Bigotry has been cranked to 11 this election season thanks to the Donald Drumpf campaign blazing an orange streak through the country. And since Portlanders will be voting in a new mayor and two council members this year, we’re taking the opportunity to talk about our own locally-sourced racism and how our city office candidates can join the ongoing fight against it.
Because it’s embarrassing for candidates to not have a good answer when asked what they’re doing about racism, and for a local populous to be in the dark on issues that disproportionately affect non-whites, we’ve gone ahead and outlined a couple of worthy local causes we should all get behind to help promote racial and social justice in our community.
In late February, Portland’s Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Committee voted to add Wells Fargo to the city’s Do Not Buy List because of the bank’s involvement in the for-profit prison industry. The SRI was created in 2014 to evaluate the city’s corporate securities investments and to make recommendations based on a range of issues, including company human rights records, environmental impact, and labor practices. After the lengthy assessment, the SRI then votes on whether or not to add a company to the Do Not Buy List.
The Wells Fargo vote comes after a years long campaign headed by local community organization, Enlace (full disclosure: In 2014 I testified with Enlace before the Portland Human Rights Commission about the police brutality that my family experienced). This means that if the city council adopts the SRI’s recommendation, they will be responsible for making sure that the City of Portland divests the $40 million is currently has in Wells Fargo corporate bonds.
Wells Fargo has a terrible record when it comes to race relations, which includes but is not limited to: stealing money from Mexican farmworkers during World War II; aggressively pushing subprime loans on people of color in the lead up to the foreclosure crisis of 2008; and providing vast lines of credit to the country’s top for-profit prison operators, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.
The private prison industry, which operates by receiving federal contracts to run corrections facilities, has been spreading like an infection since the early 80’s through increasing privatization and lobbying for stricter sentencing laws.
The nearest private prison facility, Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, is operated under contract by GEO Group. Since there are no private prisons in Oregon, this is where many local residents end up after being caught in the immigration system. Read more about what it’s like inside NWDC in our interview with Paulino Ruiz.
Home raids, deportations, minimum sentencing, implicit bias, police militarization, and gentrification aided by heavy policing are all problems that morally just elected officials should plan on addressing during their time in office.
“They also should be aware that private prison corporations have been using black, brown, and immigrant people’s bodies to make a profit,” says Enlace Senior Campaign Organizer, Amanda Aguilar Shank. “We need any serious candidate to city office to speak out against investing in prisons, and commit to vote to put our Socially Responsible Investment process to work and get our money out of prisons.”
The SRI vote is unprecedented, according to Enlace “This decision marks the first time that a public body has voted for divestment from Wells Fargo due to their complicity in the prison industry.” Good job, Portland, but the work is never done.
The second issue is really three-in-one assault led by a cadre of red-faced, angry patriots known as Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center considers OFIR a hate group, and their most recent efforts are fueled in part by a successful defeat of Measure 88, a bill that would have made it possible for people to obtain a driver’s license without proof of legal residency.
The bill, known before the vote as SB 833, would have largely helped undocumented immigrants, but also veterans, the elderly, and really anyone else who doesn’t have access to their birth records. Governor Kitzhaber signed SB 833 on May 1st, 2013, and almost immediately after it was signed, OFIR filed Referendum #301 and began collecting signatures in order to put the issue to a vote.
Although OFIR claims to be against undocumented immigration from all countries, their actions are dictated by their deep, strong dislike for Muslims and anyone from countries south of the US/Mexican border. The goal of hate groups like OFIR is basically to make life for immigrants in Oregon so miserable that they want to leave, and this was the motivation behind their anti-drivers license campaign.
Over the summer of 2013, OFIR’s members gathered the signatures needed to put the referendum on the ballot, and in November of 2014, Measure 88 was defeated by a staggering margin.
Well, OFIR is at it again, this time collecting signatures for Initiative Petition (IP) 40, a bill that seeks to make English the official language of Oregon, an issue we first mentioned in our coverage of the Joe Arpaio rally. The two other bills they’re trying to ram through are IP 51, which would require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, and IP 52, a bill that requires employers to utilize the shoddy employment verification system, E-Verify. All three are a direct attack on Oregon’s immigrant populations, and since OFIR had so much success pushing down Measure 88, we should expect to see a lot of similar tactics used in gathering signatures for the 2016 elections.
During their 2013 campaign, OFIR’s members held drive-thru petition signings and canvassed locations all over the state, including the Portland Saturday Market and the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. Petition gatherers were instructed to simply ask “Are you a registered voter?” before asking the person to sign, only offering more information if asked. No doubt that many who signed the petition were merely too timid to decline canvassers or did so in haste without adequate knowledge of what they were signing off their support for. I’ve heard personal accounts from several people who had been tricked into signing this way.
Members of OFIR are very active in the legislative process and they are loud. Which is why anyone running for office who gives a rip about local race and social equality should speak out now about these issues. And keep speaking out, because people like those in OFIR have the resources to continue pushing their propaganda and clogging media outlets with misinformation about inherently racist agendas.
“Especially during this political environment, which has allowed candidates to attack nearly every community whether it’s Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, or women, it’s critical that local elected officials publicly express their values,” says Causa‘s Executive Director Andrea Miller. “Elected officials cannot stay neutral or quiet, now’s the time to express their support for equality, whether that’s by introducing proactive and positive legislation or through a public statement.”