Will mayoral candidates be tribunes of the people?

Chris Lowe

When the ancient Roman republic was riven by class warfare, with its government, the Senate, governing in favor of the patrician aristocrats who elected it, the balance was to a degree redressed by the creation of the office of tribune. Tribunes were quasi-judicial officers who took complaints from ordinary citizens and sometimes advocated on their behalf to the Senate, and sometimes held hearings and meted out punishments and compensations against the overweaning wealthy.

Today we are faced by class warfare being waged on ordinary people by malefactors of great wealth, in Franklin Roosevelt's phrase, not just individual wealthy persons, but organized wealth, in the form of corporations and their lobbyists. Arrogant beyond belief, they have crashed our economy and preached belt-tightening to the rest of us while continuing to massively divert the fruits of our increased productivity to their own pockets.

We need our local officials to be our tribunes to higher levels. Specifically, we need our next mayor to do so.

One feature of this process is the imposition of cuts in services at the local and state levels, driven in part by balanced budget requirements.

Unfortunately the attitude of most local elected and appointed officials is that they should manage public opinion into accepting cuts, rather than seeking to mobilize the public to resist them.

The people increasingly are resisting this. Portland Jobs with Justice and its allies have for several years been organizing around the slogan "Good Jobs, Not Cuts." The Occupy Movement has rung many changes on that theme. In the past two weeks, communities have rallied to resist austerity under the guise of spurious necessity in the Parkrose and Gresham-Barlow school districts that tried to impose unfair contracts on teachers -- a struggle still continuing in Reynolds. Today Portland school students walked out in their hundreds and marched on the District Offices to demand a reversal of proposed cuts. On May 5, a number of community groups and unions under the auspices of Occupy Portland's Labor Solidarity Committee will hold a Community Assembly for a People's Budget (see also here) at the First Unitarian Church to challenge the elitist assumptions and cuts orientations of Portland, TriMet and other regional budgets. On May 11, there will be a large rally of parents, students, educators and community allies to reject cuts and demand changes in the funding of education in the state that leads to relentless cuts and weakening of education (hat tip to Kristin Teigen).

Will any of the mayoral candidates be tribunes of people in these matters for us locally, not seeking to manage us into accepting spurious austerity, but providing leadership and using the tools of local government to amplify and render more effective our demands on the state and federal levels that have capacity to deal with the problems?

Charlie Hales says he will advocate for more school funding at the state level. Eileen Brady says much the same, specifying that she will advocate in Salem for health care savings to free money for education. It is not clear if this is a robbing Peter to pay Paul measure, e.g. by cutting needed health services, or advocating to cut educator health benefits, or something else. Jefferson Smith speaks in addition, vaguely, of reaching to our federal elected officials, and of seeking better coordination among local government bodies.

But none of them speak of conducting vigorous, aggressive advocacy for our needs. None of them speak of coordinating among local governments for such advocacy. None of them speak of coordinating with counterparts in other cities and localities to resist austerity at the federal level broadly from the grassroots, not just to our local delegation.

Can any of them be counted upon to be leaders against austerity, rather than managers to lower our expectations?

Replies from supporters or candidates themselves cheerfully accepted.

Happy May Day! An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

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      This is a good answer that I accept at the level of his individual advocacy.

      But another part of my question is about leadership in galvanizing other leaders and to cooperate and advocate collectively on our behalf. J. S.' website advocates collaboration to seek budgetary efficiencies, which is a good thing, but what I'm asking about is taking institutional positions rejecting austerity ideology, and taking leadership roles in organizing resistance to austerity ideology.

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    But what can the mayor do at higher levels?

    At the state level, maybe something can be accomplished, if he or she can successfully negotiate with powerful interests beyond Portland's boundaries for a sadly shrunken pile of state money.

    But at the federal level? As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and more than 40 votes in the Senate, the mayor of Portland and indeed Oregon's Democratic representatives and senators have little clout in Washington, D.C.

    The tribunes of the Roman Republic were quickly swallowed up by the dictators of the Roman Empire. The latter period may be a closer analogy to our situation.

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    Balancing a budget isn't about austerity, it is about honesty. The money to pay salaries and benefits has to come from somewhere, and if it isn't coming from new tax revenue it is coming from service cuts or cannibalizing other programs.

    I'm voting for Smith in part because more than the other candidates he gets that "what should we do?" and "how should we pay for it?" are not separate questions.

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