A report from the MultDems Racial Inclusivity Work Group

by Greg Burrill, RIWG Co-Chair

Greg Burrill at the July MultDems picnic.
Credit: Damien Grace

The MultDems Racial Inclusivity Work Group (RIWG) began with a meeting in 2017 attended by many people familiar to those with longstanding interest in the Multnomah County Democratic Party. We gathered, in part, to heal a rift that began with the election of Lakeitha Elliott, a Black woman, as the MultDems Chair. When she was forced to resign, many of the party’s African Americans left in protest. Although the memory of that event a decade ago has faded, many BIPoC folx* notice that institutional racism is still alive and well—even in the People’s Republic of Portland.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that when most White people think of racism, they think of transactional racism; actively discriminating against someone because of their race or ethnicity. In reality, most of the daily racism BIPoC folx face comes from people who have no idea how their words, behaviors and ideas land in the ears of their friends, colleagues, and coworkers. The largest outpouring of protest against anti-Black racism of the 21st Century—the response to the killing of George Floyd—resulted in fewer than 40% of White Americans seeking to learn about the problem. Here is how I might teach Lesson One on Institutional Racism:

If you need to hire someone for an important project, you might prefer to hire someone you already know and trust; that’s a perfectly natural desire. If, however, because of the racist housing policies that have denied BIPoC folx the chance to attend the same schools and live in the same neighborhoods as white folks, that natural desire is an expression of institutional racism.

The Racial Inclusivity Work Group (RIWG) has already made great strides in overcoming the effects of institutional racism within certain groups. We created a Racial Equity Lens, so that committees as well as study and education groups could ask themselves a series of questions to highlight instances of institutional racism in their charters, bylaws, and standing rules. For example, because being chair of the County Party is a full-time volunteer job, it is only open to those with enough privilege to perform a full time job without pay. (The same problem exists with the Oregon State Legislature, as evidenced by several members who decided not to seek re-election because of the low pay.)

One of the most visible effects of RIWG’s efforts is on the last two MultDems’ Platform documents; both the Article on Historical and Ongoing Anti-Blackness and on Tribal Sovereignty were written and advanced by RIWG members. RIWG is also responsible for convincing MultDems leadership of the need for Equity Training—and have been providing it for several years.

Now that the COVID pandemic seems to be fading, it’s time to regain the momentum we had at the beginning of 2020. Our vision for next steps will not come from me; it will be the co-creation of our members, but my personal vision is of assembling a group of two to three dozen folx up to 75% BIPoC, to create a safe space where members of various Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian people from around the world can heal our trauma and bring more people into the fight for American democracy.

In the short-term, we will be focusing on recruitment, and we will be updating our Racial Equity Lens, as well as updating and adopting our Charter.

I am an educator, and Portland Public Schools has been making problematic decisions for years. So, one thing I hope to do is to recruit RIWG members from the community schools that the Portland Association of Teachers are organizing. Because Portland Public Schools’ professional educators will be bargaining our new contract, and organizing community schools is part of the Portland Association of Teachers’ plan to win, I am hoping that some community members will want to join MultDems to synergistically act to create, for the first time in decades, the Schools our Students Deserve.

In any event, we are actively recruiting BIPoC members, and we want to know who in the majority community wants to be considered for future openings. Fill out application here. Any questions? Please contact RIWG directly to learn more: racialinclusivity@gmail.com.

* Editor’s note: the term “folx” is used to signal the inclusion of groups commonly marginalized.