Two weeks ago, the council voted down an antiwar resolution that has circulated through dozens of American cities. Although previous Portland city councils have supported resolutions challenging the Reagan administration's policies in Central America and nuclear weapons proliferation, current council member Jim Francesconi told 200 supporters of the antiwar resolution the act would have no impact and the council should not waste its time with "international" issues. (Francesconi, however, does plan in March to introduce a resolution declaring Bologna, Italy a sister city to Portland; Bologna is one of Nike's European headquarters.)
Even though the antiwar resolution may have been all huff and puff, it did offer the city a chance to verbalize its objection to a unilateral military action in Iraq by the Bush administration. The stunning defeat (Portland became the first city to consider and reject the resolution) came in the face of overwhelming public support. That defeat also helped cement what seems to be the central premise of the current city council: Representatives that do not act at the behest of their constituents.
Two years ago, angered by anti-gay remarks made by police chief Mark Kroeker, hundreds requested a review of the commander's personal beliefs. But after a cursory interview with the chief, Mayor Katz shrugged off those requests. Katz has been accused of repeatedly ignoring concerns about the local police. Most recently, members of the Latino and mental health communities were angered when two police officers were decorated for their courage in fatally shooting a Latino man who had been detained in custody at a local mental hospital; the mayor's office failed to even offer an apology.
Many activists have come to view city council meetings as pure pomp and circumstance and, even more concerning, see the council as their enemy. Mayor Katz commonly gavels audiences into silence and threatens to remove dissenters from chambers. The day following the vote against the antiwar resolution, several picketers stood vigil outside City Hall and called for the resignation of Francesconi.
And if a bad situation needed to get any worse, now it seems as if city council won't even allow debate for a resolution on residents' civil liberties. Passed immediately following 9/11, the USA Patriot Act offers wide and largely unrestricted powers to federal and local agents. Several weeks ago, Eugene City Council passed a similar civil rights resolution. While the proposed antiwar resolution was intended to put the Bush administration's foreign policy into question, this resolution is aimed at the president's domestic policies.
Christopher Frankonis, a member of the Portland Bill of Rights Defense Committee and one of the resolution's sponsors, hopes that city council will change its course and begin showing leadership on the topic of civil rights.
"Of course it's Francesconi's antiwar resolution position which is the most troubling for any other so-called 'national' issue, since he seems to simply not want the council to bother with them at all," explained Frankonis. "But the civil liberties issue appears to be much easier to link more directly to local matters."
Soon after 9/11, it seemed as if Portland had stepped forward as the vanguard for civil liberties. After the FBI requested help from local police to gather up 300 Muslim men for questioning, the Portland police refused. Portland's defiance was soon mimicked by police forces in several other West Coast cities. But that leadership to counter the growing power of the federal government was short-lived. (Perhaps not coincidentally, that refusal came at a time when Chief Kroeker was not in town and the police force was being commanded by Andrew Kirkland, who has since left the police force.)
Although sponsorship of the bill has already been rejected outright by council members Francesconi and Dan Saltzman, backers of the resolution have continued to lobby other council members to take up their cause. For more information about the civil rights resolution, go to portland-or.bordc.org.