Some of you know that I host a community tv show in Portland with city councilors Victoria Pelletier and Roberto Rodriguez. Pathways to Progress is broadcast live from the Portland Media Center providing space to explore progressive opportunities in municipal government.
With a big election coming November 8, our episode #7 in October focused on the big money campaign opposing all thirteen of the ballot measures that voters will address. That’s right: corporate money is advising folks to just vote no on all of them. Disrespecting that the Charter Commission worked for months to craft Questions 1-8 based on input from the public. Disrespecting that Questions A-E were placed on the ballot via citizens initiatives. And maybe implying that voters are too numb to think through them all? Hard to say.
What can be said for certain: the big money in this election — $430k and counting — is on preserving the white supremacist form of city government designed in the 1920’s with Ku Klux Klan help.
Currently Portland’s city manager role has most of the executive power with a weak role for mayor and other members of the city council. Thus a bureaucrat with no accountability to voters makes many of the decisions affecting them. Charter commissioners recommended fixing this by returning to a more responsive form of government. More districts with fewer constituents in each means a bigger city council, and a strong mayor that can be removed by either voters or the council is part of this plan.
Blogger/podcaster Samuel James has an excellent overview of the city manager role and its roots in slavery and Jim Crow in this month’s Mainer magazine.
The history of the city manager form of government is a story of a small group of powerful, extremist white supremacists using their power to successfully normalize their hate. The problem with normalizing hate is not just that we stop being able to see it. It’s also that we then defend it. We forget the progress this country was once moving toward. We forget that some cities weren’t always segregated. We forget why the KKK marched through our streets and we forget that they won. And even though we can clearly see their desired outcomes all around us, many will say we should do nothing. “It used to be worse,” they’ll say, leaving out that it also used to be better. “That isn’t the right way,” they’ll say, even though it is the only way. “It’s complicated,” they’ll say, and that’s usually true, but this one time it’s actually simple.
This November, Portlanders voting “yes” on Question 2 will be voting for more democracy.
This article is partially a transcript from Samuel James’ new podcast, 99 Years, exploring why Maine continues to be the whitest state. More information is available at 99YearsPod.com.
On Friday, November 4 our next episode of Pathways to Progress airs on Channel 5 locally (also watchable online).
Just prior to the election, episode #8 will use lightning rounds to consider all the ballot questions with emphasis on the changes to city government.
Those changes include two other questions designed to increase access and participation for all Portlanders: proportional ranked choice voting, and a clean elections fund.
Also significant are measures to control skyrocketing rents in Portland, and to raise the minimum wage. Obstructing equity in prosperity is also a white supremacy issue.