SISTERS OF THE ROAD GARNERS $250,000 GANDHI PACIFIST INSTITUTE ORGANIZING GRANT
Sisters of the Road, a homeless advocacy and civil rights NGO in downtown Portland, recently was awarded (from NW Health Foundation/Kaiser) a grant for $250,000 to create a Gandhi Institute for Pacifist Organizing in Portland.
According to Brandon Phillips and Richard Walden, staffers at Sisters of the Road, Sisters this spring was able to successfully get a $250,000 grant from NW Health Foundation (Kaiser) to initiate a Gandhi Institute for nonviolent organizing.
Sisters recently redesigned their advocacy group, CAG, Citizens Action Group, into four committees. While the plans for how to use the $250,000 pacifist organizing grant are being formulated, questions can be asked about the role of Sisters, Street Roots, WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project) -- as well as large, nonprofit landlords/slumlords like Central City Concern in downtown Portland (and the landlord for Sisters itself, on the first floor of the Butte Building).
Moreover, recent Obama Administration efforts to privatize much of the low-income housing sector in the U.S. (Obama, sometimes, says he is for free trade and deregulation, still!), raises questions about several issues in terms of community organizing, broad coalitions, and effective organizing locally, regionally, nationally, globally:
**pacifism v. anarchism (Dr. King and Gandhi v. Malcolm X, Ben Linder, Che Guevera, etc.)
**the homophobic black Christian minister(s) who also support police reform (the recent forum at the Unitarian Church
was highlighted in this light by Oregonian lesbian columnist Anna Griffin) -- but in a pacifist manner
**whether Street Roots and Sisters of the Road, while being great NGOs in terms of serving poor people and advocating against
sit lie 1 and 2 (Sisters Ex. Dir. Monica Beemer just had an op-ed against sit lie 2 put online by the Oregonian this
week) -- at the same time, may be 'enabling' slumlord behavior by the housing industry in the public sector and nonprofit
sector in the city of Portland?
**at the Unitarian Church forum on police reform, an anarcist organizer talked about resistance and community-building, rather
than simply pacifist or incremental police 'reforms' (the Oregonian columnist seemed less than thrilled with this
anarchist perspective, as the speaker referenced the Black Panthers building community power as an example, but was a
white anarchist speaker -- maybe half of the panel at the Unitarian Church was African-American with AMA, Albina
In terms of the $250,000 pacifist grant for organizing that Sisters of the Road has been able to get -- does this mean Sisters will "only" work with pacifist groups and organizers in Portland? For example, Kate Lore, the Social Justice Minister at the downtown Unitarian Church, who moderated the police reform forum last week on a Thursday night -- had the audience (or some of the audience, at any rate) recite out loud from a computer overhead a pledge of unity that talked about Martin Luther King and nonviolent resistance.
Given the slumlord conditions many low-income tenants face daily in Portland, Oregon and other cities around the country; given the number of people sleeping out in Portland now in empty storefronts and under bridges in the City of Roses; given the 8 years and counting imperial oil and drug wars in Kabul and Baghdad; given the austerity budget cuts which ostensibly are needed and being pushed by banks and others (TriMet's board is set to vote tomorrow, Wed., for a third round of bus and MAX service cuts, axe three bus routes, plus raise fares five cents a ride) -- given the 15,000,000 people still hunting for a job in the U.S., is pacifism only the best/most effective way to create change? Given the ongoing deaths of people in Portland killed at the hands of police, what is a $250,000 grant for pacifist organizing meant to accomplish (on the part of the grantor)??
Not to mention Obama's Katrina, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sisters staffer Richard Walden, for example, says that he believes Sisters is far better, for example, than Central City Concern, as a nonprofit, per se (and probably far more visible among everyday folks in Portland than CCC is, as well). Many tenant activists and homeless activists note that Central City Concern trashes both their own workers (three Tenant Rights Project organizers recently met with six AFSCME stewards and the AFSCME VP at their office on SE 60th and Burnside to discuss CCC management practices) and trashes their own tenants, as well. CCC seems to behave in terms of Oregon's Landlord-Tenant Law not applying to them: that habitability and liveability provisions of the landlord-tenant law shouldn't be pursued by CCC tenants and that tenants should simply 'be grateful to be out of the cold in the winter' according to a statement by CCC's $100,000 per year CEO, Ed Blackburn.
Not to diminish or critique either Dr. King nor Gandhi as organizers, per se. These two men are two of the very best organizers in the history of resistance to abuses of power, Dr. King against racism, poverty and war in the U.S., and Gandhi against British imperialism and poverty (and landlords!!!) in colonial India.
If the $250,000 Sisters of the Road nonviolent organizing grant is used to fight for economic justice -- that will be money well spent. If however, some or all of those resources go to promoting a pacifist-only, almost theocratic philosophical agenda, that may prove more problematic.
For example, Right 2 Survive recently considered setting up an organizing training and discussed at a meeting in May who might be a good facilitator, or provide a good, participatory process for such a workshop or training. Tom Hastings, a Conflict Resolution teacher at Portland State, and a pacifist, was suggested, but after some discussion, a more participatory training and workshop was proposed. Hastings, in his class on Nonviolence at Portland State, frequently states that Ben Linder, Che Guevera, Stalin, Hitler, etc. -- are all the same, because they all picked up the gun and used violence. In fact, Hastings has self-published a book critiquing a book by Ward Churchill -- Pacifism as Pathology.
At PSU, in fact, PSU Campus Ministries, at one point, held four monthly forums (with up to 100 people) discussing Churchill's articles (which are similar to those of Malcolm X) which state that self-defense is a legitimate (and necessary) form of protest. Washington and Jefferson, Lenin and Trotsky, Danton and Robespierre used self-defense and revolution to oust right-wing national governments.
Here in liberal, progressive Portland, there is a tendency (at Portland City Council and elsewhere) to be polite, to be civil, and to discourage genuine disagreements. Corporate media, of course (Oregonian as number one example) divide protest into "legitimate" (does that mean middle class and pacifist?) protest v. 'non-productive' (or anarchist?) protest.
Larger coalitions working for radical change might blend tactics to win victories. There does seem to be some drift, among some local NGOs, evidently, re: focus, commitment to radical change, and organizing versus simply protecting one's funding base (or exanding it). Even in local government, is it really necessary for the mayor of Portland (as profiled in that corporate outlet, the Oregonian) to have 26 staff people at pretty affluent salary levels -- in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression?
At a recent Street Roots board meeting this spring, Street Roots president Israel Beyer commented that 'we should get some of that WalMart money' as WalMart (opposed even by Sam Adams!) is trying to 'donate' to local nonprofits to increase the likelihood in Portland that there will be militant resistance to more WalMarts popping up in River City -- to go along with the one near SE 82nd and Holgate. Kaiser and Boeing, according to Beyer, are also interested in donating to Street Roots.
There isn't a 100% trade-off between nonprofit fundraising versus co-optation, but, in terms of media access, and local media coverage of protests, it does seem like the types of protests privileged are 'manageable' and 'circumscribed,' per se. In terms of media literacy, a Reed senior and volunteer for the last six months with Tenant Rights Project (Tom) wrote his 100 page thesis on the ways in which Portland's non-profit housing sector (specifically, CCC) and the Housing Bureau, the real estate industry, Portland's planning bureaucracy, and social service agencies, tend to use 'marginilization' as a way to silence or make invisble protest by the poor on tenant rights and other issues.
While Sisters of the Road got great coverage in the Oregonian (two page story, two photos) and Willamette Week (long interview with Sisters staffer Brandon Phillips, with photo, and a non-endorsement 'endorsement' of "the amazing" Nick Fish, before the May primary election) -- for protesting the implementation of Sit Lie 2 by the Portland City Council, the city council still voted unanimously to adopt sit lie 2. It is is great that Monica (Sisters director) sent in the online Oregonian op-ed this week, continuing to protest sit-lie.
The first sit lie was overturned by a lawsuit in court, and maybe that will work this time, as well.
On the other hand, activist radical change coalitions might accomlish more: like actually using the many empty buildings throughout Portland to put every person sleeping outdoors inside and dry, now; like actually getting specific police involved in the recent spate of shootings fired (Frashour, Nice and Humphreys); like getting slumlords to tent and fumigate their buildings to nuke cockroaches, mice, bedbugs); and more.
address: PO Box 40011, Portland, Oregon 97240
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