March 15, 2016 – “Why Are Portland Voters Allowing Our Local Social Movement Groups to Host Mayoral Debates That Exclude Most of the Candidates?”

Paul Cienfuegos’ March 15, 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.

Last Tuesday’s commentary was intended to complete my three-part series regarding the Oregonian newspaper’s attempt to pre-select our next mayor for us. But last Tuesday was International Women’s Day and the KBOO news team took the day off to celebrate– which I think is pretty darn cool – but it meant that my final commentary on this subject wasn’t broadcast. So here finally is my concluding commentary on what began in mid-February as a simple nonviolent civil disobedience challenge to the Oregonian’s king-making efforts when its management decided to exclude ten registered mayoral candidates from their pseudo-debate, but which has become a much more nuanced and complex conversation among local activists as to why many of our own social change groups are now also excluding most of those candidates from separate mayoral debates that they are sponsoring across the city! I’ll begin my report today just where I left off two weeks ago – in the 24 hours leading up to the planned Oregonian 2-man “debate” on Monday, February 29.

On the evening before the planned debate, the Oregonian suddenly announced they were cancelling their event. And just hours later, their editorial board published a scathing attack against their own two chosen mayoral candidates, and blamed the event cancellation squarely on their shoulders. The editorial was titled “Jules Bailey, Ted Wheeler fail leadership test”, and included this remarkable accusation: “Among the qualities that make for a good leader are resilience, courage and a determination to follow through on commitments, even when doing so takes some effort. Portland mayoral candidates Jules Bailey and Ted Wheeler came up short in all three areas this weekend.”

Our ad-hoc civil disobedience group was absolutely thrilled that our corporate-chain newspaper had pulled out, and very briefly contemplated the possibility that we ourselves could attempt to host our own Peoples Mayoral Debate that very evening – same time same place. But as we started to reach out to the building’s owners and to the twelve registered candidates, we discovered that candidate Ted Wheeler had beaten us to it, and had already booked the hall, invited all of the candidates, and publicized the new event to his own supporters. That evening, three moderators chosen by the owners of Revolution Hall did an outstanding job holding space for both audience and the eight candidates who were able to attend on just a few hours notice. We had achieved our goals – an open mayoral debate on that very evening. It was a huge victory for Portland voters. But the whirlwind wasn’t over.

The very next morning, we discovered that it wasn’t just the Oregonian’s managers who were trying to limit our mayoral choice to just two candidates. That in fact, our own local environmental and social justice groups were also trying to play king-maker by inviting only a few of the now thirteen registered mayoral candidates to their own sponsored debates. We had always assumed that the problem that needed to be addressed was the manipulation of our election choices by a large media corporation, but here was exactly the same problem unfolding again, but this time it was our own local social movement leaders playing the king-making role. How could that be, we asked ourselves! And should we now be threatening our own allies with nonviolent civil disobedience if they didn’t open up their debates to all of the candidates?

For example, thirteen environmental groups sponsored a “Regaining the Edge” environmental forum on March 3rd, and only invited three of thirteen mayoral candidates to participate, while excluding 10 other candidates, some of them with a significant history of environmental activism. Here’s a list of those sponsoring groups: the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Oregon, 350-PDX, Audubon Society of Portland, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Coalition of Communities of Color, Columbia River Keeper, Let’s Talk Climate, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Urban Green Spaces Institute, & Willamette River Keeper. And hey, did you know that candidate Ted Wheeler is the heir to a hefty share of the nation’s seventh largest logging corporation? And he got invited to this debate, but was asked no delicate questions about his family history of causing massive environmental devastation.

And twelve social justice groups sponsored a “Public Conversation About Social Justice Issues”, inviting the same three candidates, again excluding ten other candidates, including both a female African American candidate and a male Indigenous candidate. What in the heck were they thinking? Here’s a list of those sponsoring groups: the Mental Health Association of Portland, Skanner News, KBOO Community Radio, First Unitarian Church, McKenzie River Gathering, Mental Health Association of Portland, NAACP – Portland Branch, Maranatha Church, Street Roots, Portland Women’s Crisis Line, ACLU of Oregon, & In Other Words Feminist Community Center.

How has it come to pass that our own progressive social movement leaders in Portland have given themselves the power and authority to pre-select our mayoral candidates? How will these ten excluded candidates ever get the media and public attention they deserve if our own activist so-called “leaders” also play an election gate-keeper role? Frankly, this is an outrage. It’s totally unacceptable. And it needs to stop this month with this election. I say “Shame On You” to the 23 organizations playing king-maker this election!

In conclusion, I am thrilled that at least one local group – the Buckman Community Association – did host a fully open candidates debate on March 10th. Hooray! And our ad-hoc group is working towards hosting a Peoples Mayoral Debate in early May, so stay tuned for details.

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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