Were skating on thin ice. Im not talking about parking meister Greg Goodmans scheme to drop his ice follies into the middle of Portlands living room several months a year. Unless Goodman intends to stage reenactments of the Harding-Kerrigan bout, his proposed skating rink will just close up more public space in this city while drawing few downtown shoppers in return.
No, the ice Im worried about extends beyond our city limits to the boundaries of our state. Its the economic surface on which Oregon society is built, and its fracturing fast. As the cracks and holes grow larger, thousands of Oregonians mostly the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and an increasingly unemployed or underemployed working class are about to fall through. Yet Oregon leaders from the newly elected Governor to our own city council are unwilling to break out of the neoliberal strait-jackets they so have so willingly donned and worn for the past two decades.
As this issue of The Alliance goes to press, Oregonians are casting their ballots on Measure 28, a stopgap measure that temporarily raises income taxes enough to prevent the most drastic cuts from occurring. With the exception of the Freedom Socialist Party, which joined the ranks of tax conservatives like Bill Sizemore in opposing Measure 28 (albeit, for very different reasons), most moderate, liberal and progressive leaders and organizations support this financial Band-Aid.
Unfortunately, that support does not seem to be translating into much action. Organized labor is working overtime to turn out the vote. State employee unions, after all, face the double threat of positions lost through cut services, and state contracts expiring in June. The new Governor has kept his distance, however, while the absence of an aggressive Yes on Measure 28 campaign from other quarters is disturbingly noticeable. So, too, are the polling results as we go to press, showing slightly more than 50 percent of Oregonians opposing the tax hike and fewer than 36 percent in favor.
Moving beyond the Measure 28 debate, and the fact that we are 46th in the nation in government spending, and that our economy now more closely resembles pre-1970s Alabama and Mississippi, we now face the prospect of significantly more Oregonians dying from hunger, lack of medical care, and lack of proper shelter. In response, our new Governor, other so-called leaders ,and our fourth estate talk about building a strong Oregon Brand that will attract businesses to our state. They talk about more friendly business climates. They talk about the urban-rural split and the political logjams that arise when the spirit of bipartisanism is absent.
But as anyone knows who has watched the political debacle unfold in Oregon over the past 25 years, what our leadership doesnt talk about is usually more important.
What they are not talking about is the course these same leaders have steered since the 1980s. For 25 years they have been instituting structural adjustments within Oregon that would make the World Bank proud. Tax rates have been lowered and flattened. Government services have been rolled back or privatized where possible. The common wealth has been transferred to corporate elites through subsidies, tax abatement programs, urban renewal districts and other devices. The states economic strategy has been integrated into the global economy, chained to transnational corporations and the volatile global markets in which they operate. Oregon leaders have jogged down the same path as many World Bank clients in the developing world, but now act surprised to find the end of that path leads to misery, pain and loss for most Oregonians.
So where do we go from here?
As progressives, we must seek to provide immediate relief for those most at risk. We need to be promoting efforts to sustain services because lives depend on those services. Decency must come before dogma. But we cannot allow ourselves to remain mired in the liberal swamp which keeps us stuck in place, letting a few play insider legislative games while hoping that some day the Democrats will regain power in Oregon and the nation, and do the right thing.
We have a responsibility to cut through the neo-liberal rhetoric our politicians and the corporate-dominated press espouses. We must do all within our power to focus on the real cause of our troubles: a distribution of wealth that enriches the few who produce nothing while impoverishing the many who actually create the wealth. Whether you are a progressive who believes capitalism with a human face is possible or want to get rid of the whole rotten system, we can all come together around the issue of wealth.
In some ways, Sept. 11 and the mobilization for war against Iraq derailed a growing awareness of this issue. The collapse of the stock market and the dot.com tycoons, corporate fraud and other multi-million dollar examples of a corrupt system were causing more people to question 25 years of corporate-dominated public policy. The possibility of war, however, telescoped focus on immediate steps for mobilizing against that threat. But that doesnt need to remain the case. In fact, bringing together the local and the international crises offers a vehicle for a well-mobilized peace movement to take the next logical step: political action against the underlying causes of both.
This course will be filled with obstacles. While Portlands peace movement continues to make progress in broadening the scope of its analysis, it still tends to balk when mobilizing large numbers like it did on Jan. 18. Linking the war with corporate dominance will alienate some middle class participants. But such a move will open doors to communities who are not only feeling the impacts of the local crisis but will most likely provide more than their share of the women and men who will be expected to lay down their lives to protect corporate interests in the Middle East.
Many within those communities already understand the problem. Disabled veteran Roberta Sesso, for instance, telephoned the Alliance office as this piece was being written to express her outrage over the decision to cut general assistance payments. Many of the people she knows will be left without a way to survive. She wanted to know why people were willing to let Bush spend billions on a so-called crisis in the Middle East while ignoring the very real crisis unfolding around them.
Roberta is not an isolated case. Thousands of working Oregonians are tired of the lies and compromises from our leaders. Thousands more now find themselves with their backs to the wall. They have no more time or patience for friendly business climates, major league ballparks, corporate subsidies and all the other panoply of our corporate-dominated society. They are ready to consider bold actions and bold solutions to this thorny question of wealth.
The only question we progressives have to ask ourselves is whether we are bold enough to follow their lead.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: January 29, 2003