayoral Forum, skip down to paragraph seven.
Before fighting me or dissing me, skip back up and read the first six paragraphs.
Introduction and Political Philosophy
I write to you this morning, Portland friends, as a veteran educator, as a fellow worker, as a member of the resistance community, and also as Mother of a child who is home from work sick today due to a 100+ temperature that keeps coming and going like the rains of the past two weeks. This reflection will be imperfect. Unlike the rain, I will not sling mud. I do not intend to attack or harm anyone. At the same time, I am aware of my cut-throat honesty. It is my greatest flaw. And if you are a person who knows the meaning of a true character flaw, that means I am also driven by honesty, so that I do not properly place it before kindness. And for that, I apologize ahead of time. For me, it is still worth it to have a voice and to listen to the voices of strangers who believe they have what it takes to make a change.
This is simply a report on the mayoral candidate forum from a woman who dares to tell the truth as she sees it. And for that child who is sick and resting, I shall write with great speed and great passion, as if it is my only chance. I write for the fellow mothers and children of the working class, knowing that I am no greater or wiser than any of you. I only had the privilege of being there, and for that reason I share my perspective — just to communicate, just to admit that I have an opinion on who tries to govern me. I write to believe that it could matter, not just what I think, but what you think. I write with the wild hope, for a moment, that things could radically change in this society, in a way that will impact our children and our children’s children, as well as one another’s children, as well as the children of strangers.
I do not aim for objectivity. Here is a little bit about my political perspective: I was raised in the Rust Belt city of Buffalo, N.Y. by white, leftest, working class parents who were from Detroit. I was taught to respect and revere Black Power at an early age, though that does not in any way excuse me from also acknowledging the privilege of whiteness, which played a major role in my life, my education, and in every facet of my existence. Still, awareness of racism and classism and profound political discussions were part of our family life. I attended radical public schools throughout my childhood and went on to earn my undergraduate degree through an academic scholarship to New York University, where I studied the history and literature of marginalized communities in American history and literature. Three of my uncles became addicted to opioids and all died from related causes between 1978–2019, in that life. All of the above inform my political perspective.
Soon after I arrived in Portland in 2000, I beat my hands on the Bush Motorcade, marched with the Black Block in the war protests of the early 2000s, a young 20-something, freshly escaped from New York City with a college degree and $2000 and $35,000 in debt. I’ve walked with the Pink Block, I’ve danced with the Clown Band, I’ve trained my mind to think of Police Flash Bangs and audio-fascist police recordings as if they are Punk Rock songs. I play along with my tambourine to stay sensitive to reality. Anarchist philosophy, especially the theory of mutual aid as laid out by Peter Kropotkin, resounds with me. Anarcha-Feminism, as explored in the Anarcha-Feminist issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory and as LIVED OUT by Standing Rock Activists and Black Lives Matter activists, inspires me. I am also a heavily freckled white girl from Buffalo, NY — one loving working class motto of the city being you think you are the shit, you ain’t shit! I saw Pink Floyd live and it was the best concert I’ve ever been to, aside from seeing George Clinton and the Mothership playing in Diapers in New York City in a room with only 200 people. I’m not out here to govern anyone. I am here to report what I see. I’m here to be flawed and wrong and open. I’m here to tell the truth as I see it, to correct where I’m wrong, to live in a state of imperfection.
I am also a member of the Portland Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. I believe in the nexus between Anarcha-Feminism and Socialism — to me, this means that my deepest belief is that working class women, absolutely including Trans-Women, can organize together, using the mutual aid networks that have always kept us alive in the context of hyper-techno-capitalism, to transform the state into one that serves the people, not the corporations. We can center the children and the future in ways that white male leadership has failed to do. We can include the perspectives and leadership of anyone on the gender spectrum who is willing to address their own colonization, and their humanity, which includes the humanity of all people. It means that I actually believe that, when the people finally take it, the state can become an apparatus that prioritizes service to traditionally marginalized communities through strong social services, transportation, public health, health care, information and media centers, early childhood and public education.
Professionally, I’ve dedicated much of my life to public education. I earned my graduate degree in Education, gained recognition for developing innovative and effective strategies in the public system, wrote a book, and continue to serve as an educator. In a true socialist revolution, public education must be a top priority, for there is no future for a social system without a strong system of public education. Strong systems of public education in Socialist countries are not a miracle; they are emblems of the proper functioning of the ideology that the system, the state itself, is here to serve the people. In the later chapters of my book, A Different Vision: A Revolution Against Racism in Public Education, I provide greater detail on the relationship between socialism and public education, including a vision for school design, non-hierarchical leadership systems, and revised funding systems.
Reflection on the 1/21 Portland Mayoral Forum
That said, I will never run for office. As a working class Mother who is home from work with school with a little girl who has a 100+ Temp, a veteran educator, a long-term member of the Portland resistance community, and as an author, I am writing this to exercise my right to freedom of speech. What I am writing reflects what I took away at the end of the evening, as well as my prior knowledge of the candidate’s work. What I write is true for me. For each candidate, I reflect on their position, as I experience it, on the key categories People Living Without Shelter, Public Education, Policing, The Arts, Addiction/ Recovery, Racism/Making Portland Safe for Immigrant Communities/and How I Felt in The Presence of this Candidate.
People Living Without Shelter:
My experience with Teressa Raiford, on this issue, is informed by years of witnessing her work. Ms. Raiford has organized countless food and clothing drives for people living without shelter in the Portland area. She is known as a person who can connect others with resources. At the forum last night, when asked about her position on this issue, she mentioned the drop-in service center that she established in North East Portland. She spoke directly about her relationships with the most impacted communities. She also has lived experience with systemic oppression, as well as the ability to translate her lived experience into organized action in service of those who are suffering today. She also spoke about her desire to audit the housing bureau, so as to continue with effective service and discard those aspects that are ineffective.
My experience with Teressa Raiford is once again informed by years of witnessing her work. I have experienced, for many years, going to protest as sites where we know citizens were murdered by Portland Police, including Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, and people who are living without shelter and also suffering from mental illness. On numerous occasions, I can attest to Teressa Raiford being on the scene to document and research the incident prior to the arrival of already elected city officials. I have personally seen her stay on the scene with impacted families, giving comfort, when no city official was there to give them a hand to hold. At the forum, she called for a total transformation of the way that policing is done, moving toward community-centered models of policing. She did not call for the abolition of police. To my recollection, she did clearly state the need for increased social services and mental health services to combat the issues facing Portlanders today.
My knowledge of Teressa Raiford’s commitment is once again informed by my experiences with her in the community. I worked with a group of former students to create the Bill of Rights for Students of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander heritages in PPS. During that time, we gathered support from over one hundred local leaders, as well as several national leaders in the movement to transform public education. But on the night when the Bill was to be voted on by the school board, I fell ill with a terrible fever. That night, Ms. Raiford attended the meeting in my stead and the Bill passed. Though we actually were not close friends, she did that based on her commitment to the issue. In fairness, the forum contained no questions related to public education or children. In Portland, there is a historic divide between the office of the mayor and the Portland Public Schools. Mayors have long shirked responsibility for supporting the schools and building a bridge between the city and the schools. In fact, the city has shown little concern for the schools, other than in ensuring that viability of school/police contracts. Ms. Raiford’s track record demonstrates a strong possibility that she would include the concerns of the school as part of the concerns of the city.
Ms. Raiford’s demonstrates a commitment to the arts through her relationship with the Portland Art Museum. Specifically, she is part of the movement to make public art and public institutions accessible to historically marginalized communities. When I served as a member of the Portland Art Museum’s Educator Advisory Council, the key issue that we identified was a lack of access to the Art Museum for traditionally marginalized communities, especially youth of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian heritages. Raiford’s recent work at the Art Museum demonstrates her taking action to create a bridge for traditionally marginalized communities.
I attempted to ask a question about the candidates’ personal knowledge of Heroin and Methamphetamine addiction. My questions were filtered out! While we know that not all members of our community who are living without shelter struggle with addiction, we also know that addiction is a major concern in the state and the city of Portland. Many people are suffering. Once again, my personal knowledge of Ms. Raiford’s work engenders my perspective. I engage in mutual aid efforts to serve those who are living without shelter in the 82nd — 122nd corridor. Ms. Raiford met with me several weeks ago to discuss her perspective on Heroin and Methamphetamine addiction as well as the struggles in the corridors. In our meeting, she shared her experience and knowledge of the subject. She also expressed a keen understanding of the impacts of addiction on children. I very much hope that she will speak about her experience and knowledge and work with members of the Recovery community to elevate the issue in a way that supports the ideas that are coming directly from most-impacted community members.
Racism/Making Portland Safe for Immigrant Communities:
Ms. Raiford’s past experience as a resistance community leader who has dedicated a large portion of her life energy to fighting racism engenders my perspective. In terms of the forum, she spoke directly about her experience, noting that leadership from the most impacted communities is needed to solve these problems city wide. From my understanding, she was pointing out that only a person who has actually experienced racism can solve the problem, as perspective and understanding are required to fully comprehend how racism impacts the community. She demonstrates humility and sincerity in her answer, also noting that several of her fellow candidates bring lived experience with racism to the table.
Regarding immigrant communities, Raiford did not speak about her relationships with various immigrant community organizations, though to my knowledge she does have these affiliations. She also did not speak about language as a barrier in city life, nor about the dramatic changes in demographics that have taken place over the last twenty years, adding a dramatic need for shifts in city leadership that include people of Latinx, Asian, Slavic, African, and Indigenous heritages.
How I felt in the presence of this candidate:
My prior knowledge of Ms. Raiford may engender how I felt last night. I’ve witnessed Raiford’s growth as a speaker over over time. Last night, she appeared poised, but I still felt her heart. As one who knows the strength of her voice, I waited for her to move into the vocal range where she is moved by her passion because that inspires me. Her self-presentation remained composed and I felt her sincerity. I noticed her ability to speak with self-control, but also demonstrate her passion, especially with regard to housing, policing, and supporting labor unions as an aspect of economic development. I felt hope that Portlanders will not overlook her based on racial bias.
People Living Without Shelter
As a member of a mutual aid community that serves people living without shelter in the 82nd-122nd corridor, I was confused about Mr. Gonalez’s perspective on people living without shelter. What was clear was that he wishes to bring his knowledge of architecture and design to impact the issue. I heard him mention the idea of requiring people to refrain from living along sidewalks, but reserving unused lots and supplying them with temporary shelters, lights, and cell-phone chargers to ensure that people living outside have somewhere to go. This does not jive with the research about how sweeps cause death (when sweeps happen, people often lose all of their belongings, and loss of medications has caused deaths). I felt that Mr. Gonzalez’s perspective lacked an analysis of how capitalism, greed, and policies that support developers but deny humanity are causing the mass displacement. His ideas, though definitely creative, may cater to wealthy homeowners who are tired of living near people who are without shelter, as he clearly did not say he would stop the sweeps. Still, his idea for providing more publicly funded service opportunities, and his forward-thinking creativity could be helpful to the city of Portland.
I couldn’t tell from the forum how Mr. Gonzalez feels about the police. This may be in his favor, as there are many Portlanders who support the police. However, as a community member who works closely with immigrant communities and who participated in the Occupy Ice Movement, as well as many other protests of police violence in Portland, I could not vote for Mr. Gonzalez without further information regarding his perspectives on ICE and the Portland Police. He spoke about his personal experience with being mistreated by police, but he did not translate this into nuanced policy suggestions, as did Raiford’s personal experience. His being a member of the Latinx community does not mean that he has a radical perspective on policing. He did not call for the abolition of police. I do recall him suggesting a shift toward more community-based policing, but I need more information on what he believes regarding policing.
I have no knowledge of his perspective on public education. His passion and level of education definitely shines. Will he help to bridge the historic gap between The City and The Schools?
Mr. Gonzalez clearly loves art and design. Many of his answers demonstrated his passion for art and design. He mentioned art and design in his responses to the housing crisis and throughout the evening. He seems forward thinking and intellectual, clearly loves art and would like to bring innovation to all aspects of city life.
Once again, I attempted to ask a specific question related to addiction and recovery, but my question was overlooked and not asked. I have no knowledge of Mr. Gonzalez’s perspectives or knowledge of addiction and recovery, but his answer to the housing question, while innovative in terms of how he would design temporary living spaces, included no mention of addiction/recovery. We know that all people living without shelter are not necessarily struggling with addiction, but we also know that rates of addiction continue to climb throughout our city and state. I need more information regarding his knowledge on this crucial topic.
Racism/Making Portland Safe for Immigrant Communities:
This was Mr. Gonzalez best answer. He clearly communicated his lived experience as a bi-lingual or multi-lingual person. He also described experiencing racism personally. He had the best answers of any candidate with regard to transforming Portland into a place that includes people who speak languages other than English. On this question, he was able to translate his personal experience into clear policy changes — stating that he would ensure that information is accessible to people from immigrant communities. He also stated that he will hire members of immigrant communities to serve in his cabinet.
Mr. Gonzalez did not specifically mention anti-Black racism. This is important. Anti-Black racism in Portland is both similar to and different from anti-immigrant, and anti-Latinx racism in Portland. I would like to hear his perspectives on racism in a way that addresses this nuance and shows, more fully, his perspectives on the history of racism toward Portland’s Black community, specifically.
How I felt in the presence of the candidate:
Mr. Gonzalez is a bright spirit. I felt his positive energy from the back of the room. I also felt the sense that he does not outwardly show pride in being a member of the working class. It may be indicative of my white privilege that I look for that working class pride, but on the other hand, I felt that working class pride from both Teressa Raiford and Cash Carter. Mr. Gonzalez seems a little more corporate, yet also too brilliant to be fully corporate. I left feeling his brilliance, yet also question his politics. Is he willing to embrace and voice the depth of his radicalism? Is it there? Or is he a corporate creative who has great ideas, but does not embrace anti-capitalist ideology? Was he, in fact, successful partially due to personally embracing capitalism? Who am I to judge? I need more information, but those were the questions that arose.
People Living Without Shelter
Mr. Carter’s answer demonstrated a common feeling among Portlanders — feelings of compassion combined with feelings of you-have-too-much-stuff-to-be-living outside near my house. I do not share Mr. Carter’s feelings about people living without shelter, in that I see the issue from a the lens that capitalism and greed cause poverty, so we need to look at solutions to that bigger problem and discontinue the cruel practice of moving people around. His answer did not demonstrate a critique of the landed gentry or the ways in which capitalism is causing the crisis.
In fairness, there were no questions asked at the forum related to the relationship between the City and the Schools. I have no knowledge of Mr. Carter’s prior experiences or advocacy around public education. I hope that he will speak more on this issue, as he is a member of the most impacted community. I am eager to hear his perspective.
Mr. Carter did not express an anti-police stance. I need more information to get a clear perspective on how he feels about policing. He did not express any statements related to police abolition. I got the feeling that he values the role that police play, but I need more understanding of the changes he would make, as I don’t value the role they play in many cases, and I don’t agree with the level of militarization of the police…and I hope for transformation in our system of policing.
Mr. Carter expressed a passion for music and the arts. He mentioned wanting to promote more public concerts and music events. The way he answered made me think that he would like to be a leader who works toward greater civic engagement in a way that Portlander’s would really enjoy.
Since my question was overlooked, candidates did not make mention of this issue. I thought some might mention it anyway, as it is a major issue that our state is facing. I would like to learn more about Mr. Carter’s perspectives on Addiction and Recovery.
Racism/Making Portland Safe for Immigrant Communities
Mr. Carter is from one of the most deeply impacted communities. He clearly discussed making city life and leadership more comfortable and engaging for historically marginalized communities. I would like to learn more about his perspectives on racism in Portland and Oregon itself. His presence in the room, and in the mayoral race, demonstrates his personal courage to face any and all obstacles that confront him.
How I felt in the presence of this candidate
Cash Carter seems really cool. I got the feeling that he is a highly motivated person who does not want to be underestimated. I got a sense that he is proud of his working class roots. I also got the sense that he loves the Portland Trailblazers from the emblem on his hat. He seems like a guy who could get along with anyone, which is important for a mayor. He is open minded and on-the-spot creative. I think he needs to arm himself with some strong, firm ideas regarding his policies. I look forward to learning more about Cash Carter’s perspectives and policies.
People Living Without Shelter
My prior experience with Sarah Iannarone impacts my impression of her work around this issue. For several years, I have organized mutual aid efforts in service of people living without shelter. Last year, Sarah personally helped me to connect a large donation of clothing and supplies with people living without shelter in the 82nd corridor. She has shown dedication and passion in this area. She has shown up for this issue. She expressed her knowledge and passion around this issue.
There was one moment where she made sure to remark that addiction and living without shelter are not necessarily connected. This is an important perspective and it needs to be said; however, as a member of the recovery community and as one who lost three family members to Heroin addiction, I am looking for a leader who also has the courage to address how Heroin and Methamphetamine addiction are impacting our city and state. Otherwise, the comment about not all people living without shelter being addicts becomes a rhetorical barrier to dealing with the reality of mass addiction.
As a veteran educator and education activist, I have no knowledge of Ms. Iannarone’s advocacy with regard to public education. I would like to learn more about how she will bridge the historic gap between the City and the Schools, especially without deep knowledge of the decades of work that have already been done and the obstacles that still remain in our system of public education.
Ms. Iannarone made two powerful statements regarding policing. Firstly, she mentioned that she would rescind the charter for the ICE building on Macadam in SW Portland. She was the only candidate to openly say that she supports the abolition of ICE. I’m feeling that!
She also mentioned that she would fire bad cops. While I appreciate the strength of her answer, I am coming from the perspective that saying that one will fire bad cops could be a little bit politically naive, in that the police union is extremely powerful and the politics that the mayor faces with regard to the Union are DEEP! Saying that she will fire bad cops also disoriented me because I am of the perspective that the rhetoric of firing bad cops can also unintentionally function to protect the system of policing as a whole…and firing bad cops does not alter the corrupt system overall. I realize that Iannarone also suggested moving toward community policing. Like all other candidates, Ms. Iannarone did not mention the concept of police abolition. I would like to hear her views on what I mentioned here, especially since she is the self-described anti-fascist candidate. I am needing more information and more nuanced answers regarding policing, although I appreciate some of what I heard.
I have no knowledge of Sarah Iannarone’s knowledge of or passion for the arts, nor were any questions asked related to the arts.
While I can personally attest to Sarah Iannarone’s commitment to supporting people living without shelter, I need more information about her position on the city’s role and responsibility in supporting those who are struggling with addiction, harm reduction, and the road to recovery.
Racism/Making Portland Safe for Immigrant Communities
On this question, Sarah touted herself as the only candidate to have an anti-fascist bumper sticker. She answered this question, and requested that the audience clap, right after Teressa Raiford spoke about her lived experiences with racism and her policy suggestions. For me, this was poor form. I would have preferred if Sarah had taken just a moment there to honor and show respect for Teressa’s lived experience on this issue. Sarah also mentioned her political activity around Joey Gibson as evidence of her anti-fascist stance. She actually said the words (sic) I am out there with my people in reference to standing against Gibson. As a fellow white woman, I would not be caught dead referring to fellow activists as my people. On the other hand, Sarah has shown up to anti-fascist rallies. I’ve seen her there. Still, her answer to this question did not express the level of nuance expressed by candidate Raiford or candidate Gonzalez. She also did not express, as part of her policy suggestions this evening, to my recollection, the need for leadership from communities of color.
How I felt in the presence of this candidate:
Sarah Iannarone seems like a very smart, caring woman. For me, as a child of an industrial, working class town, I have a fear of her based on two factors — she seems like she occupies her white womanhood, marked by a distinct appearance of class privilege, that I have never felt comfortable occupying myself. Is that my own problem, or is it her intention to appeal to the highly educated, white, seemingly-liberal, cool-glasses wearing Portlandia demographic that both upholds white supremacy and could make her the winner? When I see her up there in her fancy outfit, I feel like I have more in common with Eminem than I do with Sarah. Wild juxtaposition, I know, but there is a back story, maybe for another time. What scares me is that she occupies what feels like the space of socio-economic class privilege while also espousing a rhetoric of serving those who are struggling. I acknowledge that she also actually does commit time to supporting people living without homes. I am curious if she operates from the anarchist principle of mutual aid, or from the politics of charity, or from what personal and political motivation? I don’t mean this is in a judgmental way, but in a curious way. The anarchist in me is afraid of white women who want political power because ethically, I can’t find that woman in myself. It’s personal and its political. Isn’t part of the politics of radicalism about supporting candidates from historically marginalized communities because we know that white people and the white power structure have led to the demise of the Earth itself? Why is she the exception? If you have authentic answers to these questions, I am open to hearing them, for in the depth of my search, I could not find them for myself.
In closing, I cannot neglect to offer a big Boo to Ted Wheeler for his failure to attend this candidate forum. I certainly hope that he realizes that he is not the people’s candidate. He will go down in history as the most corporate, neo-liberal Portland mayor to serve capitalism in many decades. Bye Ted! I would eagerly vote for any of the above, rather than support the continuation of your political elitism and faux-progressiveness.
Finally, I want to offer my respect to Gregory McKelvey (Iannarone’s campaign manager) no matter what happens. When we look back at the past decade of activism in Portland’s political history, he will indeed be remembered for specific actions in the name of justice. I readily admit that I have witnessed his courage. Nor do I paint him to be without flaws, as that would take away from his humanity. But respecting and admiring a person, for me, does not mean that I automatically endorse or support the candidate of their choice. Each of us have different political perspectives and needs, and none of us are required to give those over based on loyalty to one another — rather, we have the right to ask questions and decide for ourselves based on our own inner compass, through listening, learning, participating, communicating. I can’t apologize for that and I will not be afraid to express my political perspective.
And if that ain’t fair, if that ain’t kind, momma is going to buy you a lemon rind. Gotta go take care of this waking child who needs me. Big Huge Love Y’all. Thank you for reading. Please courageously share your perspectives, even if you disagree. Maybe I will see it your way. Maybe you will see it mine. The only way out is through and together!