No more status quo: Dixon wants to shake up local Democratic Party
Rachelle Dixon recruited friends and other members of Multnomah County Democrats to spend a Wednesday afternoon translating documents into 11 different languages. This was not part of her responsibilities as vice chair of Multnomah County Democrats, and no one asked her to do it.
But Dixon, who took her post the same month President Donald Trump took office, is trying to shake up the status quo at the party, which she says is not reflecting the diversity of its supporters.
Dixon says Democrats should be a place of refuge for disenfranchised groups in the Trump era. She's disheartened by the turnout of the meetings, and says a huge group of voters are not represented there.
"It is highly problematic when we try to make decisions without the people affected," Dixon said. According to her, the population that comes to meetings are older white adults. She says disenfranchised groups are underrepresented and often don't feel as welcome as they should, so they don't return. She wants others in the party to step up and work to create a welcoming space for people of color, women, homeless folks and young people.
"We have a disconnect. There are 183 languages spoken in this county. We have the ninth-largest Native population in a metropolitan area but there were none in the room," said Dixon about her last meeting.
Dixon is one of only three African-American women who have ever held a place on the board for the Multnomah County Democrats. She thinks if they can get a more diverse group of people to participate, the Democrats would have a platform that reflects their values at a much higher level.
"We're not living our values," she said.
Mario Palmero, Gresham City Council president, says diversity shows people how they're more alike than different. He thinks diversity of gender, age, race and religion are needed if they want to solve social issues. Palmero is a member of Multnomah County Democrats and East County Rising, a political action committee meant to help engage East Portland community members, where the population is more racially diverse. East County Rising also hopes to help educate young people about civics. Palmero says many younger folks want to get involved but don't know how.
"We need more diversity in our local governments and this is where it starts," said Palmero, the first Latino ever elected to the city council in Gresham.
"It'd be great if we had a diverse city council that could shed some light on some issues that have been plaguing East County for decades," he said. Palmero thinks if there was more diversity in government, they could come up with more creative ways to solve some ongoing crime issues, see a more efficient government and be more inclusive. He also thinks it would help encourage minorities to get out and vote if the people running had experiences similar to them.
Although Democrats, especially Portland Democrats, are seen as progressive, Dixon says they can't call themselves that if they don't stand up to police brutality, or can't even get young people or people of color to their meetings. She wants a much deeper conversation about this problem, but feels others in her party don't have the same sense of urgency as her.
"We won't win without young people and people of color," Dixon said. "If you have a group in their fifties-plus, they're going to talk about retirement or health care, but what about young people and their crushing debt?"
Dixon said she tried to have this conversation with the Multnomah County Democrats herself, but it hasn't happened nearly enough, and now it's time for a public discussion. At a recent meeting, she was given three minutes to talk about this, though she said "I'm taking five," and ended up speaking for seven minutes.
"I'm not the person who's going to be disenfranchised quietly," she said. Although her words at the meeting triggered applause, she's still waiting for action to be taken. Dixon says more in her party need to step up and tackle things like equal pay, police brutality, or student debt.
"You don't have to applaud me. Get to work," she said.