I had started following Black Lives Matter Oregon and Don't Shoot PDX on Facebook earlier in the year following the shooting death of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Over these past months I've been grappling with the ramifications of my white, straight, male, middle-class privilege, and how it allows me to move on with my fairly comfortable and safe life moments after another unarmed person of color has been shot and killed by a police officer. I came down to this coffee shop because I wanted to stop retreating back into my privilege, I wanted to be more politically involved, and I had bought into the idea of the disarming of our police (UK style) so that cops don't have lethal means of force so easily at their disposal. I was excited about the beautiful irony of the notion of a peaceful civil rights activist being in charge of the county police force.
In the midst of the Don't Shoot PDX activist, there was a middle-aged couple in the coffee shop in western-style rain gear—the guy wearing a leather red, white, and blue USA jacket, the lady donning a cowboy hat. They'd wandered into the coffee shop from a different protest just down the street; the one across from the federal court house in support of the Bundys who were currently on trial. This couple was from rural Oregon, had been part of the occupation at Malheur wildlife refuge, and he was one of the defendants who had been held at county jail.
The conversation I was welcomed into and the interactions between these white rural constitutionalist and two black Don't Shoot PDX activists left me humbled and hopeful regarding the future of our country regardless of what happens on November 8.
I witnessed members of these two groups respectfully listening to each other, expressing solidarity and commonality in their experience of being oppressed by a system that favors the good of people with money and power. I heard both groups' commitment to this country, the people of this country, and to peace rather than violence. I heard in each party a passion and willingness to make sacrifices in the process of trying to seek change and justice. I heard expressions of solidarity and empathy for the homeless in Portland—both those being swept off the Johnson Creek and Springwater Trails, and those being forced out of homes and Portland due to the ever increasing rent.
I discovered that, to my list of white, male, middle-class straight privilege, I could also add urban (as opposed to rural folk whose voices feel marginalized and pushed out of state and national politics). I discovered that as the liberal white guy in the room, with a fairly large dose of societal power, that I and those of my demographic may be more often part of the problem than the solution. I was probably the most bigoted person in the room, with my easily offended assumptions that the people at Malheur and people like them are racist and ignorant, and potentially dangerous and a threat to people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Perhaps some are, but maybe, more often than not, the people pushed to the margins are good people, better people than me, making sacrifices, working hard, pushing in the ways they believe best for the rights, interest, and welfare of the people they love.
Writing in Teressa Raiford for Sheriff may be a great way to shake up the status quo and put power in the hands of people who have historically been denied power in our city. It might just be a way we can say we believe that things can be different and better here in our county, and that we have the opportunity to start something here that could make our city, county, and eventually country, a better and safer place.
Nate Bagley is a child and family counselor at Bridge City Counseling, where he serves as clinical director.