Yesterday I spent the morning doing something entirely different than what was on my calendar. I sat in city hall watching a City Council work meeting. If you haven't already heard, two members of Portland City Council want to make some last-minute changes to the new city charter we all voted on last November now that it's been mostly implemented. Their timing is terrible. Instead of waiting to see how it works out and making any adjustments based on actual results, Rene Gonzalez and Dan Ryan want to break it before we even have a chance to try it. What's worse is they want to call a special election to do it.
For almost three hours I watched all the experts and city employees explain to the Council members that their proposal to make changes now is going to end badly. Calling a special election for November will cost the city over $600,000. There won't be enough time to educate voters on the proposed measurers. All the concerns Gonzalez and Ryan have with the new charter were discussed at length in the time leading up to the last election when it was on the ballot. The way they want to change the ranked-choice voting will result in more confusion for both candidates and voters. Almost all the work to implement the new system has already been done.
A whole commission of smart and capable folks spent two years working on the question of how to reshape Portland city government. They heard from (and listening to) Portlanders from across the city, and spent time crafting a proposal for a structure that took into account all their concerns and hopes for city government. The result of all that work was 26-228, which 57% of voters said yes to. Now these two individuals who happen to be on the current City Council are discounting all that effort and thoughtfulness. They seem to want to make the new structure resemble the old structure as much as possible.
I think it’s because the current system is working for them. They are scared they might not be re-elected under the new system. If we make elected office too accessible then the political elite in our town won’t have a strangle-hold on governance and policy-making. If they allow the unwashed masses to govern ourselves, how will they maintain the status quo that protects the interests of the wealthy and propertied? The current City Council cannot seem to solve the very pressing issues facing our city. The answer is more representation from a broader swath of the city, not the same in-group that keeps managing to hold a majority of council seats. When we voted-in the new city charter, we voted for a shift away from how things have been done to date.
Gonzalez and Ryan were concerned about a 12-member City Council being too many seats because it would be difficult to "find enough quality candidates." I wish I were exaggerating. But those words came out of their mouths... multiple times. They also wanted everyone to know that because there are non-white people and one non-man person on the City Council, Portland doesn't have a problem with representation. They even made a powerpoint presentation showing the racial make-up of City Council and comparing it to the racial makeup of Portland to show we don't have an all-white council. Maybe they forgot Jo Ann Hardesty was the first black woman ever elected to Portland City Council and that only happened in 2018. Too bad they didn't do a breakdown by income or wealth. Or by physical or mental ability. Or queerness.
I witnessed a particular phenomenon during that work session which I see most often from men with some kind of privilege in positions of power or authority. In voicing their concerns it was as if these two city counselors were saying I wasn’t in-charge of this thing so it can’t possibly have been done in the most best way - there’s no way whoever put this thing together would have considered all the most important considerations because it wasn’t me. Staaaaaaaaahp already. A group of smart, capable people spent a lot of time and followed an intensive process to craft the thing we all voted on and which passed definitively.
This kind of I know best attitude plays out in a variety of ways all over society, most of them with dire consequences. Like the Italian judge who determined a school caretaker's groping of a teenage student was not a crime because it lasted only 10 seconds. 10 seconds that student will remember for the rest of her life. This is why representation matters. This is why we need to hear from everyone in the room, even if they are children.
Equally disturbing to me is that as a society we have decided it's okay for doctors or parents to decide how to reshape the genitalia of babies born with multiple or ambiguous sex presentation. So it's okay to mutilate the bodies of children who don’t fit into the current gender body classification before they even know they exist, but we can’t bring ourselves to believe that children know a little bit about who they are when they’re old enough to tell us? We need to majorly re-examine how we allow people with authority to make decisions that impact the lives of our fellow human beings.
Another unnerving example is all the anti-aging work currently being done by doctors and technologists. I recently heard an interview with one such doctor on the BBC program OS. He is a member of the Live Forever Club, an organization formed to "research practical ways of living long enough to live forever and to promote equal access to longevity treatments to all human beings." On its face, that sounds fascinating and future-focused.
But to me it begs the question: what makes you think YOU living longer is such a good thing? What are you doing to make the world such a better place that it seems like a good idea for you to stick around it for a lot longer? The only hope I have for a better world sometimes is that a lot of people currently in positions of power who are constantly working to maintain the problematic status quo will eventually die, taking their horrid anti-humanity worldviews with them. Their absence won't solve any problems, but it will make space for other people to try something new.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.