March 1 2016 – “Portland Voters Get Their Mayoral Debate Free of Corporate Interference After All”

Paul Cienfuegos’ March 1, 2016 Commentary on KBOO Evening News

(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)

Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. Today’s commentary and next week’s commentary will continue to focus on the extraordinary turn of events that have taken place over these past three weeks, regarding the Oregonian newspaper’s attempt to pre-select our next mayor for us.

Last week, I reported on the Oregonian’s plan to hold what they claimed was a mayoral debate. It was scheduled to take place last night at Revolution Hall in southeast Portland. Of course, it wasn’t going to be a real debate, as the Oregonian had invited only two of the twelve registered candidates, Ted Wheeler and Jules Bailey, claiming that they were the “front-runners” and the only two who had any chance of winning the race, so why bother inviting anyone else.

The level of arrogance that this demonstrated among the paper’s decision-makers is truly off the charts, given that the filing deadline for mayor hasn’t even passed yet, that in fact there are numerous very interesting and competent candidates running, and last but not least, that there have been no voter surveys done yet to determine who the front runners are. So how can the Oregonian claim who is and is not a leading candidate? It’s absurd, and a lot of local voters figured this out pretty early in the game, and started to deluge the Oregonian’s event page on facebook with angry comments about the decision to exclude so many candidates. The pressure against the Oregonian started to take its toll, and as early as February 9, the Oregonian was forced to publicly defend its decision, claiming that the debate audience’s time would be wasted if people had to listen to any candidates other than Ted Wheeler and Jules Bailey.

Less than two weeks ago, I had a somewhat crazy idea that an Action Alert should be issued, directed at the Oregonian’s management, insisting that they either host a real debate open to all registered candidates, or risk having their event canceled through mass nonviolent civil disobedience. A few days later, four of us launched our Action Alert on facebook, hosted by Portland’s Right to the City Coalition.

Officially, our demand was entirely ignored by the newspaper’s management, but I’ve been involved in enough nonviolent direct action campaigns in my decades of political activism to know that the power holders are always paying very close attention when nonviolent civil disobedience is threatened. As abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass said in 1857, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” If we wanted to put real pressure on the Oregonian to open its debate to other candidates, an actual demand was necessary.

Two days before the planned event, we started to assume that the Oregonian really wasn’t going to budge, and we went into high gear doing our final crowd coordination and nonviolent civil disobedience planning. So we were as shocked as everyone else was when the Oregonian announced on Sunday that the event was cancelled. Their explanation as to why was quite disingenuous, as it tends to be when power holders are outsmarted by public citizens. They claimed that they feared for the safety of their invited candidates and audience, and twice used the word “threat” in their announcement. Yes our small group of local voters was indeed a threat, but not to anyone’s physical safety. We were a threat to the corporate media institution getting what it wants all the time, in all situations, with no interference from the rabble, the unwashed masses, i.e. the general public, who are normally treated merely as an irritation.

By yesterday morning, we were beginning to realize what a huge victory we had won! The Oregonian had crumpled! There would be no pseudo-debate after all! And just as we were starting to plan a victory celebration for last night instead of a nonviolent action, there was another wild turn of events. The Oregonian’s editorial board published a scathing attack against their own two chosen mayoral candidates, and blamed the event cancellation squarely on the candidates’ shoulders. Then candidate Ted Wheeler tried a slick political maneuver that actually worked – and instantly turned the canceled event into an “All-Candidate Town Hall”, with a total of eight mayoral candidates agreeing to participate with only a few hours to prepare, and with a wonderful diversity of moderators chosen by one of the owners of Revolution Hall, who had previously tried – unsuccessfully – to convince the Oregonian to open their debate to more candidates. And the debate proceeded exactly as our ad-hoc group had always hoped that it would – as an open event with all candidates invited, and no interference from the corporate media. It was a huge victory for Portland voters.

There is still much to report about this extraordinary week in Portland politics, so I will continue my tale next week.

You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.

You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can sign up for my ‘Community Rights Updates’ at PaulCienfuegos.com. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for.

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