Portland in Progress: Reflections of a One Percenter

By Cameron Whitten of Portland, Oregon. Cameron is a 21 year old student and community activist. He is most known for his leadership in Occupy Portland, and ran for Mayor of Portland in 2012.

I remember the Willamette Week interview, where Mark Zusman told me I sounded bitter, after lamenting how I was being snubbed by the media and forum organizers, despite my endorsements, rising familiarity, and service in the community. I replied, "Not bitter, just stating the facts."

It was the biggest lie I told during the entire campaign.

I entered the race because I felt betrayed by our Mayor and Police Chief who had misinformed the general public in order to take the easy route in dealing with America's budding social movement. My first impression of the political scene was the lack of diversity between the front-running candidates, whether it was creed, race, class, sexuality, age, etc., there was a huge void of representation within our 'representative democracy'. I quickly became obsessed.

My biggest dismay was the lack of empowerment I endured from Portland's progressive community. Most notably, by organizations who were founded on achieving social justice for marginalized demographics. When I informed Pride Northwest that I was the only queer identified candidate, they responded that I would not be invited to their Evening with the Candidates, that it had nothing to do with me. The Skanner refused to return my calls and emails, despite being the only African American running. Street Roots, which advocates for the houseless community, never published an article, despite knowing that I had experienced bouts of homelessness while living in Portland. My biggest disappointment was the Urban League, who initially invited me to participate on their forum of equity, diversity, and inclusiveness, then ultimately decided that I shouldn't be included. These are only a few examples of injustice, but as a whole, the lengths that many of these institutions went to neutralize the voice of their community was extensive.

It was not all disappointing, and I thank organizations and community leaders like the Portland Observer, PQ Monthly, the Q Center, the Working Families' Party, Bruce Broussard, and Eileen Brady for their commitment to a more equitable society.

But when it comes to Portland's claims as the most Progressive City in America, I was clearly in want of more.

I scratched my head when I overheard others say that twenty three was a lot of candidates, as Portland contains a population well over 500,000, and in this recession, our society is in desperate need of leaders who will respond to the call of civic duty. In the aftermath of the Primaries, media outlets and nominees who survived the ax boasted that Portlanders don't respond to big money candidates, although in truth, the only options they had to choose from were big money. In absence of VOE, candidates without heavy outside contributions were treated as invisible, despite their unique proposals and commitments to civic responsibility. The ninety-nine percent is constantly disenchanted by this political apartheid, which I believe is the main reason why there is always a low voter turnout in local elections.

In my strong, five month run, our energetic team achieved milestones, whether it was making news, meeting influential figures like Ralph Nader and Rocky Anderson, or challenging other candidates on their priorities and standards. My gratitude is boundless for the people who believed in me, and I am inspired to continue with my head held high, due to your rare qualities of courage and understanding. This isn't going to be my last appearance on Portland's political stage, but I hope in sharing my experiences, we might all learn a little, and become better from it.

Pragmatism is the bane of an evolved society.

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    Cameron, Jeff: I'd underscore Cameron's point about the absence of VOE. One of the real benefits of the system was that the qualifying requirements established a viability hurdle - an opportunity to establish a kind of credibility Jeff's describing for candidates.

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    Curious, did you try to reach out to the Multnomah Democratic Central Committee to see about speaking to the membership at one of the monthly meetings..?

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    Jeff, thank you for your words.

    I believe we have reached separate conclusions on the premise of my article.

    Questions about my capacity as an entry level Mayor are acceptable. I would not have entered the race if I had not felt as I had demonstrated my leadership and commitment to this wonderful City, although admittedly I am an amateur to public administration.

    My grievances are focused, not on the fact that I was not successful in enduring the Primary, but that Portland failed in upholding our standards of equity and fairness.

    There were multiple roadblocks for myself and other candidates when it came to increasing the much needed dialogue that was lacking from more successful candidates, which spent more of their time raising funds, and selling the idea of themselves and undermining the credentials of their competitors, rather than directly tackling the immediate needs of Portland's future, i.e. my emphasis on Charter Review, or Scott Fernandez on the Water Bureau.

    A common theme to these forums was the discussion of equity, which immediately became a contradiction, reflected by the lack of an equitable format.

    If we wish to have more than a 28% voter turnout, we will need to prevent fellow citizens from being treated as second class, and ensure that others can feel included and listened to, rather than allowing politics to remain the boys club that it is, which can be extremely difficult for outsiders to tolerate.

    My social challenge is this: we embrace the inconvenience of being more receptive to our community, and try to foster some Unity out of it.

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    I attend one of the meetings. I am not a registered Democrat, and I was not allowed to have a formal presentation.

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    Mr. Whitten,

    Mr. Alworth is being nice. Take his advice and stay involved but do not expect anyone to hand you anything in Oregon politics. Some of us have been working on shaping the polis for some time now and know the hard knocks lessons by heart, like the one Mr. Alworth is trying to relay to you now.

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    Before I posted this article I asked myself a critical question, one I hope you will consider. What will be more beneficial in the future, do we change our expectations of society, or do we change society's perception of itself. The context of this article probes further than a 21 year old who campaigned for Mayor. It emphasized inclusiveness and empowerment.

    Most people are so disenfranchised, that they refuse to participate in the electoral process. And if their experience is anywhere close to mine, I can completely understand why. If someone experiences more negatives than positives in the way they are treated, why would they repeat that behaviour in the future? Being nice is no substitute for empowerment and inclusion. If we wish to unite our diverse communities together, we will have to eliminate this dog eat dog mentality, and practice cooperation for a more prosperous, equitable future.

    My opinion on Oregon politics remains the same, we must have a paradigm shift in our culture, or our representative democracy will continue to be as homogenous, oppressive, and noninclusive as it continues to be.

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    It doesn't appear to me that Cameron is voicing his concerns in particularly self-centered terms, but a number of the responses seem to be taking up only the parts that relate to him as an individual, and not the ones that relate to our purported values about opening politics to people from marginalized communities.

    The advice offered, considered from that point of view, boils down to: "Don't bother me kid, come back when you're less marginalized."

    Is that really adequate?

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    Content of character means more to me than "identity politics". I recognize my privilege as a strait educated white guy form L.O. but do not judge me by that. Character takes time to develop and to judge; shooting for the mayor's office was evidently too ambitious for Mr. Whitten. I just don't want him to be discouraged. He didn't win, but he made a difference and the "establishment" of Oregon politics needs that sooo bad. Keep it up Sir and show people your inside as well as your outside; politics is about trust and Oregonians have a lot of guts.

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