In this episode, the first of a three-part series on organizing people and communities, we talk with Hahrie Han, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who studies civic and political participation. We also hear from Bruce Poinsette, Marcus LeGrand, Joy Alise Davis, and Keith Jenkins, four Black Oregonians who have been working on community organizing in different parts of the state amid a complex set of conditions.
What does it mean to organize community? Is it something all of us do, whether we mean to or not? Or is it something more technical than that, something that experts do to the rest of us? If it is in fact possible to organize people or communities, can we learn what it takes to organize people well or to organize for the good?
You can find the full recordings of these conversations below.
- Consider This with Hahrie Han - February 16, 2021: audio | video
- Consider This on Black Political Power in Oregon - September 14, 2022: video
About Our Guests
Hahrie Han is the inaugural director of the SNF Agora Institute, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science, and faculty director of the P3 Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in the study of organizing, movements, civic engagement, and democracy. Her newest book is Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in 21st Century America.
Bruce Poinsette is a writer, educator, and community organizer whose work is primarily based in the Portland Metro Area. He hosts The Blacktastic Adventure: A Virtual Exploration of Oregon’s Black Diaspora. A former reporter for the Skanner News Group, his work has also appeared in the Oregonian, Street Roots, Oregon Humanities, and We Out Here Magazine, as well as projects such as the Mercatus Collective and the Urban League of Portland’s State of Black Oregon 2015. Poinsette also contracts with the University of Oregon Equity and Inclusion Office and numerous Oregon nonprofits, as well as teaching journalism and creative nonfiction with Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program. In addition to his professional writing work, Poinsette volunteers with Respond to Racism LO, a grassroots antiracism organization in his hometown of Lake Oswego.
Joy Alise Davis, executive director at Imagine Black, is a Cincinnati native who graduated from Miami University with a bachelor of arts in political science and from Parsons School of Design with a master of arts in theories of urban practice. She has held support and leadership roles at various social justice organizations for over ten years. Davis has consulted on urban planning, urban design, and racial equity projects with government bureaus in Oregon for over five years.
Keith Jenkins was the deputy field director for We Count Oregon and led community outreach and political strategy for Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activist, & Community Coalition (SOBLACC). He is now the field and organizing director at Imagine Black. Jenkins hails from East Oakland, California, where he worked on campaigns for three years. From helping to get the first Asian American mayor elected in Oakland to ensuring that billionaires paid their fair share of taxes to fund California schools, Keith is a persuasive canvasser who brings levity and impact to campaigns.
Marcus LeGrand is the Afrocentric Program coordinator and a professor of business and human development at Central Oregon Community College. He serves on the board of Bend-La Pine Schools and volunteers for numerous organizations (Restorative Justice and Equity, The Fathers Group, and Allyship and Action). LeGrand holds a BA in marketing and advertising from the Foster Business School at the University of Washington-Seattle and an MA in counseling and psychotherapy from Rowan University. He is a Navy veteran who fought in the Persian Gulf and the father of a daughter and son.
- I Dream an Oregon
Bruce Poinsette writes about his efforts to convince Oregonians to invest in antiracism and my he keeps doing this work.
- "Just Go Do It"
Bruce Poinsette profiles Black Muslim community leaders in Oregon.
- "We Know Who's Got Our Six Now"
Bruce Poinsette interviews members of The Fathers Group, an intergenerational association of Black men organizing to support students, families, and community in Bend.
- Organizing from the Outside
Jyothi Natarajan writes about how members of the Kashmiri diaspora in Oregon found connection in protest as they mobilized against India’s military occupation of the region.
- Process and Privilege
Cynthia Carmina Gómez writes about the long effort to rename a Portland street in favor of César Chávez.
- A Hidden History
Walidah Imarisha writes about the stories and struggles of Oregon's African American communities.
Bruce Poinsette: Tonight, I really want us to not just recognize our power as a voting block, but recognize our collective power, period: affirm it and, most importantly, wield it.
Adam Davis: Hey there. My name's Adam Davis and I want to welcome you to season two of The Detour, a show by Oregon Humanities about people and ideas.
When we say that this is a show about people and ideas, we mean that The Detour explores how ideas come to life in people and how people live and think about this living.
And once you start thinking about people and ideas, you can't help but think about people living together, which is almost never simple or easy or easily shaped by even the most carefully formed ideas about how people should live together. Let me just say that one more time.
Lots of people have lots of ideas about how people do and should live together. But still, the actual ways we live together often seem to exceed or fall short or somehow defy many of the ideas that have made their way to the page, the podium, or the pulpit. That's why we want to start season 2 of The Detour with a few episodes that explore organizingâ€” and not just any organizing, but community organizing.
What does it mean to organize community? Is it something all of us do, whether we mean to or not? Or is it something more technical than that, something that experts do to the rest of us, often with their sleeves casually rolled up? If it is in fact possible to organize people or communities, can we learn what it takes to organize people well or to organize for the good?
Given how difficult this is, it may also be worth asking why anyone would want to get into this frustrating and possibly doomed business of trying to understand and practice community organizing in the first place. With these kinds of questions in mind, we're happy to kick off Season 2 of The Detour by talking with Hahrie Han, who has been immersed for decades in a wide range of efforts to understand and help all sorts of people get involved in governing themselves.
Right from the start, Hahrie gets us thinking about opportunities and barriers to participating in self-governance. She also helps us think about the close relationship between organizing and belonging, a theme that gets developed further in the second part of this episode by Bruce Poinsette, Marcus LeGrand, Joy Alise Davis, and Keith Jenkins, four Black Oregonians who have been working on community organizing in different parts of the state amid a complex set of conditions.
This first episode of The Detour's second season is rooted in theory and practice, ideas and people. And here's Hahrie, who joined us for an online Consider This conversation in February of 2021, to get us going.
Hahrie, it's good to see you and to have you join us here. And I want to ask about how your life became one that put participation and democracy at its center. There are so many things you might have been doing or studying. How, how did you come to care about that stuff?
Hahrie Han: Yeah, that's a really good question.
I actually grew up in a family that was very apolitical, so politics wasn't something that we talked about at the dinner table. It wasn't something I thought about or really had any awareness of. But I grew up as a daughter of Korean immigrants in Texas, in Houston, Texas. You know, I think growing up as a daughter of immigrants in Texas, so much of what I saw was not my parents getting involved in public life, but was about them trying to figure out what it meant to raise a family in the United States.
So they had grown up mostly in Korea, and my dad's family were refugees from North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War. Our family had experienced the split that happened to so many families in Korea at the time, and then they eventually migrated to the United States, and it was this whole new place at the time because, when they migrated in the early 1970s, Korea was basically a developing economy.
So they showed up with a proverbial hundred dollars in their pockets and had to figure out how to make it in the US, and so, so much of watching my parents do that, I think, taught me this lesson. Not because anyone told it to me, but because I just experienced it with this idea that transformation is a fundamental part of what we do as humans, that we try to remake ourselves to remake our families, to remake the world around us. And I think that notion of transformation was so baked into how I saw the world that when I got to college and got involved in student activism, I began to see politics and activism as a vehicle for transformation, and that's what really spoke to me.
I don't know if I could have put the words on it at the time initially, but I think that's what was really resonant and where I felt the calling. And the other thing I'll just sort of add to it from that story is that I think growing up as the daughter of immigrants and then the granddaughter of refugees, I had grown up with this notion that democracy itself is very fragile. And I think that, you know, for people who've only grown up in the United States or have always lived in a very stable democracy, you kind of forget that the systems that we have that operate in the background of our lives are actually something that need to be protected.
And I think that was, just hearing the stories from my grandparents, was that was something that was always very resonant for us growing up.
Adam Davis: It's interesting. I mean, maybe it's good news that it's hard to take for granted how fragile democracy is right now, even in this country. I think we're close enough to feel that really all the time.
The arc that you're sort of pointing to a few generations back, and then as a way of explaining why you might have moved towards participation in democracy. Now in your book Move to Action, you also talk aboutâ€”the phras is "triggering events." Which is, first of all, it's an interesting phrase because triggering has become such a different sort of word. I think you meant it as positively triggering, triggering us towards participation. And was there an event like that for you that kind of catalyzed involvement?
Hahrie Han: Yeah. So that book was published in 2009. And so the word trigger wasn't, didn't have quite the same connotation back then that it does now. And of course I couldn't have anticipated at the time how it would change. But I think the idea is exactly what you said, that it's the idea that there are these like catalytic moments where our imagination begins to open up in a different way. And I think for me, it really came in college when I was involved in a student organization, you know, that actually was, we got into an argument with the university that we, you know, where the university wanted to exert more control over a student organization that was out there doing all this work in Boston.
I would do my undergraduate work at Harvard and, as a student organization, we of course wanted to maintain our own autonomy, so it's not an unfamiliar, I think, struggle between students and universities. And we decided that, in order to try to have our voices heard, we were gonna organize a big protest in Harvard Yard.
And so we were just a bunch of, I don't know, nineteeen-, twenty-year-olds at the time. And I thought, we're gonna get five thousand people out in Harvard Yard, we're just gonna do it, you know? And I thought it would just happen like that. And some people said, well, you know, maybe you should like take this class on political organizing.
So that's what brought me to the class, not because I was necessarily looking for it, it was be because someone advised at me that maybe should learn something about what we're, what it is that we're actually trying to do, and that there's actually a discipline around it and people who thought about how you do this work, and also that I could get course credit for this project that I was undertaking.
And so all those things seemed like a total win-win for me. But then it turned out that there was just this mind-opening experience because I think that what happened in the class is that I realized, you know, for people that are thinking about organizing as a vehicle for social change and a vehicle for people to be able to realize their voice in public life, like there was a whole analysis that people had around all these things that I had experienced as, you know, a non-White child of immigrants in Texas growing up that I had never really questioned. It always just was, that was just how life was. Like I never really questioned that, you know, all these experiences I've had, but I think it sort of made me see a lot of things in a new.
Adam Davis: So there's so much in that example, including what you just came back to, which is voice. And the sense maybe of being a little outside. But what's interesting is that, even in your example, the sort of catalytic event has to do with autonomy too. Like, what do you mean we can't do this? Or shouldn't we be recognized for doing this a little more? And I wonder if you can remember not the thoughts you were having in that, but the feel, like, what did it feel like to get involved then, in that way? And I really do wanna push on the feeling for a minute.
Hahrie Han: Yeah. You know, so I was still very young then. And I think that, I mean, it's almost like it's that feeling of having something awakened inside of you that you didn't even know needed to be awoke, woken, in a way. So there were a couple things.
First, I was, I obviously wasn't doing this alone. I was doing this with a group of other student leaders. And so the social and emotional bond that we had between us were really important in that moment because these were my friends. I remember, you know, there are so many ups and downs in this conversation with the university. We were meeting with the Dean of students regularly and the dean of students was trying to tell us we had to do these things, and we were saying we didn't want to do them. But we were just little undergrads in this school, in this big massive university. And so when we said, "No, thank you," like we didn't really have any grounds on which to stand and saying that, but then having friends on whose shoulders you could cry and who would hearten you in those moments of despair, I think were really important.
And I think the feeling that, the feeling of hope that there was something that we could do was really important as well. I didn't think about this necessarily at the time, but one of the things that I've thought about a lot since then is this question of, How do you move people from being consumers of politics to actual agents within it, you know?
And I think that word autonomy that you use is a fundamental part of that idea of becoming someone who feels like I can put my hands on the levers of change. And I'd never considered that before until that very moment.
Adam Davis: You could say there's a discipline around organizing. Is organizing, as you hear it, is organizing a lefty word or a lefty thing?
Hahrie Han: That's a really good question. So I hear people use organizing in so many different ways. And so sometimes I feel like the word has gotten so broad in the way that it's used in, in our public discourse that people use it to mean any way in which people are invited to take action.
I'm an organizer if I'm, if I go out and ask people to sign a petition. I'm an organizer if I'm trying to do get out the vote. I'm an organizer if I do traditional community organizing. I'm an organizer if I'm a social entrepreneur that's trying to get more people to use mosquito nets to prevent malaria, you know. And so in that sense, it certainly has no partisan value.
But then for people who I think about the sort of discipline of organizing as a vehicle for social change, I do think that it is more commonly used on the left. But I don't think the practices are different on the left or the right. And so an example that I'll give of that is that I had a colleague, Elizabeth McKenna, who she and I wrote a book about the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, and we were trying to describe how was it that this electoral campaign, became like a social movement where it really combined traditional community organizing techniques as President Obama, you know, knew from his previous career, with traditional electoral politics.
And that's what the book was about. And one of the things that was so interesting to us is that a lot of campaigns on the right began to read the book to the point that the Trump campaign actually made it required reading for all its field organizers in 2020. And there is a twenty-two-question quiz they had to answer about the book before they were allowed to go out into the field.
Adam Davis: Trump Campaign organizers had to read the book that you and Elizabeth McKenna wrote about Obama's organizing?
Hahrie Han: Exactly. You know, and so in that sense, like the, the book was about organizing, like we talk about it and that's the word that we use throughout the book, and it was about a partisan campaign, but it was a campaign on the right that created this quiz, which I still have never seen. So if anyone out there has seen the quiz, I would love to see a copy of it, by the way.
Adam Davis: It sounded like you were pushing us to think about political organizing, it means specifically organizing to take political power in some way.
Hahrie Han: I think my thinking on this has evolved over time, and I think when I first started studying organizing, I thought about it as this question of how do we get people involved, right? How do we create organizations, movements, networks, vehicles, whatever the thing is that pulls people off the sidelines into public life.
And I think over time as I've gotten deeper into the work, part of what I realize is there's this gap between participation and power. So just because people take action, it doesn't mean that the institutions to whom they're speaking are going to listen. And that could be government, it could be corporations, it could be the media, it can, you know, be any range of different kinds of institutions. And so I began to think more about this question of not only how do we pull people off the sidelines of public life, but how do we make it matter? And in that sense, that's where I began to think about organizing as not just this challenge of getting people to take action, but also this challenge of how is that work of building a base of people put into relationship with.
Leadership and the work of negotiating with the institutions where you want to bring people into the center of our politics of, you know, the economy, of whatever the thing is that you might be working on. We call our, I call my research lab The P3 Lab, because we're trying to understand how you make participation possible, probable, and powerful, right?
So people have to be able to participate, they have to want to participate, and it has to matter, right? It has to have power in the world. And I think you're right in the sense that there is like a sense in which it has to matter to me and it has to matter out in the world. But the answer to those questions I think is interrelated. You know, so if I'm engaging people in a way in which it actually has meaning to me, to them, then those same people are more likely to have the kind of commitment and persistence and fortitude that it takes to then make it matter out in the world.
Adam Davis: You're listening to The Detour with Hahrie Han.
Something, maybe, which I want to make sure we're also emphasizing is that as you've done this thinking, it seems like you're thinking about it most with respect to communities and people who have faced barriers to both participating and realizing the kind of power you're talking about. And is the analysis that you're doing different when there are more significant barriers or, or are the underlying principles the same?
Hahrie Han: In the work that I've done, like I've, you know, read so much about history of social movements both in the United States and around the world, and also accounts of organizing campaigns on the left and the right and campaigns that are organizing different kinds of constituencies, some of which have faced, been historically marginalized, have been, you know, race-, class-subjugated communities in different ways, and others that are advocating for less marginalized communities.
I think there's a sense in which, in the same way that we talked about the practices and the basic principles of what it takes to get people involved, construct community around them, help them realize their ability to put their hands on the levers of change and then negotiate for political power is not different. But that being said, I do think that the barriers faced by people that are coming up against. A long legacy of structural racism, of patriarchy, of whatever it might be. It does mean that there's a distinct challenge that it takes for people like that to be able to negotiate for for power.
And I'll give you an example. It's actually not from my work. There's a book that I love called The People's Lobby from a sociologist at University Chicago named Elizabeth Clemens, and she looks at the turn of the twentieth century. So this is the early 1900s, late 1800s, early 1900s, and she asked the question, if we look at that time period, we see that women and farmers and laborers were all a fundamental part of the progressive movement, right? And at the time, the progressive movement was able to win enormous victories, like they fundamentally changed the way politics works in the United States. And so that was the first time that we passed a constitutional amendment to allow direct election of Senators. Right. That was the first time that we adopted the Australian ballot and the idea of the sort of secret ballot, and so very basic features of the American political system, as we have all understood and grown up in. Really emerged in the progressive era, and the question that she asks is, how is it that people who were completely outside the power structure of politics were able to change the very rules of the game by which politics was played. Right? Like women didn't even have the vote, yet they were like fundamental in making these like very basic and fundamental changes in the political system.
And so to get to your point about like, well, how do they, people who have faced these barriers, kind of get involved in. They, one of the things that she writes about is a way in which these women had to really fight to be taken seriously. You know, becauseâ€” and she has these like great archival stories of like state legislatures calling people or writing these letters where they'd say, "You won't believe it. There's a woman in my office and she's asking for things." They just couldn't believe that women, cause all they, all that they were used to was having business lobbyists, essentially, come into their office and try to lobby them. And they were all men. But then she found that the women's organizations that were the most effective were the women's organizations that were able to style themselves as if they were business lobbyists, but then maintain their kind of feminist core in terms of the values and the practices that they espouse. And they needed to be able to do that both/and navigation between being both outside the system but legible within the system in order to kind of negotiate for power, because otherwise, you know, like there are some women's groups that would come in and try to do like knitting circles in the legislator's office, and they just didn't, the legislators just had no idea how to deal with them. But then when the women came in and behaved like lobbyists, they were like, "Okay, it's really weird that you're a woman, but now I know how to talk to a lobbyist."
Adam Davis: That's super interesting. And like the transition from, say, activism to politics, what has to happen there, and is it a good thing or a bad thing for activism that it has to code switch, to put it strongly, in the way you just described?
Hahrie Han: So I would, and instead of you, you use the word compromise to kind of describe that. And I, instead of using the word compromise, I would actually use the word negotiation. Right. So I think compromise implies that what you're doing is giving up something that's important to you. And I think that like in including in what Liz Clemens wrote about in that book, the women were making very bold claims, but they were able, as you put it, to kind of code switch and to sort of present the claims in a form that the legislators knew how to react to, but it wasn't like they were compromising on the principles of what they were asking. That's how they were able to change the rules of the game by which politics was played, which is kind of an incredible thing.
So for me, when I think about it, I feel like a lot of times when people talk to activists, there's this instinct to want to push people into false dichotomy between idealism and pragmatism. And I think the most effective movement leaders that we've seen are simultaneously both idealistic, in the sense that they're advancing a very bold vision, but they're very pragmatic about what it takes to negotiate existing power structures.
The way that I think about organizing is there are lots of doors, there are lots of ways in which people enter into the work of engaging with each other in public life. And there are lots of, and if you're, if I'm an organization, I wanna have lots of open doors that try to bring lots of different kind of people in. Threats, opportunities, you know, issue-based commitments like, you know, people's anger over climate change after seeing their power go out. You know, like all the different things. I wanna have all those doors open.
And I think I personally, at least in the research, in the data that I've seen, am pretty agnostic. Like I haven't seen any data that says one is better than the other at the outset. But what does matter is then what happens once people are in the door. Once people are in the door, I think organizations vary a tremendous amount in the way in which they engage people and whether or not, and, those early experiences turn out to be very predictive of whether or not people stay engaged for the long haul or not. So a lot of organizations focus a lot on those open doors and less on the experience after people walk in that door. But those open doors only get, it's like they're kind of the net, but then the real engine of activism over time is gonna be the experiences that people have once they're through those doors.
Adam Davis: And what makes the experience once they're through the open door, what, what gets 'em to stay?
Hahrie Han: You know, so I think social bonds matter a lot as it turns out, right?
So on a Tuesday night, right, if I'm trying to decide, am I gonna tune into this thing with Oregon Humanities, or I'm gonna kick back and have a beer and watch Netflix? Right then, like, what is it gonna, what's gonna keep me going? Well, I may be very committed to the issue, but what we find on in aggregate is that usually it's, 'cause I really don't wanna let my friend Adam down.
You know, that, like, I'd really rather sit and drink that beer and watch that, you know, watch that movie. But like when Adam asks me, " What'd you think?" I'm gonna be a little bit that he's gonna be disappointed, and I don't wanna let my friend Adam down. Right. And so it's those social ties that really matter and kind of keeping people involved in the long haul.
And then they become really important when the organization gets challenged in some way. So if you look at the history of social movements, like there's lots of idiosyncrasies across them, right? But one thing that's very common across them is that every single time one of them got challengedâ€” they all got challenged at some point, you know, there's never a social movement in the history of of humankind where they tried to like topple political power and political power's like, "Sure, come right in," you know, and just like let them walk through the door, right?
So when they get challenged, then what happens? Well, are your people gonna stick with you? What happens if you have to twist strategy a little bit? You have to pivot the kind of policy that you might be advocating for. Maybe you're gonna advocate for a different kind of candidate. There's, all sorts of flexibility that people have to have, and that flexibility again is born through like a lattice work of relationships that people have that keep them connected to each other or not.
You know, that's what gives movements a kind of flexibility to be able to bend with changing political circumstances.
Adam Davis: It feels like there's at least two things going on in here. One is, it sounds like the advice to any organizing group that wants to be effective is right from the start, think about belonging. Think about how important that sense of we is. Which not only do I understand, but like I find my, like six years ago at an Oregon humanities discussion program, I remember a participant saying his uncle had told him always, "First the gathering, then the topic." So like, let's eat food together, let's laugh with each other, then we'll talk about the thing. And the thing will only matter if we have that other stuff. So, and I, in one way I go, couldn't agree more. Makes total sense to me that belonging should precede belief. Then as I sit with it for even a second, I start to get nervous, because that also sounds like the groundwork for all sorts of potentially dangerous things. So how do you deal with that side of it?
Hahrie Han: Yeah, so I think that's a really important question, right? Because part of what we're seeing right now is, you know, when you pull people into belonging, so that their judgment becomes clouded, you know, that it can actually become anti-democratic. And here, I mean like small-D democracy, not Democratic in a partisan sense, right? In a lot of ways. And so how do we promote belonging in a way that is pro-democratic? And the question that I would kind of think about is how do you create an organization that helps people feel like they belong, but then also promote small-D democratic values like pluralism, tolerance. And to me so much of that is about the extent to which the organizations themselves are bridging different kinds of difference.
And so when I create a community of belonging around people that have a very diverse set of experiences, it's very hard to force that entire community into, you know, some mono-ideological kind of view. And I think that's the kind of thing that, you know as, as we sort of see the proliferation of people's echo chambers and the kind of increasing separation of the kind of social committees that we're in tho, that's the kind of danger that we're beginning to see emerge in different ways.
Adam Davis: Hahrie Han is a professor, author and the director of the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
Now we want to turn from the conversation with Hahrie in early 2021 to a more recent conversation in late 2022 at the Alberta Rose Theatre in Northeast Portland that Bruce Poinsette arranged and moderated to kick off our current Consider This series on People, Place, and Power. Bruce is one of three 2022 Oregon Humanities Community Storytelling Fellows, and he's also a lifelong Oregonian who's poured a lot of work and thought into trying to understand what it takes to shape a community that has in many ways been inhospitable to Black people practically and psychically.
What does it take to belong and get organized in a place where so many doors have been closed or hidden? By the way, Bruce was a co-host of last month's episode that explores the relationships between Black native Oregonians and transplants. If you haven't already, please check it out.
Bruce is joined by Joy Alise Davis, the president and executive director of Imagine Black, an organization that works to help Oregon's Black community imagine the alternatives they deserve and build political participation to achieve those alternatives. It's also one of the first Black-led and Black-serving political 501(c)(4)s. She's joined by Keith Jenkins, imagine Black's Field and Organizing Director, and Marcus LeGrand, the Afrocentric Program Coordinator and Professor of Business and Human Development at Central Oregon Community College, who also serves on the board of the Bend-La Pine School District.
Bruce Poinsette: When I think about the conversation around politics and Black people in Oregon, I think the reason why we're here tonight, the reason why I'm certainly doing this, is because the conversation is often so reactionary. It's, you know, get out the vote, a month before the vote. It's a response to get out the vote by saying, "Why should we vote at all? The system is corrupt" a month before the vote. It's, you know, responding to all various forms of White supremacist terror, be it the most physical and obvious to just what we see in school board meetings, city council meetings, haranguing people about, you know, the dangers of CRT and all this craziness. But tonight I really want us to not just recognize our power as a voting block, but recognize our collective power, period: affirm it, and most importantly, wield it.
So with that, we have three organizers with us. That's kind of, that's where I wanna start. Cause I've gotten to know all three of you through various different organizing work. Who come representing different parts of the region: Ashland, Bend, Portland. Not to mention what brought you all to Oregon to begin with.
So there's a lot of perspective here. Let's start off with that organizing aspect. We talk about office, we talk about legislation, but it's also the matter of just like meeting people where they're at. We're trying to bring people into the room. We're trying to get people engaged, show people that we are really invested in them, that we're really fighting for them, that we're there to take care of them.
And I'm bringing this to Joy Alise, cause I think something that I really, I like that Imagine Black does, is like that nuts and bolts support of people just to do things like coming to meetings and, you know, providing things like, you know, like a GrubHub gift card for, you know, attending the meeting, doing focus groups, doing these small, like non, you know, these non- glorified things. They're very important, so yeah. Can you just talk about the importance of that? And maybe talk a little bit more about what Imagine Black does when it comes to kind of like that. Yeah. That just in between and providing for people aspect.
Joy Alise Davis: Yeah. I'll, I'll start there.
We strongly believe that Black people are experts and they should be treated as such. And we know it may not always be possible to give the amount of resources that they deserve to be at the table. Like we can hold kind of both things at the same time. We believe in giving gift cards to folks to show up. We believe that when you're consulting on something for the city, like a focus group, you need to be compensated. You need to make sure that you can hire or pay someone in your family to take care of your child that you have. A Lyft code, maybe, because you don't feel safe taking TriMet in your neighborhood.
Like there's so many things and it really is a privilege to be able to show up without support. And I think if we're honest with ourselves, we all need a support. And we need spaces where we're valued and we're appreciated.
We also believe in visioning. We know this work is the long haul. We know there's ups and downs. We know that we're fighting. A vision that we've never seen. We're moving towards black liberation, and that's hard for folks to realize. So we try to imagine with them. We try to dream with them. We try to have conversations that allow for them, again, to shape their environment. I think self-determination is all about shaping your environment, to really have that power.
And it's really disappointing when we work with the city or other folks who think that it's disrespectful to give someone a stipend or they think it's ridiculous to put budget in there for food and childcare and everything else that folks need because we're meeting over Zoom as if, you know, bills aren't bills.
Keith Jenkins: I just wanna say that--
Adam Davis: Here's Keith Jenkins.
Keith Jenkins: After receiving that gift card, I kind of feel like I gotta show up as my best, authentic self, and give you everything I got because you're extending the olive branch to me, so I gotta show up for you. You know what I'm saying? Like, you're taking care of me.
I don't have to worry about what I'm about to eat right now. So I'm about to give you my undivided attention and give you everything I got on the subject that we're speaking of. Cause that's all you want. All you want is me. And so I'm gonna bring that.
Bruce Poinsette: What does it mean to actually hold politicians, hold institutions accountable to Black people and to not just The Black Community, but Black communities and all the different people that represent Black populations that make up Oregon? So I know, you know, one example at least of a tool that you know is gonna be put into place is again with Imagine Black. I know you are rolling out the No Police Money Pledge. You know, we talked about defunding earlier. Can you talk about what that is and why? Yeah. How it works as an accountability tool.
Joy Alise Davis: Yeah. Thank you so much for the question. I'm sure folks remember years ago when. There were all these pledges to stop, for politicians to stop taking money from fossil fuel companies. And there was a time where that was like a controversial thing. It was a time where folks were nervous and afraid of taking bold stances for clean energy or bold stances for our, like, literal Earth. I guess it's still happening.
But we have been learning from folks around the country who've been pushing this No Police Money in Politics pledge. Color for Change has one, like many orgs have them around the country, and the concept is simple: we want politicians, candidates, to pledge not to take police money. And that doesn't mean you're pledging not to work with them. It's actually saying you're gonna work with them knowing that you're actually held accountable by the people and not by their dollars. It's a simple thing. You literally go to NoPoliceMoney.org and you fill out a form and you make that commitment.
It's funny. In 2020, the folks who helped design this concept, they went around and they talked to elected officials who were putting up their Black Lives Matter signs and were like doing all the things to show that they care about Black people, and they would not take a pledge not to take police money. Like they thought it was absurd. And I'm not just saying White politicians, Black ones, like so many people actually said no to us because they were afraid of the perception or they were afraid to actually take a bold stance and to say, "You know what? I'm gonna hold you accountable and I'm gonna listen to the people cause I actually serve the community."
I'm super proud that in the primaries in May of this year, we had twenty-two politicians who were running for office who took the pledge, and like very quickly, like we didn't have to go back and forth and try to convince them.
There were folks who definitely said no. We are because we're able to endorse candidates, that was a criteria. And I would never forget, I will not say this person's name, but there was a candidate that we like rocked with that we were so excited about that aligned with us. But this candidate was too afraid to take the pledge, and was afraid of the backlash, and didn't see this as an opportunity to build from a place of trust and accountability. And we had to say no. We were like, "We're not gonna endorse you. We wish you well. We don't wish any ill towards you, but we're interested in building with folks who are interested in building with us."
So I think it's a simple pledge. I don't think it's controversial. It shouldn't be in the year that we are in. But it is a commitment to put your budget, put your resources where your mouth is, and stop pretending like you care about Black lives when in reality you're actually willing to be bought off by folks who, you know, believe otherwise. ,
Keith Jenkins: You actually took the answer right out of my mouth with your antidote. Because the main thing that I always tell people is the black community, we have to make demands of our politicians. They come to us when they need us, and we don't have anything that we're asking them for. You know, like, straight up, you have to make a demand and you say, "And if you're not gonna meet that demand, we're gonna go somewhere else. We have options." Somebody's gonna, how many options? Somebody's gonna meet this demand, but we have to make it. And what you guys did was, is you made a demand and twenty-two people met the demand. And that's, that's beautiful. Like, like I said, you took the answer right out of my mouth with your anecdote. And that fills me with hope, because that's what I've been saying for so long, is we gotta, we have to make demands of our politicians, and then hold them accountable. If we come to the table with no demands, then they're gonna get over on us every time.
Joy Alise Davis: Frederick Douglass said that, he said power concedes nothing without a demand.
Yeah. Like, there's been organizers who've added the word, an organized demand, like you have to make a demand or you're just gonna end up following, you know, the will of an individual person. And that's not democracy.
Marcus LeGrand: And just like you said, you know, no foundation without roots, right? No. True without roots. How are you gonna do it. So I totally get that, and I'm that way too. It's like, okay, great. You coming to me for my endorsement? Why? What, I don't speak for the whole Black community. I'm not a, we're not a monolith. Come on. Really? Boom. So why you coming to me for my endorsement? If you coming to me, that means you are, I'm, you're thinking that the Black community says, well, Marcus did it. You didn't. No. Come actually talk to us. I do give some of the candidates who were running for governor when they came to Bend, they made it a point to actually come and speak to the Father's Group, and I don't like to use the term hot seat, but they were, they were.
Keith Jenkins: It was uncomfortable for em.
Marcus LeGrand: Oh my God, yes. Yeah.
Like, no, you do not have a meeting you can run from. It is the evening, you are in Bend, you don't have anywhere to go. You'll be a'ight. So you drove over here, you're finna take this heat. So, you know, don't make promises and stuff, like I said, but then all of a sudden it--
Okay, really quick. So my big thing is this. Don't come to me and say I can run Republican or Democrat, and then if I run either one, that's gonna get me elected, but then turn around and go, okay, the work still needs to be done. Yes, I'm elected now, but where's the work? "Well, you gotta come tell us about the issues." No, I shouldn't. You should be coming to us and telling here's what's up.
And then what happens is now that other people are running, you want my endorsement? For what reason? You haven't come to the Black community since you got elected the last time. So why should I? Why should I endorse you? That's crazy. I said, but I'm not gonna put myself out there like that to do that.
So unfortunately, you start not getting invited to stuff. Right? Or, well, we don't wanna hear your voice anymore. Like, wait a minute, calm down on a little bit. You needed me to get you votes, but now you can't do what I need you to do. Hmm. So one sided always so in so many ways. So it, it is tough sometimes. Really, really tough.
Joy Alise Davis: And I bet when you get hot again, they're gonna want you.
Marcus LeGrand: Oh, every two years they want you.
Bruce Poinsette: You know, you said something earlier about understanding that the young people are watching you. And I always think about that, especially when it comes to, you know, Black issues campaigns, progressive issues campaigns, you know, progressive Black candidates. How important it is for especially young people to be able to see that, to see those people coming from a place of strength? Let's use the Lake Oswego example here. If I never see a Black person in a position of authority and lo get on a stage and say "It is Lake No Negro no more, because I am here," while people are actively organizing against Anti-blackness that-- and telling the same horror stories that I dealt with when I was going to school. I graduated in 2007, mind you, I still work with these students. It's literally the same thing. But when I see people getting on these stages and saying these things that are, for just being real, they think they're speaking to just a White audience. They don't feel accountable to the Black people there. They don't feel accountable to Black constituents, the needs, they can say whatever wild thing that might make the White people comfortable or entertain them, and it's cool.
And I know the young people are watching that, and like there's some people who they see that they know what's going on, and it's disheartening it, it stalls engagement. It's stunts engagement. Then there's all the young people, there's all the-- probably more people who see that, who don't pick up on what's going on, who just assume that's how we're supposed to move. And it creates this cycle of taking that internalized White supremacy that people don't even realize. It's internalized White supremacy. And that's how we just assume we're supposed to move in these spaces. And then that's what we teach the next generation. Teach all thnon-Blackck people. That's okay. That's how it's okay to treat us.
Adam Davis: Hey, it's Adam. Here's the audience Questions. Enjoy.
Elona J Wilson: Hi everyone. My name's Elona J Wilson, and I use she/her pronouns, and I'm the executive director of Next Up.
Joy Alise Davis: Woo.
Elona J Wilson: Thank you. And I also grew up here, and I grew up differently than, than you did, right? Not necessarily empowered by the Blackness. Right. And so something that I've really been struggling with, and I'm curious, cause there's so much beautiful expertise in this room. How do you convince Black people who have been here for generations, oppressed for generations, how do you get them to believe that we have political power, as we've never seen that actually come to fruition?
People are particularly skeptical when they're from here. I definitely know that I was raised to be skeptical, cause we've never seen it. So how do you work, coming from other places, coming from a place where you've been empowered your whole life? How do you support people who've not and who are Black?
Keith Jenkins: That's a really good question because I'm from East Oakland, California, and it's like the home of the revolution. So coming here from there was really difficult for me, because people aren't like that. And the way that I bridge that gap is, I talk about home a lot. I tell 'em how it is. Like I talk about the good old days, I talk about the good things that we did and how, you know, we can do that here if we have the support of people like you. And I understand that it hasn't always been great and people haven't always kept their word, but I'm not people. I'm here because I care and I wanna make things better for you and you can make things better for me by helping and believing in me. And that's what I like to tell.
Joy Alise Davis: Okay, organizer, I see you with the script. It's, Ooh, I, I'm not from here. I'm from Cincinnati. It's interesting, I grew up in a city that was nearly, you know, almost majority Black. I think now city proper might be just like teetering on majority, you know. We were able to pick and choose our Black leaders. We were able to push back in a different way.
When I'm here, I like to lead with listening. I like to lead with trying to understand the different conditions and not minimize the hard work and the resilience of Oregon. Like, Black people are not supposed to be here, and yet they're here. Like, that is a miracle. And that took hard work and dedication.
And then I like to go with visioning. I believe in Black radical imagination. I believe in asking what would the world look like for you if it was different? And starting to co-create that vision and then have a conversation about the tools that we could do or we could work towards to get there. So for me, it's visioning and listening.
Marcus LeGrand: Oh, so for me, like you're saying, I'm coming from right outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. My grandmother was a civil rights activist. She did all the voter registration for the state of North Carolina for all the Black people. Okay, so she used to have, you know, the governor, senators all sitting in her backyard eating on barbecue.
I see my grandmother all of a sudden have dirt roads, paved roads, lights, different things that we needed in the community. She made sure we got. So, growing up in that environment as a kid, you had to understand what I go through. So the way I approach it is this, and I tell a lot of people, especially in Central Oregon, cause a lot of us are not from Central Oregon, a lot of the places we lived before, we weren't the cultivators of what was necessary when it came to culture, but now that we're the ones who have to generate it, you gotta be prideful in that and understanding what your responsibility is. So that's what I try to do in terms of approaching it.
Bruce Poinsette: Yeah. As a, as a media person, as a writer, as a storyteller, I find it's important, one, to share, make sure people know the history of Black people in the state. But it's not just, you know, yes, there's exclusion laws and merely, you know, surviving that in itself is big, but there's Black history makers, black organizations that have, that are out here, that have been doing the work. There's legacies of that.
Charles Fennell: Thank you for the conversation tonight. My name is Charles Fennell. I work with OHSU, the Layton Center for Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Research. And I'm brand new to Portland. I moved here about a month ago from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Yeah, so, but I'm not new to DEI work. I went to school at Appalachian State University in rural North Carolina. So I have so many things to say, but I'm gonna try to keep it simple. I know how it can feel and how demotivating and disparaging it can be to be in a rural space. And to do work in a rural space like we spoke or you spoke about earlier, coming to different spaces, radicalizing you in one way or another.
Like I was, you know, my dreads, my do rag, A shirt on, going to class, getting the A's just to, cause I wanted to use my elbows and show where excellence can exist and that we can exist and open a path. But I know that doing that, and similar to I believe Elona's question, and seeing how people can get burnt out, and you, doing the work, can get burnt out. I wanted to--
So I came to Oregon because of the SHARP Walking Study. I don't know if you are all familiar, but it's kind of a intersection between a community celebratory approach with Black people specifically, and health and health advocacy. So that kind of reinvigorated a lot of my passion and found me on the other side of the country.
But I wanted to ask you all about what informs your passions and what keeps you motivated to do the work that you do?
Keith Jenkins: The community for me. Yeah, just getting out, talking to Black people about Black issues. That's what reinvigorates me every single time, because I could talk to, I could talk to ten Black people and hear ten different things, and they all tug on my heartstrings. So it's not hard for me to, it's not hard for me to stay motivated, because every single day I find motivation.
Marcus LeGrand: What motivates me, what pulls on my heartstrings, is seeing those students that look on their face when it clicks. Mm-hmm. But at the same time too, my grandmother said it best and, and I always give her credit for this, and she was phenomenal.
She goes, "Young man, your service is to the people, always to the people." I was taught that a long time ago, so that's what. just, it's ingrained in me and, and it's just, it's just innate that I just wanted to make sure the kids feel good and they have agency. And I'm serious, I love seeing 'em smile and like seeing their light shine and that's the only other, I'm serious. That's what that motivates me every day.
Joy Alise Davis: I'll be brief and be honest that this work is hard, and I'm not always motivated, to be honest. There are times where it feels like you're pushing towards something that is never gonna change, so to speak. Or you're talking to a legislator who refuses to even see your humanity, and you have to still try to convince them to do something you need them to do. In those moments, I try to connect with my comrades, with my people, with the folks that are also in this struggle and understand that liberation takes work and and the opposition wants us to quit, like they want us and they're trying like crazy to tell us to stop. So I try to rest up, talk to my folks, and find strength in community.
Bruce Poinsette: So I think my answers are most of the same, like it is community, definitely, for me. Building with people is huge. Doing some work with young people, you know, like you said, that that aha moment, those never get old. And then I guess a very small-- and I want to emphasize tiny-- sliver of it is just pettiness. You're in these rooms, you're dealing with just systems that you know could be better. They're like easily fixable. You're dealing with mediocre people, proudly mediocre people, and it just doesn't sit right with me to lose to them. I don't care how long it takes. I'll be on my deathbed, but I know I got that dent in. Yes. Yeah, that's, that's part of it. There it is.
Marcus LeGrand: Bruce, I love you for that, man.
Adam Davis: Bruce Poinsette said is a journalist, educator, and community organizer. Joy Alise Davis is the president and director of Imagine Black. Marcus LeGrand is the Afrocentric Program Coordinator and Professor of Business and Human Development at Central Oregon Community College. Keith Jenkins is the field and organizing director at Imagine Black.
If you like this episode, tune into the next show in our series on organizing, which explores intergenerational organizing in Oregon, hosted by Rozzell Medina. You can find links to the full conversations as well as links to our guests' work, on our website at oregonhumanities.org. If someone you know thinks about organizing, consider sharing this episode with them. It means a lot to us.
The Detour is produced by Keiren Bond. Dave Friedlander is our editor. Ben Waterhouse, Karina Karina Briski, and Alexandra Powell Bugden are our assistant producers. I'm Adam Davis. Thank you for listening. See you next time.