People for which Portland? – Avant-garde

As the costs of living and housing have risen, rampant homelessness has also led to settlements throughout the city of Portland. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down entire shopping districts, the city – and downtown in particular – began to look like the post-apocalyptic ensemble of an ’80s movie.

The powerful and long-awaited uprising for black lives and police accountability following the police murder of George Floyd has sparked more than 100 continuous days of civil disobedience and protest, leading city leaders to pledge budget cuts to the Portland police. However, Mayor Ted Wheeler reneged on his promise instead with an increase in the police budget, citing an alarming record of 72 homicides in Portland in 2020.

In this context, a mysterious new political group calling itself People for Portland has emerged. Billboards and other print ads are popping up all over the city, as are TV ads denouncing local leaders for letting the city down and asking for funds for more police officers.

When visiting the organization’s website, a pop-up immediately prompts the viewer to send a message to Portland City Council. The organizer even writes a message in a convenient way, so all the sender has to do is enter their name, email and address.

The burning question is: who are these people? People for Portland has a 501 (c) (4) welfare organization tax designation, which allows them to keep donors a secret until they explicitly endorse candidates running for election. . It also means that donor contributions are not tax deductible.

As such, the organization has named two political consultants, Dan Lavey and Kevin Looper – who also happen to be wealthy white men – as the public faces. Being inundated with black money and run by political insiders, the optics that they really are the voice of Portland isn’t great, as they well know.

But that’s the extent of public knowledge behind the campaign. On the website, People for Portland highlights ending homelessness, safe streets and neighborhoods, responsibility and justice for all, with cleanliness, pride and economic vitality as primary goals.

Expanding on the plight of our homeless neighbors, the website expresses a desire to “move homeless Portlanders from inhuman and dangerous camps to safe and hygienic temporary housing solutions with access to mental health and rehabilitation services. substance addiction “. These are admirable goals, but it should be noted that they emphasize cleanliness and economic vitality.

However, they denigrate the encampments themselves, which are a public symptom of our society’s willful neglect of the human right to have a home and simply exist. Their decision to use the formulation that housing solutions should be temporary is disturbing. Numerous studies have shown that permanent housing increases stability and the likelihood of staying housed, and that it will cost “up to $ 23,000 less per consumer per year than a housing program,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

On their website, People for Portland denounced the upsurge in violence on city streets during the pandemic and “small groups inflicting property damage and violence” during the protests, and offered to add 300 additional police officers and to increase funding for the Portland Police Department. The organization has made some concessions including the widespread public demand for community surveillance and increased police accountability through body cameras, but the crux of their message is pretty clear.

These might as well be the talking points of the notoriously conservative Portland Business Alliance (PBA). They have spearheaded policies such as the Sit-Lie Ordinance of 2007 – which essentially banned homeless people from downtown until it was removed – and the designation of the Downtown Enhanced Service District. This area of ​​Portland is administered undemocratically by its own private security patrols – Portland Patrol and Central City Concern – and overseen by Clean & Safe, a nonprofit without community oversight that essentially created an area of ​​the city with its own private police and government.

To say that the PBA has been a quietly powerful lobby is an understatement, especially with the interests of the wealthy and the preservation of the classist and racist “tough on crime” status quo. They strategically supported and strengthened Wheeler as he followed competitor Sarah Iannarone in the 2020 election, precisely for his support of police funding. Before that, the PBA had backed him in 2016 when his opponent Jules Bailey ran on a promise to raise the corporate tax rate.

Additionally, the PBA recently hosted a conference for at least 200 new police officers, titled “Portland at a Crossroads: Is Crime the New Normal?” “

It seems that the motivations and messages of the PBA, Wheeler and People for Portland campaign are harmoniously aligned. They are all arguing for a return to the status quo and highlighting the damage to Portland’s reputation and brand. Everyone claims to care about the tragedy endured by our homeless neighbors, but fervently wishes a return to their previous status of out of sight, out of sight. This is a common sentiment among NIMBYs – which means not in my garden – a term for people who oppose unappealing changes in their community, but this in a derogatory way.

More worryingly, all three are addressing harsh tropes on crime, arguing for increased budgets for police and law enforcement, a stern step back from the gradual climax in 2020 of justice movements. racial and police responsibility.

That’s not to say that People for Portland is explicitly funded by or acts as an intermediary for Wheeler or the PBA, but obscuring their funding source leaves those possibilities open. We should all critically engage with the political message we encounter, especially when it is backed by millions of dollars and donors are shrouded in secrecy.

One of their billboards calls the viewer back to the days when Portland was known for its donuts, food carts, and the airport carpet. While this post is effective in invoking the kitsch and cutesy charm of the Portland brand, the COVID-19 pandemic and the George Floyd uprising have exposed stark and painful truths about life in the United States, and Portland in particular. .

The resonance of the systemic police killings – locally those of Jason Washington, Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, James Chasse, Kendra James and many more – and their brutality towards protesters throughout 2020 stands in stark contrast to the approach The ministry’s sympathy for Proud Of White Boys and Nationalists, and only magnified the importance of a massive reckoning.

All of these social ills predate the pandemic and the uprising. They are as urgent now as they were before the pandemic opened up our collective consciousness. In order to be the real people for Portland, it must be a Portland that continues to shed light on systemic injustice, a Portland that confronts our racist city history and makes repairs, a Portland that is home to everyone in its community because we have the resources and the compassionate desire to make, therefore, a Portland that puts people and the quality of life they lead first.

Our Portland is not funded by secret donors who want to get back to normal, whatever it is. Our Portland walks courageously into the future, righting the grievances of yesterday and today.

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