“Across the country, throughout Oregon, and within the Democratic Party of Multnomah County, the demand for racial justice is clear. The time is now to bring the demand for racial justice to the surface and for us to take action. Our platform takes that guidance from our racial inclusivity work group leaders. We must all work together for change.”Lurelle Robbins, Chair of the Democratic Party of Multnomah County
On November 23, 2019, Democrats of Multnomah County approved a new party platform with unprecedented anti-racist articles that are unique to parties anywhere in the nation.
After all the legislative action items had been approved, one more motion was made from the floor. The articles had been arranged in the order introduced. The most recent, Tribal Sovereignty and Historical and ongoing Anti-Blackness in Oregon, were at the end. Danelle Stevens requested revising the order, which was quickly done to honor these new articles. The proposed change passed unanimously. Throughout the room filled with paper, laptops, pizza boxes, and coffee cups, applause erupted.
You can count the number of county parties in the state of Oregon that establish a platform at all. For the Democratic Party of Multnomah County, the platform convention is a part of an ongoing cycle of collective activism. Built from the efforts of study groups for hot button political issues, the platform speaks of topics and positions from engaged activists.
As with past platforms, the newly approved 2020 platform has articles on climate, infrastructure, labor issues, and justice — 14 articles in all this year as a focus on racial justice came to the fore. Three of the new articles have specific, groundbreaking planks and legislative action to address racism and its repercussions.
“As far as I know, these articles are unique to our party. I don’t believe that any other county or state party has articles on these topics,” said Faith Ruffing, chair of the Multnomah Democrats Platform Committee.
Tribal Sovereignty article possibly unique in the nation
The Portland Metropolitan area is the ninth-largest community of Indigenous people in the United States, with 380 tribal nations represented, including the nine with land in Oregon. Even the county name—“Multnomah”—comes from the Chinookan name for the Indigenous people of the area. Current residents are surrounded by Indigenous culture in both our history and present day, and yet tribal members remain extremely underrepresented in politics.
Multnomah Democrats, led by Ruth Jensen, dedicated an article specifically to improving recognition of tribal sovereignty and disparities that continue because it is not well understood and respected. The political relationship between indigenous tribal nations and the United States government is unique. They are neither a special interest group nor a subset of counties but territories whose relationship with the federal government is defined by formal treaties and trust responsibility to protect Indigenous nations.
Calling for compliance with existing treaties, equal access to justice, and an end to disparities in services, the Platform seeks to enhance self-determination as well as the bonds of culture and family for native people.
Historical and Ongoing Anti-Blackness in Oregon article takes on racist heritage with an eye for healing
Infamously, Oregon entered the Union in 1859 as a “whites-only” state. Through to contemporary times, local and state governments have been complicit in anti-black policies. A group of black Democrats from diverse backgrounds came together to write an article focused on a path forward for this state and nation, with support from other members of the Platform Committee.
Through “unique and faceted” policies, the platform seeks structural change to alleviate the damage to Black Oregonians resulting from Black exclusionary history. The Democratic party of Multnomah County proposes reparations, solutions to disproportionate incarceration, and greater parity in home loans and small business loans.
Inequitable opportunity remains stark. The largest bank in the state of Oregon (Umpqua Bank) gave one single Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to a black owned business in the last ten years. Meanwhile, mega bank Wells Fargo provided less than 3 loans on average per year for the last 10 years.
Abuse of Power article
In addition to these articles focusing on particular groups of Americans, the 2020 Multnomah Democrats platform includes another new article addressing the dangers of abuse of power, particularly as it has ”the highest cost to those of us whose equal rights are still not recognized by all.”
“The new Abuse of Power article speaks to the violence, neglect, and disparities practiced under cover of institutional power. We see it as using racism to increase power, unjust incarceration, and harmful barriers to immigration. It addresses behaviors we see from Oregon to the current White House and will guide our ongoing fight for equity and accountability,” said Beth Woodward, a key author of the Abuse of Power article.
Racial inclusivity work within party raises awareness, drives change
In 2018, the Democratic Party of Multnomah County chartered a Racial Inclusivity Workgroup (RIWG) to transform the party into a more inclusive group.
“We are learning how racism ranges from the subtle to the overt and we have made a commitment to investigate our own issues with race,” said Robbins. The RIWG organized workshops for party leadership, sponsored affinity groups, and developed a tool for identifying racial bias in policy documents such as the platform, the Racial Inclusivity Lens.
Co-chairs of RIWG, G.M. Garcia and Salomé Chimuku, and several workgroup members were active at the convention and contributed to guiding the direction of the platform. “It is time for this party to recognize racism and work together for justice. We can see that energy in this room,” said Garcia
Nature of platform
With a large, energetic volunteer base, the Multnomah Democrats maintain year-round policy and legislative action activity. All of that activity is organized around the platform. Each article is assigned to a study group of Democrats passionate about the topic. They also monitor legislation and other opportunities to influence policy.
Leading up to the platform convention every two years, the study groups draft updates of each article and solicit input from the Democratic voters of the county.
The culmination of the platform development process was the platform convention. In a day-long meeting, Multnomah County Democrats of all political stripes met face to face and drilled down into the specific wording of each legislative action item.
Jack Hanna, former treasurer and chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and now a Multnomah County resident, participated in the convention for the first time.
“Party Platforms just don’t exist there (Pennsylvania). I am impressed with the time, effort and deliberation needed to create one. I truly enjoyed the convention experience and thought it helped me and all those participating to examine and obtain consensus on the major issues confronting our communities. It’s exactly what our Party should be doing right now,” he said.
After all the legislative action items had been approved, one more motion was made from the floor. The articles had been arranged in the order introduced. The most recent, Tribal Sovereignty and Historical and ongoing Anti-Blackness in Oregon, were at the end. Danelle Stevens requested revising the order, which was quickly done to honor these new articles. The proposed change passed unanimously. Applause erupted throughout the room.
Next steps for the platform
“We think of the platform as the heartbeat of this party. All of our messaging, our lobbying, and our support of candidates is guided by it” said Robbins.
The next steps will be a survey of attendees and county Democrats to prioritize the legislative action items. It will then be delivered to Democratic office holders and will guide our lobbying efforts during the upcoming legislative sessions.