To the Bus cave, Robin!

T.A. Barnhart

Politics rolls on relentlessly. This upsets many people, but at the Bus, well, hell, it's what we do. Given the causes being focused on this summer — health care, tax fairness, marriage equality — the need is too great to take the summer off. After all, injustice, poverty and the lingering shadow of infirmity and death take no time off. Why should we?

After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

Defend-Oregon-as-part-of-the-Bus-tice-League,-Aug-1,-2009—-01This is the Bus Project, however, and while the Evil Villains who are our Mortal Enemies are serious and grim, we're munching Voodoo Donuts, firing squirt guns, playing kickball and taking to the streets of Portland wearing superhero capes. Great Caesar's Ghost! It’s the Bus-tice League to the rescue: Oregon’s Greatest Superheroes.

Defend-Oregon-as-part-of-the-Bus-tice-League,-Aug-1,-2009---04For those of you who’ve never gone on a Bus trip (Hoky Smokes, Bullwinkle? Why not?) (hell yea, Rocket J Squirrel is one of America’s undersung superheroes, worthy of our Admiration and Quotationizing), the day always begins the same way: aimless mingling, half-hearted signing-in and increasinging meaningful consumption of bagels, coffee and juice. Some of us know each other, some of us are new to the Bus and a bit shy (or apprehensive) and some of us prepared for the day’s trip the same way Arlo Guthrie prepared for his draft board examination in “Alice’s Restaurant” (go look it up & get yourself a better cultural education).

But soon enough, we get down to business. On Saturday, we were walking for Defend Oregon, which is leading the fight to preserve vital changes the 2009 Legislature made to Oregon’s tax structure: the tiny increase to the corporate minimum tax (from $10/yr to $150/yr) and the increase in the marginal tax rate for high-income individuals and couples). Multi-billion dollar corporations, most of them headquartered outside of Oregon and currently paying the $10 minimum corporate tax (I pay that much before I have my second cup of tea at work), will spend millions to over-turn these uber-moderate measures — and eviscerate Oregon’s budget. But they don’t live here, so they don’t care.

Defend-Oregon-as-part-of-the-Bus-tice-League,-Aug-1,-2009---06We do live here, and we do care. As we got ready to hit the streets and talk to Portlanders about this issue, we heard from several of the legislators who stood up to the powerful corporate lobbyists in Salem and made these infinitesimal changes. Rep Ben Cannon spoke powerfully of the circumstances facing the Legislature when the session began and how vital it was their work not be undone by wealthy special interests. Rep Jefferson Smith, co-founder of the Bus and our truest superhero, reminded us of our role as citizen-activist-superheroes (and led a fascinating impromptu quiz on members of the Justice League and other comicbook trivia that demonstrated his comic geek creds). Rep Jules Bailey, the Leg’s least boring economist (a superpower if there ever was one) revised an important bit of trivia for many of us: in 1931, the corporate minimum was not raised to $10; it was lowered from $25 to $10 — where it remains today.

At this point in a Bus Trip, it would be Up, up and away! That is, we would get on the Bus and go to our destination locale. But on Saturday, we were walking Inner Southeast Portland, something I had never done before (with legislative candidates like Bailey, Tomei etc, what’s the point?). It seemed very odd. But our goal today was not to win hearts and minds, as we had been doing the week before when we went to Washington County to talk to voters about marriage equality in conjunction with Basic Rights Oregon. Saturday’s canvass was to speak to the voters most likely to support this campaign and get them to sign Defend Oregon’s pledge:


(We also carried pledges for BRO the previous weekend; pledges are the pinky-swears of political campaigns. Pinky-swears, I think, would be even more effective. Just saying.)

When the Bus arrives at its destination, we meet the candidate (during election season) and receive training, both on the issues we are walking for and how to most effectively interact with people at the door. Canvassing is a skill that does not come easily to most people. Some reluctant citizens never find the whatever-you-want-to-call-it necessary to address their fears and thus never learn, as every superhero must, what it means to take that first terrifying leap into the abyss — and survive. Fortunately, enough mild-mannered individuals are willing to face their destinies just enough to make it through one afternoon, sometimes enjoying it enough to return. Sometimes not.

Defend-Oregon-as-part-of-the-Bus-tice-League,-Aug-1,-2009---09Training is simple and to the point. The Bus has it down to 12 basic points, although for some reason we only bothered with 9 of them Saturday (it’s possible our enemies used a mind-control ray on Garrett and forced him to skip the 3 most important training points). Twelve or nin, they are common sense and enable volunteers to convey the message of the day quickly, effectively and in a manner that, as superhero extraordinaire Steve Novick (aka The Hook) explains, will associate the cause with “your bright, shining face”. Not everyone gets it right away…


… but they usually get there.

And then it’s to the streets. I went out with two Politicorps Fellows, Richelle DeVoe and Anja Wright; and another volunteer, Firefighter Matt (a real firefighter, too, an Everydamnday Hero). More about Politicorps, the closest thing we have to the X-Men training center:

Every summer, the Bus Project brings 2-dozen outstanding young men and women, most college-age, to Portland for a 10-week ultra-intensive training in political organizing and campaigning, Bus-style. (Mutants? Yes: far more socially aware and politically oriented than most of their peers, one of the good mutations the Bus seeks to foster and encourage.) Politicorps Fellows come across the nation — even Texas. They divide into teams to work on specific campaigns, but they all get the same hands-on, feet-on-the-street experience because they don’t assist their campaigns: they lead them. The Bus is damn serious about that part of its mission: “We drive leaders.”

Defend Oregon as part of the Bus-tice League, Aug 1, 2009 - 02This year, the Fellows are working with Basic Rights Oregon to prepare for a 2012 initiative battle to bring full marriage rights to all Oregonians; with Defend Oregon on tax fairness; and on an entirely Fellow-directed campaign aimed at educating targeted populations about health options, such as changes to the Oregon Health Plan for children. Yesterday’s canvass was the second of three on consecutive weekends, one for each campaign. Several Defend Oregon staffers were there — Jessica Kendall, who thanked the volunteers, and Stephanie, Communications Director who assured me, yes DO has a Twitter handle (@defendoregon, duh) and who joined us for the day. We were also joined by members of the Washington Bus Project, who brought their truly awesome Vote Bot (note to Vote Bot programmers: please ensure Bot knows whether or not it’s using open source software; quite embarrassing when it does not even understand the question and possibly a weakness your enemies might exploit).

Every Bus adventure features food before and after the canvass; there is always food, and frequently beverage, at any Bus event. When they return from their turf (on Saturday, about one-third of the volunteers joined “street teams” which worked the steets of downtown Portland), walkers tally the results of their efforts: number of doors knocked, number of pledges, number of conversations, etc. While they tabulate, they enjoy the food prepared by the day’s hosts or volunteer chefs. When everyone has turned in their tallies, walking list and other materials, prizes are awarded to those who had the best results (one member of the street team got 41 pledges signed!) and, like the Special Olympics (another source of superherodom), everyone who participates gets a prize (a massive box of comics from Dark Horse, from which I scored two issues of “Strangers in Paradise”. Shazam!).

Defend-Oregon-as-part-of-the-Bus-tice-League,-Aug-1,-2009---15(Oh yea, the people at the water fountain in the back: Politicorps Fellow Chris, from Lake Oswego, loads up his water pistol while fellow Fellows Chris & Liz stand by naively. Water was utilized in this pseudo-violent manner to facilitate both cooling and bonding. The best political work always involves child-like revelries.)

And then it’s clean-up and the post-event event. Last week, free passes to the E Room (thanks E Room); this week, kickball. Kickball is almost as difficult for me now as 52 as it was in junior high (PE was as healthy for me as kryptonite for Superman). I did hit a bases-clearing triple, and I skinned my knee making a catch; it was truly a day for super-powers all around. Jefferson Smith, as I said, our truest superhero this side of the all-powerful O-Prez, arrived late to play but got down to business in very Jefferson-like manner, organizing our defense and going Griffey on everyone with 2 homers while the rest of chased a yellow bouncy ball like demented sidekicks (pun intended). You betcha: at the end of a day walking the hot concrete of Portland while talking politics, an hour-and-a-half of running around a park in 90-degree heat is exactly what an old man’s body needs.

Defend-Oregon-as-part-of-the-Bus-tice-League,-Aug-1,-2009---16I have said it repeatedly in BlueOregon and elsewhere: The Bus Project is the leading progressive organization in Oregon. The Politicorps Fellows do not come from elite graduate schools; they come from diverse backgrounds across the country, and they are given great latitude to shape and run campaigns as they train to be future leaders. Volunteers are not micro-managed with strict message controls; they’re thanked profusely for participating and given the tools they need to be a successful part of a campaign. Anyone who wants to work closely with the Bus on an on-going basis is welcomed and given as much responsibility as they are will to take. Candidates and campaigns control their own message and program, of course, but the Bus instills in its volunteers a tangible and authentic sense of purpose and accomplishment. Anyone who has never participated in a Bus event, be it a Bus trip (next Saturday, August 8th, for health care with HCAN and OFA) or BrewHaHa or even Volunteer Wednesdays (come see the Nick Popenick Memorial Kegerator in action) does not know just how much they are missing.

Like grassroots political activists wearing superhero capes. Holy Democracy, Batman!


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    2 notes. 1, i did not grow up reading comic books, so my references in this post are weak, derivitive and should not reflect poorly on the number of comic geeks who were present Saturday. 2, the photos were taken with my iPhone for posting to Twitter during the day (@busproject & @defendoregon, not to mention #taxfairness). most taken in shadows or too-bright light; not great quality, but you should get the ... picture.

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    the Bus rolls again next Saturday, with Health Care for America Now! and Organizing for Justice. call the Bus (503.233.3018) and sign up to ride and make a difference in the lives of Oregon's children.

  • SwamiSam (unverified)

    I suppose an able-bodied person such as yourself on public assistance really needs to make sure more dollars are extracted from productive people to support you in the manner to which you have grown accustomed.

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    Go away, SwamiSam. There's no reason for such needless provocations and their responses.

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    It's a great group of fellows this year. Lots of great energy and ideas. If you haven't been to a Bus event recently, come out and meet some of them while you can.

  • VoteBot (unverified)

    VoteBot still loves you, T.A.

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    So, after years and years and years of canvassing, I am beyond burned out on it. Seriously -- I hyperventilate at the thought. What else can I do for the Bus Project?

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    Kristin, just come to this Saturday's Bus trip & hang out with us. you can help with food or logistics; you can go do street team if they do that; maybe you'll decide that a Bus canvas for health care is something not so burny-out after all. i don't know; just join us. also there is Volunteer Wednesdays, BrewHaHa, and tons of other things going on. just come Saturday morning -- 9:30 am, Eastbank Esplanade -- and ride with us to Salem. no one ever has to canvas, but you could carry my clipboard while i talk to people.

  • Rose Wilde (unverified)
    <h2>Yeah, you should go if nothing else to see Todd's rippling calves. Must be all the canvassing and darting his bike into traffic. Glad you are walking about TA.</h2>

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