What a year it has been.
Here in our little corner of Oregon, we were touched by far-flung events during 2018.
On the morning of Jan. 13, the year thankfully did not start with a "bang." A push alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile was sent out to smartphones and devices across Hawaii. Local, state and federal officials took to social media to assure the public the message had been sent in error, but it wasn't until 38 agonizing minutes after the message was sent that a second alert was pushed out stating there was no danger. Staff of Pacific University, which has a large population of Hawaii students and an office in Honolulu, were among those who sheltered in place, waiting for the bomb to fall.
A month after the nation was horrified by yet another mass-casualty shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., on March 14, students in classrooms across the country — including in Hillsboro, Aloha, Forest Grove and Cornelius — walked out to protest gun violence. One student leader at Pacific University told our reporter that she was from Roseburg and had lost friends in the Umpqua Community College shooting in 2015. She and other students, as well as some school staff, expressed anger that not enough progress has been made to stop school shootings and other forms of gun violence. That violence, they warned, could end up spreading to campuses here as well. Indeed, in late November and December, a spate of violent threats prompted lockdowns and lockouts at schools in neighboring Beaverton, and another scare brought an armed police response to a stunned classroom at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
Old rumblings of a "trade war" grew louder this year, with Oregon squarely in the middle. Western Washington County residents have found themselves paying higher rates for garbage and recycling collection, due in large part to the Chinese government's decision to stop accepting many of the United States' recyclables. Saber-rattling between Beijing and Washington, D.C., could end up hurting farmers, winemakers and manufacturers in our area if it escalates further in 2019, as some experts predict. Even this year, after a skirmish over tariffs, Hillsboro-based SolarWorld Americas was bought out by rival SunPower, which in September obtained a federal exemption from tariffs on imported solar panels — opening the door for more international manufacturing.
In July and August, wildfire smoke from Central and Southern Oregon settled in the Tualatin Valley, obscuring the sun with a layer of brown-gray haze and briefly giving the Portland area the world's worst air quality. The smoke wasn't nearly as thick when parts of California burned in November, but the effects rippled up to our area nonetheless; a former employee of this office was among those who lost their homes in the Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history.
Oregon was a battleground in the midterm elections, with record-setting spending in the race between Gov. Kate Brown and challenger Knute Buehler splashing ads all over local television and radio. Oregon was also among the many states where Democrats were buoyed by the unpopularity of President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, with Washington County chair candidate Kathryn Harrington, long-shot state House challenger Courtney Neron and Brown herself among the beneficiaries of a left-leaning political climate. The Nov. 6 election saw Democrats surge into supermajorities in both chambers of the Oregon Legislature, with Brown winning re-election by a larger-than-expected margin, Neron unseating Scholls Rep. Rich Vial, and Harrington being elected to preside over the first liberal majority on the nonpartisan county commission in decades.
All of these things go to show how connected we are — even within our apartment complexes, condominium communities and subdivisions, even within our relatively small cities on the outskirts of a modestly sized metropolitan area, even as students, workers, jobseekers, homemakers and retirees — to the world at large.
Especially the further you get out into the country here in western Washington County, we can get the sense that we are, somehow, apart from it all. But there's no invisible wall to keep our air clean when the forests around Crater Lake are burning. There's no separate stream that distinguishes our scrap metals and plastics from the rest of the nation's. There's no intrinsic difference between our community and any other that renders our schools, shopping malls and places of worship immune from violence.
There's no way of knowing what 2019 will bring. But we believe it is important — as important as it has ever been, maybe more important — for us to think about our place in the world and focus on what we can do to improve it.
Being connected to everything else in this crazy world can seem scary, or even overwhelming. But our advice for a New Year's resolution is to consider it from another angle.
Cynics will tell you that the exhortations of our kindergarten teachers are wrong: that we can't change the world, that no one can.
They're wrong. Each one of us can work, in the New Year, to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can work in many different ways, whether we donate to charitable causes, volunteer in our community, coach youth sports, lead worship, or simply resolve to be kinder, more patient and more considerate with the people we know.
That's how we change the world — by being a part of it, and being better.
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