Look out mainstream Portland. A new group has come together that aims to boost the political influence of minority voters statewide. So if you believe that issues that matter to people of color oftentimes are sidelined in policy discussions, you might want to take a look at the Oregon League of Minority Voters.
The group has just formed and has plans to launch its first campaign early next year. With an office based on N. Lombard, and two employees, the league hopes to launch its first political initiatives in early 2008.
"A vast majority of people feel disconnected with proposed public policies," said board member Jennifer Harry, a business lending officer with Pacific West bank. "Our goal is — through education and debates — we want Americans to feel ownership of the policies, through understanding, increased votership and participation in the political process."
As well as ensuring people of color have a say in policy formation, the group hopes to offer help to nonprofits, organizations and potential candidates.
"In addition to policy education, our mission is to provide grants research, policy advice to state and local organizations and provide communication counseling for anyone who wishes to be a more viable political candidate," Harry said.
To bring more political clout to people of color, the league plans to organize events, such as candidate forums and small meetings, where candidates can discuss the needs of minority communities and the kind of policies that would support these communities.
Rev. Dr. T. Allen Bethel, senior pastor at Maranatha Church said he wants to see more African Americans using their votes and more candidates listening to African American viewpoints. Issues important to African Americans are important to all people, Rev. Bethel said, but they are too often ignored.
"When we look at the City of Portland and the North/Northeast area where the largest numbers of African Americans live, you see that many politicians don't campaign very hard here because voter turnout is not very high," he said. "That can't continue.
"They're saying that if it doesn't make a difference then I'll pay attention to areas where people are voting. That must not happen."
Rev. Bethel points to the history of voting and the large number s of people who fought for the right of African Americans to vote. Now OLMV seeks to leverage those votes to improve life for all Oregonians.
The idea is to bring more people of color into the rooms where policy is made, said Bill Crow, the group's interim chair." We would like to see if we can't make the issues that are important to minorities important to everyone," Crow said.
"What we're trying to accomplish is to help the public to understand and discuss the policies and to get candidates to discuss issues of importance to minorities and we'd like to provide a forum where these issues can be discussed."
Crow, an attorney with the law firm Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt, said he was disappointed recently, when most of the national Republican candidates for the presidential nomination failed to show at a forum organized by an African American group.
"I found that very offensive that they wouldn't show up and discuss minority issues," Crow said. "They missed a golden opportunity … Perhaps I'll be proved wrong, but I don't think that will happen here in Oregon."
Supporters of Oregon League of Minority Voters include: Jaime Lim, publisher of the Asian Reporter; Pete Savage of the carpenters union; Nick Fish, attorney with Meyer and Wyse LLP; Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County Commissioner. The group has hired Promise King, former senior policy advisor to state treasurer Randall Edwards and political columnist for the Portland Tribune, as executive director, and Sarah Blount as community and development officer.
King said he has sat in countless policy meetings where he was the only Black person at the table. As a result, issues such as disparities in employment, economic wellbeing, health and education have been sidelined.
"People of color should come along and become active leaders …" King said. "We believe that political parties that don't have input from people of color are retrogressive at best and inadequate to resolve issues of disparity, cultural competency and equal opportunity."
After New Year, the group plans to begin work on a launch event and a Minority Political Summit, which will bring together political candidates and people of color. Meanwhile Crow and Harry are scheduling visits to grassroots and business groups, such as the African American Chamber of Commerce, so they can hear the concerns of minority business owners. This will give the group an idea of the topics it needs to raise, she said.
"Being nonpartisan, we won't endorse any particular candidate or policy, we simply ask the questions that need to be asked for better clarity of the proposed policy."
Opinions and needs will differ among and within Portland's minority communities, yet a common strand unites people of color, Harry said.
"What we tend to find is that most of the issues among various minority groups are very similar," she said. "It boils down to equality … While there may be some differences, we are all on the same side.
"In helping create an alliance among the different groups, we can have a stronger voice — a voice that insists on being heard."
Contact Oregon League of Minority Voters at 2225 N. Lombard, Suite 210, Portland 97217 Phone: 503-289-7520 Fax: 503-289-1405 or Email: leagueof [email protected]