We connected with GM Garcia, the 2020 Dick Celsi Award winner and co-chair of the Racial Inclusivity Work Group, to discover how the work of building inclusiveness in the Democratic Party of Multnomah County can happen.
Garcia’s impact on the Multnomah Democrats is seen in the organization’s Platform, which was shaped using the Racial Equity Lens designed by RIWG’s Policy & Platform Sub Committee, as well as the ongoing activities among all PCPs. The PCP and retired education administrator who once served as the Oregon Association for Bilingual Education president is trainer and coach at the consultancy she co-founded, Gemini Consulting. She also contributes to the County Democrat Reader.
The Work Group aims to advise MultDems as the organization develops common knowledge, practices, and norms necessary to operate in ways that are culturally responsive, racially inclusive, and continuously reflective of equitable policies and practices. These guidelines can prove to be a model for other Democratic Party organizations around Oregon.
Here is an abbreviation of the conversation:
MultDems: What are some of the key issues right now for the Racial Inclusivity Work Group?
GM Garcia: We were about to celebrate the one-year anniversary in March when the pandemic hit. Some members had already ended a year-long term, so our plan was to recruit new members at the annual Celsi Celebration fund-raiser. After the cancellation of this event, we embraced the challenge for creative outreach. We aspire to maintain a membership of 75% people of color while avoiding “singletons”. Our current recruitment priority is Latino/a, Asian-American/Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous people to become Active Members.
Within the Work Group, we have a subcommittee charged with membership recruitment and retention. Not only are they bringing new people in, they want to support members and make their involvement in Multnomah County Democrats a productive experience.
A lot of our discussion has been how to keep the meetings open, and to create an agenda with an action plan and specific timelines, and to do so in a way that there isn’t just one person in charge. Especially with meetings all online now, it can be problematic if we are too loose with air time. That can result in not having a BIPOC voice in the room.
Another key subcommittee is Truth & Reconciliation, and Greg Burrell brings his expertise as a philosopher to the role of leading us toward a healthy path of forgiveness, healing, and growing together in a more racially inclusive way of being.
MultDems: What are some of the issues of race here in Multnomah County?
GMG: My perception is that the makeup of our organization does not currently parallel or represent the diverse people of Multnomah County. The culture of MultDems is centered around white middle class members whose roles (whether they realize it or not) carry a higher level of power. That has been painfully clear to Black and Brown people who try to become involved. We know there are plenty of good intentions, but they are irrelevant when there is a direct negative impact on those who hold less power.
MultDems: What do you think about the recent racial justice protests in Portland?
GMG: My stance can be expressed in 3 words: Black Lives Matter.
Some people in marginalized groups may buy into the idea that this is pie to be divided. If somebody else gets a bigger slice of pie, our group may get less.
Zero-sum theory does not apply, as a rising tide lifts all sails. When there is racial justice for Blacks, we will all benefit greatly. Let’s avoid the “Oppression Olympics”, “BWAME” (But What about Me?), and center the movement on Blackness. Black people have been standing up for oppressed groups all long. It is time for all of us to listen, follow, and step up for Portland’s Black community.
I have noticed from my own participation as a brown woman participating in the Portland protests, that the presence and leadership of Black people can easily be supplanted by white liberals with cute signs they use to take selfies for Facebook. As the whitest large city in the country, I wonder what the national organization can teach us about the whiteness of our current protest efforts. I often wonder if the quality control, organizational resources, and purposeful centering on Blackness, could be improved if the city of Portland revisits its decision not to have a Chapter in the national BLM organization.
MultDems: How can white allies support the cause of racial inclusivity?
GMG: The people who started the Racial Inclusivity Work Group were all white. They had a brilliant idea: “We will have people of color leading.” That is still our goal. Both co-chairs are people of color. The spirit behind this is that “We will listen to POC”. We’re better off than we were before, but we have a long way to go.
Upon request of the co-chairs, white Active Members of Racial Inclusivity started an affinity group for white allies called “DOW” — Deconstructing Our Whiteness. It’s designed for people to create a safe place to productively discuss issues of race in a self reflective way that can deepen their knowledge and strengthen their skills around discussing and addressing race in everyday interactions. All whites who apply for RIWG, and each member of MultDems’ Administrative Team are invited to participate.
Another thing white people can do is join the new Anti-Racist Book Group . There are also ways for white people to become involved in RIWG, perhaps via participation in subcommittee work, helping with events and even clerical support. We need help right now to maintain our databases and track new and potential members.
It’s important for MultDems (especially whites) to understand the role of RIWG-what we do and don’t do. We are not the equity department that abdicates the responsibility of our leaders. We instead help the leaders better understand different perspectives that empower them to become the stewards of equitable policy and practice. We are not here to recruit people of color to the MultDems. One does not invite guests if the house is not clean. We instead help the current residents learn to see what needs changing in order for POC to feel welcome, included, and meaningfully engaged. This alone has and will continue to increase the number of POC that join us. RIWG is not here to do diversity training. That is something the organization as a whole needs to prioritize and implement. We are a resource that can help guide any of these efforts.
MultDems: What else do you hope to accomplish?
GMG: The next action item of importance was a comprehensive needs assessment thorough a racial equity framework. This would help inform the new leaders of 2021 on priority actions, organizational strengths upon which to draw, and resource needs for agreed upon initiatives that align with Officers’ trajectory of Multdems work.
As the Active Membership is changing during this transition, we are also finalizing our RIWG Charter that defines who and why we are, how we conduct ourselves in meetings, how we mediate conflict, and a complete action plan with measurable goals, specific timelines, and accountability for tracking progress and accomplishments.
For more information about the Racial Inclusivity Work Group, visit: https://multdems.org/riwg/