Why I Am a Democrat: Joel Barker

Five Questions for Joel Barker, Communications Director of the Democratic Party of Multnomah County

Joel Barker runs Lions Way, a digital marketing company for technology companies. A lifelong Oregonian, he grew up in the central part of the state and moved to Portland in 2001. Since 2018, he has spent countless hours in his role as communications director of the Multnomah County Democrats, gathering information from the diverse active groups and carving out messages that will resonate with the membership at large. His management and organizational skills have come into play more than ever this election year, as many volunteers are signing up to help communicate the Party’s mission and work. 

When downtown Portland was rocked with nightly protests this summer, the New York Times quoted Barker as observing the mostly peaceful nature of the Black Lives Matter protests. Barker believes that our city is being used as a political game piece for the president in an election year. “It’s really terrible… I want America to understand how terrible it is to feel like a city you love is being occupied by your own federal government, because that’s how it feels.”

Joel is a dedicated Multnomah County Democrat. The Digest asked him a few questions to figure out why:

1. How did you become involved in the Democratic Party of Multnomah County?

I woke up November 9, 2016 and realized that I hadn’t done enough, that the nation and Democracy that I adored required people to staff it. Before, I had volunteered for this campaign or that, knocking on doors or making calls. I remembered reading Michael Moore who talked about how important county and precinct politics was, so I looked into becoming a precinct committee person (PCP). I liked the election process, seeing my name on a ballot and all.

Becoming a PCP really cemented my responsibility to make an impact. The sprawl of committees and projects in MultDems meant I could find any number of ways to feel effective. Communications was a natural spot and I got to be a part of a great team, led by my predecessor, who built out our 2018 website.

2. What are some of the things you do as the communications officer?

The responsibility is to oversee the “internal and external communications” of the party. That means keeping the website and social media lively, but also helping the passionate work of our study groups and other committees to get exposure.

We represent a quarter of a million Democrats, a diverse group. We do our best to consider how we can let them know how they can be empowered and for their values to be reflected in the party and our candidates.

3. Who influenced your decision to become involved?

I call him The Servant. I know others call him The Orange Menace. I can’t excuse myself for not leaving everything on the table right now. I am here to bring our coalition together, speak the powerful compelling truth of our communities, and get people excited about voting.

4. What’s making you hopeful right now?

Our candidates. Joe Biden is the big tent soul that can hear our diverse communities. Shemia Fagan is a powerhouse who understands Oregon and will help shape it going forward. Our senators and representatives have proven themselves brave, smart, and dedicated. 

Personally, my herding dog Olive keeps me in line.

5. Do Democrats have a communications challenge right now?

Not right now, because we are united.

We have in the past and we will again. I thought it was purely a national issue until I got involved locally. Now I understand that the passion and diversity of the Democratic coalition requires thoughtful, heartfelt language. It is not easy to find the words true for everyone in the room.

I hope that we can do this hard work of staying together and turning enthusiasm into votes up until January 2021. Let’s restore order so that civil dialogue about tough subjects can start again.

Note: The author of this article is Beth Blenz-Clucas