Six months ago, 10 Black organizers in Portland came together to forge a radical political movement out of our collective trauma. For half a millennium, our current carceral system has snuffed Black lives and stolen Indigenous land. With radical Black feminism as our north star, we did what our ancestors had done before us: Seek to serve, and to stand for, Black people and our Indigenous siblings. We are queer. We are femmes. We are unapologetic.

We organized an eight-hour protest and released our first list of demands on June 5, calling ourselves Black Lives Matter Portland. Other groups emerged and staged their own protests, like Black Lives Matter Maine and another, unnamed group. We love our fellow Black organizers in Portland, but to reduce confusion related to nomenclature, we have since renamed ourselves Black POWER, an acronym for Black Portland Organizers Working to End Racism.

In just six months, we have succeeded in spurring the school board to remove police from all Portland schools. We have persuaded the City Council to ban the use of facial recognition technology by city officials. These policies will make Portland more livable for Black and Indigenous people and other people of color. In the Charter Commission’s establishment by a reverberating landslide, Portland voters rebuked the councilors and mayor who came out in opposition to one of our local goals: replacing Portland’s heinous council-manager system with a strong mayor system. In all our efforts, voices for the marginalized have come up against Portland’s unaccountable local government, a system installed in 1923 by the toxic duo of the Chamber of Commerce and Ku Klux Klan.

This newspaper was a key actor in that vile chapter of Portland’s racist history. In “Not a Catholic Nation,” historian Mark Paul Richard writes that “the Portland Press Herald and local businessmen supported the new charter,” helping establish the council-manager system in Portland. On Sept. 11, 1923, after intensive organizing by the Klan and Chamber, 56.4 percent of voters approved our unaccountable system. Soon after, the Boston Herald reported that “this election marks the first entrance of the Ku Klux Klan into local politics, and it is conceded that without the Klan support, the change of government would not have taken place.”

Today, the Press Herald and the Chamber of Commerce have again joined forces to oppose referendum questions A through E. If passed, these ballot questions would improve the life chances of Portland’s most marginalized. The past echoes in the present. Then as now, Portland’s staid institutions partner to squelch transfers of power from bosses to workers, landlords to tenants, and police to ordinary people. In this time of flourishing anti-racism, perhaps these holdovers from a xenophobic Gilded Age should atone and find new principles.

Since our June 5 action, we held a protest in honor of Breonna Taylor, organized a school drive and published new demands that include:


• Defund the police and invest in community resources like affordable housing.

• Disband the Maine Information and Analysis Center.

• Close Long Creek Youth Development Center.

• Retroactively decriminalize all drug- and sex work-related offenses.

• Remove the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office from One City Center and establish Portland as a sanctuary city.

• Ban the use of lethal force against protesters.


• Environmental justice.

• Fund community health.

• Access to affordable education.

To achieve these goals, we need more than a moment of outrage; we need a sustained mass movement. National polls and the steep decline in protesters on the streets from June to October suggest that the public is losing interest in marching for Black lives. But we are in this for the long haul. We are building an enduring organizational structure, growing a collective momentum toward reimagining our current systems and crafting strategy and tactics suited to each goal.

In our work, we take our cues from the national Movement for Black Lives and from the wisdom of our Indigenous siblings in struggle. In “Sacred Instructions,” Sherri Mitchell, a Penobscot sage and lawyer, shared these simple truths: “If someone is hungry, we feed them; if they are sick, we heal them; if they need shelter, we provide it; if someone is destroying the Earth, we stop them; if someone is harming another, we intervene.” Too many, disproportionately Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous, are hungry, sick, unsheltered and harmed in Portland. We are done hoping and waiting. We have organized to finally take a stand against these brutal injustices and demand liberation for all.

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