Monday, May 18, 2009

for those who do good in the face of indifference...

in the past month, and especially recently, i've watched good people who continually fight the good fight for the most vulnerable in our nation and our world, get beat down by the scapegoat of the economy and our inability to put people first in very real ways. Not that our economic crisis isn't real - it is. But that should call us to provide MORE for our suffering brothers and sisters, not less.

In my own life, I see many people trying to pull their church towards the good, and facing more resistance than ever to these "expensive" programs. Not that I think we mean to do ill instead of good, but just that we Christians have forgotten the very thing we learned again this Sunday - Peter says, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality." And we ALSO learn that God is love.

Anyways, it's easy to get down when people much better than myself are losing fights based not on the opposition of a hateful few, but the inaction of many and the obsession with saving money. And then I happened to look over at my bulletin board and realized that I had put up a quote for exactly these types of discouraging times. Here it is...

"And yet, and yet, the times are inexhaustibly good, solaced by the courage and hope of many. The truth rules, Christ is not forsaken. In a time of death, some men and women -- the resisters, those who work hardily for social change, those who preach and embrace the unpalatable truth -- such men and women overcome death, their lives are bathed in the light of the Resurrection, the truth has set them free. In the jaws of death, of contumely, of good and ill report, they proclaim their love of the people. We think of such men and women in the world, in our nation, in the churches, and the stone in our breast is dissolved. We take heart once more."
-Daniel Berrigan.

So, thanks to all the resisters in my life. You're what I wanna be when I grow up...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

an open (and unneccesarily optimistic) letter to Portland

Dear Portland,

As you may know (and may not actually care), I am leaving this city soon. And, while I know that you lose people just about as often as you gain people, I am one of the few remaining native Portlanders in my friend group, which is relatively significant (at least to me).

So, I am leaving a will and testament of sorts, in case I do something really stupid, like I don't come back (I'm not dying or anything - I may just get stuck in the Midwest). This is a list of suggestions to make sure this place isn't just one giant coffee shop/architecture firm when I return. Or Beaverton. (No offense to the joys of Beaverton. I just don't want two of them.)

Mainly, I am writing this letter because I'm not convinced that the things that make this city great - REALLY great, not just invest-your-corporate-money-here great - are really being promoted and supported by our government, by our investment capital, or by my church.

So, in no particular order, here's my top ten list of demands (albeit gentle, suggest-y demands)

1 - Please recognize that, in addition to being louder than you might prefer or potential distractions on your morning commute, our homeless brothers and sisters are ambassadors to our community and the best indicators of the health of our city. Many of these folks have been living on our streets longer than you've been in this city! They deserve to be here, and they deserve to be housed. Please stop ignoring them. And for God's sake, don't let our government take away their services. Also, they could use another public shower and some of those space-age restrooms. Thanks.

2- Our city is super-white. I think most of us know this. But it's not ENTIRELY white. Keep this in mind, please, when people start talking about gentrification. It's a fact, but there are ways we can build coffee shops and local clothing stores that don't shut down the house painters, locksmiths, and janitorial businesses that have been there. I am telling you this, because I just realized that the gym I really, really love going to is in part responsible for the closing of a janitorial supply store on NE Alberta. I am a part of gentrification, and if you're middle/upper class and/or white in this town, you might be too. But, I think that if we create enough political will in the white community, we could do good things with our purchasing power and help keep businesses run by people of color afloat.

3- a word to my Catholic homies about community organizing. This really applies to most people, but here's the deal - I came under a lot of flack for talking about empowerment organizations this year. Protecting widows and strangers in the land is in the Bible. One of the best known facts about the early church is that they relied on communal economics AND NO ONE WAS IN NEED. No one. Because they ORGANIZED. Supporting folks in poverty who want their voices heard doesn't make me a Communist. It makes me a Christian. Most folks who opposed this are, of course, not my friends on Facebook so I am fussing to the choir. But seriously, all Portlanders, here's the deal: do you have a need for some carpentry or yard work help? Hire from the VOZ Day Labor Center. Want to know what's happening with social services in City Hall? Sidle on up to your local Street Roots vendor with a buck and find out. Hungry and find yourself downtown? Let me introduce you to Sisters of the Road Cafe - the food is awesome. Not sure about your rights as a renter? Thank goodness for the folks at Community Alliance of Tenants! Interested in meeting cool folks with and without developmental disabilities? Well, hellloooooo, L'Arche Nehalem! Portland, our nonprofit community is RAD! We have, last I checked, the most nonprofits per capita. And the above-listed groups, plus many others, bring light into our community and make us really LOOK at vulnerable groups in our community as people with skills and gifts and dignity. And if they're gone when I come back, you have no idea how angry I'll be...seriously!

4-please make Voodoo Donuts continue their vegan donut-making - it's delicious...

5-Portland, did you know we have a thriving poetry scene? Find it. Not your thing? We have actual museums. And theaters. And a ballet. AND THEY'RE NOT JUST FOR RICH PEOPLE! Check check check it out!

6-It's probably time to stop making fun of Vancouver and Gresham now. They both have farmers markets now, and they're probably what allows us to do all the gentrifying we want. But feel free to continue complaining about I-5. It sucks!

7-This 12-lane bridge to Vancouver? We're all pretty clear on the fact that it's a bad idea, right?

8-Please keep Mayor Sam Adams from going completely insane on the job, okay? (Clarification before people start stalking and killing me - I don't dislike the man and think he was one of our better Commissioners. And, first personal scandal aside, I was very excited for him to take office. But leaving aside this latest traffic mishap, I am consistently underwhelmed. Soccer stadium? Literally building a bridge? Eh. Whatever.)

9-Lower taxes in exchange for crappy schools? Not okay. Not even if you're Bill Sizemore. Oh, and if you could continue keeping Sizemore initiatives from passing, I'd be grateful!

10-At risk of showing the Facebook crowd what a ridiculous hippie I am - just take a little better care of each other, Portland. This place is wacky as hell, and there are things about it I won't miss at all (I'm looking at you, Superfund sites and torrential downpours and downtown Friday night bar crowds), but my friend Mark once wrote this poem about how you could never be truly sad if you lived on a street called Lovejoy. And I think that's how I feel about this whole town. From NE 102nd to the Pearl District (that one's hard for me) to Woodstock to OHSU, it's a place that has been wonderful to me and to people I love. And it's a city that could always be better. Not for investors, not for people in New York who constantly measure "livability" (which is a stupid word) but for US! And for people whose voices might not get heard amid the more polished, well-paid voices and our busy lives that don't allow for many interruptions, especially interruptions that make us feel selfish or guilty or sad. But we're the kid in elementary school who has amazing potential and just needs to buckle down. We need to buckle down to the work of taking care of each other and taking care of this city. So, make it happen while I'm gone and I swear I'll use the rest of my professional life to do repay you for doing that, by doing it, too...

[Edited to add: Bonus 11th request: Drink more coffee at Jim and Patty's. You loved 'em when they were the original Coffee People, and you'll love 'em now!]

Feel free to discard all these suggestions and make Portland better however you see fit. But if it sucks when I come back, trust that I will find you!

Cat Willett
Your Number One Fan