Member Spotlight: Paul Choi

In this Member Spotlight, we asked a new Multnomah County Democrat to tell us his story. Paul was an integral part of the Communications Group effort to overhaul the MultDems website. Paul was able to take the design work done by the team and previous volunteers and single-handedly deliver the streamlined site which just launched in January. The Democratic Party of Multnomah County owes a great debt of thanks and appreciation as we welcome him with open arms into the Multnomah Democrats.

Paul Choi
Paul Choi on his journeys across the nation.

When I was younger I used to say it was my right not to vote. Looking back it was not just silly but irresponsible. When Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president, my cousin and I watched his speech. I was struck by its common-sense notions of solidarity and accountability. It was nothing new, but it felt original. I was inspired.

I volunteered for the Obama campaign in Asheville, North Carolina, where I lived prior to Oregon. We organized meetups, fundraisers, gave out “Free Hugs for Obama,” and knocked on doors and made phone calls in Greenville, South Carolina, an early primary state. The campaign asked us to run GOTV in Union County, a rural area in the Black Belt of South Carolina, where slavery was once prominent. Obama won Union County and the state. 

I joined the general election campaign as a staff member then continued as a field director for the DNC and Organizing for America. I worked on numerous local campaigns including a sales tax referendum to raise capital improvement funds for A-B Tech, our community college. We won by just 503 votes with more than 33,000 votes cast. Nursing and dental students now attend classes in a functional, modern building. I served as secretary of my precinct, third vice chair of the Buncombe County Democratic Party, member of the NCDP State Executive Committee, and alternate delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. 

Why politics? We are surrounded by countless things — such as signs, sidewalks, schools, satellites — that depend on decisions. These decisions can be made by good people or bad people. I choose good people.

When we work together things change. One of my favorite campaign moments was registering a voter outside of a popular gas station. I used to stand there at night until 2:00 am when they stopped selling beer. I asked if he wanted to register but he said no. He said he was a felon and that he couldn’t vote. In North Carolina, once someone has served their time, paid restitution and fines, and is no longer on parole nor probation, they are eligible to register to vote. I showed him the pamphlet and asked if he met the criteria and he said yes. He was shocked. He thanked me and shook my hand after completing the form. I felt like a million dollars. 

During the fight to pass the Affordable Care Act, we were tasked with petitioning Congress before the final vote. Our representative was former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, a conservative Democrat. Every one of his office numbers was busy. So, a volunteer lent us a fax machine and we sent out 2,921 faxes that week. We broke the fax machine in Shuler’s Asheville office — to the delight of his staff. It was old and was replaced.

Two-thousand-twenty was the worst year. Like many, I was isolated. My health, business, and life suffered. I found hope in the vaccines, and, after the second shot, I converted my car into a mini-camper and drove across the country to visit the West. In Oklahoma City I met old and new friends including one of the state’s few Democratic reps. We sang karaoke together. In Santa Fe I ate my first red and green chile sauces. In Albuquerque I took a Breaking Bad tour in an RV — the same model from the show. I reunited with family in the Bay Area and met their new puppy. I visited more friends in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. In Seattle I toured Pike Place and visited Bruce and Brandon Lee’s graves, where I met a martial artist from Stockton, CA. He was dismayed I was not a fellow fighter. I continued on:

  • Mt. Rainier National Park twice
  • Stuck in Yakima with car trouble
  • Northern Exposure tour in Roslyn, WA
  • Greeted an old friend, the Goonies house, in Astoria
  • World’s largest frying pan in Long Beach
  • Wreck of the Peter Iredale ship at Fort Stevens Park
  • Powell’s City of Books
  • Whispered, “Redrum,” at the Timberline Lodge
  • Ate my first fry bread in Warm Springs
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Yosemite National Park

In my travels there was one place always on my mind — Portland. I wanted to experience its culture and seasons — rain or shine. And that’s how I ended up here. To keep busy and make friends, I contacted the Democratic Party of Multnomah County and signed up to volunteer on the technology team. After many hours in front of our computers and months of weekly Zoom meetings, we successfully launched the new website.

Things I like about Portland and Oregon: the coast, no mosquitos, the roses, frogs croaking at night in winter, the walkable neighborhoods, the national treasure known as Hà VL, and the houselessness, more specifically, the camps. 

In the southern states, if you live on the streets, you are criminalized. The system wishes you just go away. Not in my backyard, the NIMBYs say. But Portland is different. Its people say, “Yes in my backyard.” YIMBYs. I didn’t know YIMBYs existed.

The American economy is both successful and failing. Housing prices are up. Rents are rising. Wages stagnate. Healthcare is a joke. Stocks are up. Business is booming. Some are thriving. Others have nothing and nowhere to go. 

Are there problems with Portland’s houselessness? Yes. Is there more work to do? Yes. Are the challenges impossible? No. From my observations and conversations with Portlanders, despite the issues — campsites, trash heaps, drug use, break-ins, bodily waste — they are still worth the effort of supporting a person’s right to sleep and make a home. And for most everyone else, life goes on. People ride their bikes, go to work, walk their dogs, drink their beers, and eat good food. They wear masks, shop for essentials, splurge on nice things, buy local art, support musicians, read good books, and encourage decency. Portland has found a balance and it is earnest. It is more forward thinking than just about anywhere else. It cares about its people. I believe it comes from its politics. 

I’m thankful for this compassion because I’ve been a beneficiary. For the past seven months, I’ve made my home in my camper car in a parking lot. It can be hard but it’s also rewarding. I’ve decided to continue #carlife and make Portland my home. My primary motive is to save money, live ascetically, pursue purpose, and discover meaning. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Portland. 

— Paul Choi

“Free Hugs for Obama”

Please note! Paul is looking for a driveway or parking spot to rent with access to a mailing address to establish residency. If you can help or know someone who can, please contact him at