We're in bad times, but we've overcome them before
Portlanders are depressed and anxious. So are Oregonians and Americans and people worldwide.
A pandemic has taken 400,000 lives nationwide and 1,800 here in Oregon. We're hearing cries for racial equity on issues ranging from justice to health care to home ownership to education and so much more. The recession hit so fast, most of us were stunned. This summer's raging wildfires, right on the edge of the metro area, brought anxiety that this likely will be our new normal. And we survived the most polarizing, emotionally charged national election in our lifetime.
Things are not all right. And it's appropriate to feel stressed out.
But this also is a good time to remember that Portlanders, and Oregonians, and Americans, and humans have overcome worse. We've known bad times. We've risen to the occasion.
In the 1970s, Portland broke federal smog rules on a regular basis. Today, we have the cleanest skies of almost any major city.
Downtown Portland used to be block after endless block of street parking, a vast Sargasso Sea of asphalt and empty cars. Today, most of that space has been taken up by retail and office space and parks. Has downtown been hit hard by protests and looting, graffiti and arson? Yes. But Portlanders built the downtown into one of the most vibrant and dynamic in the nation. And we will again.
We used to see raw sewage pump into the Willamette River every time the city got any drizzle — an average of 50 times each year. But the completion of the Big Pipe Project in 2011 has resulted in a 94% reduction in combined sewer overflows to the Willamette River, and a 99% reduction to the Columbia Slough.
Think of Oregon's past solutions: The Bottle Bill diverts tons of glass from garbage dumps. The Motor Voter act vastly increased the number of Oregonians eligible to vote. While many states saw chaos and drama surrounding the November elections, Oregon's decades-long vote-by-mail system means more people vote, more easily, and all elections are auditable and safe. And it's cheaper.
Only a few decades ago, each school district in Oregon was responsible for its own budgets. Back then, cities like West Linn could pass any levy with a snap, while Oregon City, just a stone's throw across the Willamette, couldn't. Today, the Legislature ponies up about two-thirds of the funding for schools. And while it's not a perfect system, it's decidedly more equitable than it was before.
The Black Lives Matter movement has people on edge, but think about it: The United States has always suffered from systemic racism. The nation still does, but now we're owning it, acknowledging it, talking about how to make it better. Since the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020, both the Portland City Council and the Oregon Legislature have passed measures to address that reality. And the newly formed caucus of Black, Indigenous and people of color in the Oregon Legislature has introduced no fewer than 40 bills this year, focusing on policing and criminal justice, economic opportunity, education, health care, human services, housing, tax issues and the political process.
It took months to create vaccines for COVID-19. It took decades to do the same for polio.
Bottom line: People have every right to be depressed and anxious. We are beset from all sides by turmoil both political and pandemic, both economic and ecological.
But we have been before.
Some we overcame.
Some problems still haunt us, but we're working on them.
"This too shall pass" appears in 2 Corinthians, resonates as an ancient Persian adage, and was spoken by Abraham Lincoln at a Wisconsin fair in 1859.
Truer words were never spoken.
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