Angela Uherbelau is founder of Oregon Kids Read. Sharon Joy Gary-Smith is president of the Portland NAACP. Andrea Valderrama represents House District 47-East Portland in the Oregon Legislature and is the Director of Strategic Planning and Initiatives at the ACLU of Oregon. They all live in Portland. As well, fifty Black, Indigenous and other Portland-area women of color, including the women of color on the ACLU of Oregon staff, signed an expanded version of this letter.
Nearly 300 people have signed onto the expanded letter, and we invite everyone of all genders and backgrounds to join us in signing it, as one of many steps in standing up against People for Portland and the anonymous wealthy people backing it.
People for Portland’s $1.5 million dark money campaign has some publicly stated goals: more police (although increasing police doesn’t decrease crime) and more shelters (though it uses the term “shelter enforcement” privately with its secret donors).
As Black, Indigenous and other women of color, we see “People” for Portland for what it is: a well-heeled fear-mongering effort harnessing anger and hate and directing it towards some of the most vulnerable residents of our city.
Theirs is an old playbook and we’ve lived it before. Millions spent repeating the well-rehearsed lie that things aren’t as good as in the picture-perfect past - all because of "others." Others in tents on the street. Others in the neighborhood across the river. Others in elected office who won’t do the right thing until they’re forced.
People for Portland’s billboard nostalgia campaign - Remember when we were famous for food carts and the airport carpet? Remember when all your friends were jealous you lived here? - is a coded call to those who’ve always had plenty, and ignores the lived experience of countless Portlanders who live paycheck to paycheck. It pretends the last 18 months since George Floyd’s murder never happened and expects us to acquiesce to a collective amnesia.
Tens of thousands of us marched shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets, calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality. Yet People for Portland demands more police, without full accountability.
An overwhelming majority of us - more than 80 percent - approved a future oversight board with the power to discipline or terminate police officers who use unwarranted force and violence. Yet People for Portland demands more police, without full accountability.
Hundreds of thousands of us elected progressive Black, Indigenous and other female leaders of color all across the city, from school board to county commission to the state legislature. Yet People for Portland demands more police, without full accountability - and its followers denigrate Jo Ann Hardesty and Carmen Rubio, the only two members of the Portland City Council to receive over 60 percent of the vote in their respective elections.
When we look to the West Hills of Portland, a neighborhood untouched by gun violence, we don’t see armed police patrols in their cruisers. We see financial stability, well-resourced schools and access to green space, all of which have been linked to abiding community safety.
Scapegoating breeds self-righteousness but it will never lead to lasting solutions to gun violence and homelessness. We should be setting our collective sights on the real threat among us: an entrenched social and political system that perpetuates crushing income inequality and racism.
As we work to secure racial, economic and environmental justice for everyone, we should be crafting our emergency responses to gun violence and homelessness by first centering the expertise of communities with those lived experiences.
Instead, People for Portland is attempting to force its own agenda upon our city, an agenda devised by two unelected political consultants who enjoy long-standing relationships with powerful moneyed interests. The campaign they have crafted deliberately sows mistrust and peddles fear.
We reject their subterfuge and speak directly:
To Black, Indigenous and other Portlanders of color - and to our unhoused neighbors of all races - we call out People for Portland’s trading on old fears and malicious stereotypes and we embrace and affirm our right to exist and thrive in this city.
To Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Mingus Mapps and Commissioner Dan Ryan, we demand you denounce the corrosive tactics of this dark money campaign.
To the secret donors reportedly concerned that a “dirty and dangerous” Portland brand is bad for business, we challenge you to have the decency to reveal yourselves and defend why you’re bankrolling a campaign that brands our beautiful, resilient city as dirty and dangerous.
To fellow residents who gave your personal details to People for Portland because you’re concerned about our shared home, we ask you to consider the harm that’s being done to Portland and her people in your name.
And, finally, to all Portlanders who dream of a city where every last one of us has the very basic needs of human life fulfilled: food on the table, a roof overhead, autonomy, dignity and hope. We’re dreaming that dream alongside you and we won’t rest until it comes.