What we stand for

Marc Abrams

The Oregonian takes more than its share of body blows at Blue Oregon (more than a few from me), but when they do something right, its worth noting as well.

The lead obit in today's paper wasn't an elected official, wasn't a titan of local industry.  Indeed, the death of comedian Bernie Mac was off to the side.  The majority of page A13 was taken up with the life story of Roger Gates.  Roger wasn't famous.  He was, by all accounts, a troubled man who was destroyed by alcohol.  He lived on a few hundred dollars a month, earned by selling Street Roots in front of the Trader Joe's on NW Glisan.  I bought a few, but mostly, like many others, I just moved on by.  He was always polite, friendly.

Roger died this weekend. He didn't invent anything, didn't cure anything. Occassionally, Street Roots ran his poetry.  But simply by being himself, he became a part of the community, a recognized face and a comforting consistency.

It would have been easy to let his passing, in a downtown SRO, go unnoted.  But the Big O didn't.  And in doing us the favor of not ignoring Roger Gates, they helped remind us of why we are Democrats, and who we represent.  Hubert Humphrey once said "the test of a nation is how it treats those at the beginning of life -- the children -- how it treats those at the end of life -- the elderly -- and how it treats those in the shadows of life -- the sick and the disabled."  That is the test of a party as well.  Part of that is how -- and if -- we choose to remember them.  So thanks to the Oregonian for a reminder of why I am a Democrat and who we fight for.  We fight for the Roger Gates' of the world.

Comments

  • Israel Bayer (unverified)
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    The big O did get it right. They did a bang up job on the Roger obit.

    Supporting people like Roger Gates means not only purchasing a paper from vendors, but actually reading Street Roots and becoming informed and engaged on the many issues facing people on the skids.

    Since 1979 both Republicans and Democrats have dismantled federal housing programs, while dumping the burden of homelessness and poverty on local communities, including city governments, faith based programs and overwhelmed non-profits.

    What we need are real federal dollars for housing and economic development for people living in the shadows. Without the Feds support individuals like Roger will continue to die long before their time...

  • Brian (unverified)
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    "He was, by all accounts, a troubled man who was destroyed by alcohol."

    Or you could have said "He was, by all accounts, a troubled man who destroyed himself with alcohol." Nothing against the man, mind you. We are all botched in one way or another, but I have a tendency to recoil when I see things framed like that. Remove all personal responsibility from the individual and place the blame squarely on ___[insert perceived societal ill here]. Yet another reason why I'm happy to be called a liberal, but don't lump me in with those who call themselves "progressives".

  • Bill Hall (unverified)
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    I want to applaud Marc's commentary and the comment of Israel, but must take exception to the statement about "personal responsibility." For more than 50 years, the medical community has considered addiction to be a disease, not a matter of choice or willpower.

    The Roger Gates obituary resonated with me for many reasons. Among the public hats I wear are Lincoln County Commissioner, vice chair of the Oregon Ending Homelessness Advisory Council and vice chair of the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Programs. I have learned a lot about homelessness and addictions in the past three-plus years, and I feel my education is just getting started.

    Homelessness is a complex issue with many causes. To oversimplify, mental illness, addictions, or a combination of the two are responsible for most homelessness among single adults. These issues, along with domestic violence, are also significant contributors to family homelessness, but the number one cause of family homelessness is poverty. (Oregon, BTW, ranks fifth in the nation for family homelessness right now.)

    Israel is absolutely right that the federal government abdicated its responsibility for providing housing almost three decades ago, a trend that has continued under administrations of both parties. An increase in the supply of affordable housing would go a long way toward alleviating homelessness, but we need to do much more. We need mental health treatment, addictions prevention and treatment, accessible and affordable health care and child care. We can make progress in these areas if the '09 Legislature is willing to take simple, but politically courageous steps like increasing the beer tax for the first time in 32 years or imposing a small surcharge on document recording fees, something seven other states are doing to provide dedicate revenues for housing and homelessness.

    I love the quote from Hubert Humphrey that Marc cited--it can also be found in our own Lincoln County plan to address homelessness and affordable housing. (One more statistic--our county has just under 500 school age children considered homeless by the federal government--the highest percentage of homeless school kids in any county in this state.)

    I'm ready to be called a bleeding heart. The editor of one local newspaper has already done so. I wear the label proudly, along with the labels Democrat, Oregonian and American.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    Thanks. Roger was a man of remarkable dignity, particularly but not exclusively given his circumstances.

    It was a shock to see his picture on the obituary page but we were grateful that the O covered it as they did. Just as we're grateful to that you've drawn attention to him and those circumstances here.

    To them and to you, we'd say - as "Sundance" always did - "God bless you and all your loved ones."

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    Thanks. Roger was a man of remarkable dignity, particularly but not exclusively given his circumstances.

    It was a shock to see his picture on the obituary page but we were grateful that the O covered it as they did. Just as we're grateful to that you've drawn attention to him and those circumstances here.

    To them and to you, we'd say - as "Sundance" always did - "God bless you and all your loved ones."

  • Murphy (unverified)
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    “Or you could have said "He was, by all accounts, a troubled man who destroyed himself with alcohol." Nothing against the man, mind you. We are all botched in one way or another, but I have a tendency to recoil when I see things framed like that. Remove all personal responsibility from the individual and place the blame squarely on ___[insert perceived societal ill here]. Yet another reason why I'm happy to be called a liberal, but don't lump me in with those who call themselves "progressives".

    Brian -- I’ve heard this meme over and over, and I suppose on some level you’re right, but I seriously doubt if, one day, this fellow woke up and said to himself, “You know, I’m bored, I think after breakfast I’ll become an alcoholic and ruin my life.” Some much more deeply seated in this man’s life started the ball rolling -- there but for the grace of God go I, and all that.

    My father-in-law died last year, and he had a terrible drinking problem that touched every person he was around. He become an alcoholic for many reasons but primarily to blunt the effects of a profound clinical depression that was diagnosed much too late in his life to do anything about. Given the choice, I doubt very much if he would’ve chosen this particular illness to self-medicate with alcohol -- and I don’t think he was accountable for it either.

    Personal responsibility is all well and good, and you’re probably right about there being a lack of it generally in our society, but alcoholism -- like any addiction -- is indeed both a disease caused by, and a symptom of deeper demons, and those who suffer from it, along with their families, need compassion and treatment, not a “you did it to yourself” scolding.

    Human behaviors and psychology is must too complex for absolutes to hold in this case. There are cases where the ideal of personal responsibility does not apply when it comes to severe, deadly addictions.

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    It is not impossible for personal responsibility, circumstantial causes, and social responsibility to deal with circumstances to coexist. Circumstances affect how people exercise and at times even can exercise their personal responsibility.

    U.S. culture puts too much emphasis on personal responsibility in ways that deny our human personal responsibilities toward one another.

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