Another Viewpoint: Portland is changing and its anti-poor lobby is furious 

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Portland is on the cusp of big changes. A system enshrined a century ago by the Ku Klux Klan and Chamber of Commerce is about to topple. The Charter Commission looks ready to propose a mayor-council system to voters, largely a return to the system we had before 1923.

In response, Portland’s who’s who of gentrifiers and anti-poor activists are organizing. The Chamber of Commerce. Cheryl Leeman. Anne Pringle.

Pringle published her latest volley in the Portland Phoenix (“Another Viewpoint: What’s going on with the Portland Charter Commission?” March 16), claiming that procedural shortcomings have marred the Charter Commission, and singling out Commissioner Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef for special criticism. Pringle’s strategy echoes her history of anti-poor lobbying in Portland.

Almost a decade ago, she helped lead a panhandling ban in Portland. She publicly claimed the reason was to protect the poor. But her high-minded statements hid her true motives: to sequester poor people away from the public eye and “clean up” the city. The ACLU sued Portland alleging that Pringle’s favored ordinance was unconstitutional.

Thanks to that lawsuit, emails she sent to the council came to light. They are truly appalling. In one September 2012 email she sent to then-Mayor Michael Brennan, Pringle wrote, “Now we have even more people panhandling, including groups … on medians. Great ‘welcome’ to the vibrant City of Portland that you are pitching!”

The ACLU won that lawsuit and a federal court declared the ordinance unconstitutional. Fighting against the ban was dee Clarke, the late, great freedom fighter, in whose honor Portland should undoubtedly erect a statue. Clarke was the polar opposite of Pringle: a truth-teller whose passion for defending the oppressed is rooted in her own experiences of sexism, racism, ableism, and poverty. Her work inspired and continues to inspire many.

Then as now, Pringle’s strategy is this: give the media and the public a plausible-seeming reason for supporting a certain policy outcome. Then work behind the scenes to ram through gentrifying, anti-poor policies. Back then, it was “ban panhandling;” today it’s “keep the council-manager system.” The goal then is the goal today: class apartheid.  

But there’s one key difference between then and now. Power in Portland is shifting. Pringle’s email handle, “oldmayor,” might have meant something then, when she spewed her classist nostrums to city officials. Today, that same email handle is the farcical echo of a dying order.

Progressives swept last year’s Charter Commission and City Council elections. Referenda that landlords and the Chamber of Commerce opposed almost all won by landslides. This city is looking less and less like the gentrified dystopia of the Pringles and incrementally more and more like the city dee Clarke envisioned and fought for. Sheikh-Yousef was the top vote-getter in the charter elections.

The old order is dying, and a new one is being born; the fulminations of bygone politicians are the pangs of this new birth.

Cait Vaughan is a birth educator and doula in Portland.