How did it all start? The Economic Crisis Committee of JWJ was planning a march and rally on April 16th 2011 calling for good jobs for all and no cuts to the social safety net. We had been doing educational work on the causes of and sufferings caused by the economic crisis. We also did a petition campaign to pressure the members of the Oregon Congressional delegation to pledge that they would not vote to cut safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and would work for legislation to create a federally funded jobs program.
At the same time, at the Portland Jobs with Justice planning retreat in February 2011, we found out that seven union contracts in the Portland area were to expire on June 30th and we didn’t have the resources to support all the campaigns effectively one by one.
The Portland Rising project was created so we could work on all these campaigns strategically and efficiently and also so union campaigns could be understood in the context of a needed community fight back in support of all worker rights.
On April 16th 2011, 2500 people gathered in Pioneer Square to hear a group of ‘heroes’ – workers and activists – talk about their current struggles for decent contracts, protection of social safety net services, and the need for fair trade. They marched through downtown Portland, led by Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin.
On June 30th, three buses set out on the first Portland Rising bus tour, taking in seven actions during a packed day, supporting workers at Georgia Pacific, the Vancouver Hilton, the County and State, Emanuel Hospital and Dosha salons, where activists blocked SE Hawthorne in solidarity.
We also visited the office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer, where more than 100 of us lined up to individually and collectively demand that he vote no on the Korea, Panama and Colombia trade agreements. As a result of our pressure in this and other actions, Blumenauer ultimately voted against the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
In October, Portland Rising joined with Vancouver, via a 500 plus person march from Janzen Beach across the I-5 bridge. The march was designed to build support for the contract struggles at Georgia Pacific and the Vancouver Hilton, as well as the ILWU dispute at Longview. Members of Occupy Portland and Occupy Vancouver also participated in the march. At one point the marchers spanned the bridge, thereby highlighting the connections and solidarity between worker struggles in Portland and Vancouver.
February 2012 brought the second Portland Rising bus tour. This time two packed school buses carried activists to a rally at First Student to support school bus drivers in Gresham, lunch at We Are Oregon’s Vecinos Unidos (Workers’ Center) community space on East Burnside, and an action at the University Station Post Office. Later we stormed City Hall in support of city laborers and the Right To Dream Too rest area on West Burnside Street. We then visited the Aveda school, which is owned by Dosha Salons, rallied at Emanuel Legacy, and finished with another rally outside the Dosha facility near NW 23rd.
Tax Day brought another Portland Rising day of action. In Terry Schrunk Plaza, a mighty game of dodgeball pitted the 99% against the 1%. The peoples’ team included janitors, postal workers, Right To Dream Too activists, Verizon workers, Medicare/Medicaid recipients and others from the community and labor movement. The 1% cheated their way to an early lead, but ultimately, through mass solidarity, the 99% prevailed.
Following the game, a symbolic bake sale was held at City Hall to raise money for the essential services threatened by budget cuts. Activists then took the Max across town, leafleting passengers in support of transit workers and the Fareless Square, to a rally at the main post office, where members of the Letter Carriers spoke eloquently about the manufactured crisis threatening the postal service, and the devastating effect that cuts will have, especially on rural and low income communities.
In September 2012, Portland Rising became an ongoing committee of Portland Jobs with Justice and continues to work to unify and strengthen worker-community struggles for good jobs for all, a strong and accountable public sector serving human needs, and healthy cities and communities.