Black-led group Reimagine Oregon unveils sweeping reforms
It took just six weeks for a new coalition of Black leaders to sweep the chessboard of Oregon politics and become a new power player pushing a slate of public reforms.
Reimagine Oregon, a coalition of Black-led organizations and activists, entered the arena during a virtual press conference on Tuesday, July 28. They unfurled a list of policy demands touching on nearly every facet of public life, including education, policing, housing, health care, transportation and economic development.
Katrina Holland — the executive director of the homeless services nonprofit JOIN, and who led the effort to pass a regional tax on high-earners to create supportive housing — said that while many of their ideas had been brewing for decades, "feet in the street" gave the movement new potency.
"No more apologizing," Holland said. "Systemic racism has to be dismantled in our lifetimes. Our children do not need to inherit the social ills that we face."
Holland and other leaders formulated their plans via a series of weekly video conferences that began in early June. Their website outlines 110 policy proposals, some already completed and others rated as "likely to happen," "in discussion" or, in the case of cutting $50 million from the Multnomah County Sheriff's budget, "unlikely."
A number of elected leaders have signed on to the Reimagine Oregon project, including Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Speaker of the House Tina Kotek and many Portland area state lawmakers, the chairs of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington county boards and Lynn Peterson, the Metro Council president.
Nkenge Harmon Johnson, executive director of the Urban League of Portland, said many of the group's cross-jurisdictional goals will be addressed at the presumed legislative special session later this summer or early fall.
Those goals include demilitarizing the police, banning the use of sound cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and flashbangs, and decriminalizing fare evasion on public transit.
"While we talk about the need to defund the police," said Harmon Johnson, "it's hard to imagine what our lives could be like under true public safety. It's going to take some time."
Other top concerns include eliminating in-school arrests, removing armed police from public university campuses, cost-free expungement, stopping sweeps of homeless camps, adding racial impact analyses on all statehouse bills, and increasing Black engagement on government advisory boards through per diem compensation.
Reimagine Oregon's plans draw on decades of work by organizations such as Unite Oregon and the Portland African-American Leadership Forum.
"I've never seen an effort like this before, but it was incredibly effective and will continue to be effective as long as the legislators continue to participate," said Marcus Mundy, executive director of the Coalition of Communities of Color.
Gov. Brown said she was committed to centering racial equity as she builds the next state budget through listening and learning.
"I certainly count myself as one of the many white politicians whose good intentions haven't done enough to tackle the scourge of systemic racism," Brown said.
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