Committed to resist oppression and injustice

If you are anything like me, you weren’t sleeping easily in the run-up to the presidential election — and haven’t been sleeping well since. You’re anxious about the present moment in our democracy, let alone the future. Maybe you feel unheard and threatened, short-tempered and stuck, targeted and helpless.

I feel both foreboding and a sense of deja vu. This political moment belies the myth of a post-racial America, an America driven to be its most equitable, inclusive and welcoming self. I am worried. I am angry. I am rattled.

Yet I have emerged from my funk of feeling overwhelmed to feeling a sense of power and purpose in my commitment to resist oppression and injustice alongside people who have had to resist both for too long.

In the current political climate, I’ve found myself doing a lot of soul-searching. I am most struck by the resurfacing of an old ugliness that has haunted our country since its origins. Racial and religious hatred and scapegoating are written into American history, and they have always been part of our present. So have systemic racism against African Americans and abuses of other minorities, including Latinos, people with disabilities, Muslims and the LGBTQ community. But to watch the shift from a simmer to a boil has shaken me, and people around me, to the core.

I am outraged by the incidents of bullying and outing and xenophobia and racism on university campuses and at K-12 schools.

I watch in real time the way demagoguery builds despair. I see journalism, a pillar of American democracy, hobbled by the rise of fake news.

I'm sickened to see the value of experience diminished, knowledge belittled and comity toward others called weakness.

Personally, and also as the CEO of the charitable trust created by Fred G. Meyer, what is happening at this moment affirms how crucial it is to be awake and dedicated to the fight for equity and inclusivity.

Don't just take my word for it, take Darren Walker’s, CEO of the Ford Foundation:

“In these times, it is easy to be discouraged. And disappointment, anger, and confusion are understandable — often reasonable — responses to the challenges we face. But we must do all we can to fight the slide into hopelessness.”

Last month, Dr. john a. powell, a widely recognized expert in the areas of civil liberties and civil rights, gave a talk at Portland Community College about equitable education as Meyer’s first Equity Series speaker. He reminded the room that philanthropy has a special role to play during uncertain political times. Politics, not partisanship, must guide our steps. And we must keep moving forward.

For me, Dr. powell’s remarks were a reminder that the work equitable philanthropy takes on can mitigate, repair and overcome the direction politics has taken. It's not about party affiliation; it is about impact. Philanthropy, the way Meyer is committed to doing it, is laser focused on making real change.

Here’s what we know: At no point in the past quarter century have our neighbors in this country been as ideologically polarized along partisan lines or as driven by political animosity, according to Pew Research Center studies in 2014 and 2016.

Hate crimes are up, way up. Hate crimes against Muslims in America soared nearly 70 percent last year, according to a new FBI report, and hate crimes overall — crimes motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, religious bias or bias against sexual orientation — are up by 7 percent nationwide. In New York City alone, police say 43 hate crimes have been reported since Election Day, more than double the number reported during the same time last year. And with 33 hate crime incidents reported since Nov. 8, Oregon ranks tenth in the nation for post-election intolerance, with hate-related crimes reported in Lake Oswego, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Oregon City, Silverton, North Bend and at the University of Oregon and Reed.

If this election had happened seven years ago, the conversations we’ve been having at Meyer would likely have been different. Nothing is under the surface now. We talk about how to personally engage without demanding more of each other, how to listen and support each other. We look to our partners, listen to leaders in communities that are disenfranchised and respectfully follow their lead.

I am fully aware that I have the privilege that comes with being born white, cisgendered and male in a relatively well-off family. I can and must use all of that privilege personally and at Meyer to be a useful accomplice to the deeply disenfranchised, people who feel especially targeted and endangered by threats to deport immigrants; by religious tests; by the growing reach of white supremacists; by attacks on women, including the potential loss of reproductive freedom; by cabinet picks who disbelieve in income equity, housing aid for the poor, tribal sovereignty, climate change science and public education free from religious interference; and by rollbacks of rights for LGBTQ, DACA Dreamers, the press and civil protesters.

I don’t think there is any more important time for Meyer, philanthropy and nonprofits more broadly to “lean into” our work — to be thoughtful and strategic with all of our assets and resources to work against the recent and anticipated threats to civil liberties. We recently funded a range of organizations on the front lines (including the Muslim Education Trust, Causa, Basic Rights Oregon, Family and Community Together, Rural Organizing Project, ACLU and Unite Oregon) but that is just a start.

Here are some explicit steps you’ll now see Meyer take.

  • We will call out explicit bias: No dog-whistles allowed. We say white supremacy rather than alt-right, because you just can’t rebrand racism. And we won't shy away from condemning racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and discrimination against people with disabilities.

  • We will affirm our unwavering support for equity and inclusion and for building communities where all feel welcome, included and heard.

  • We will remain resolute in our defense of core values: equity, tolerance and racial and social justice.

  • We will hold fast to our trustees’ commitment to a spending policy at a higher level now and next fiscal year.

  • We will use our voice and relationships to call regional peers to action.

  • We will engage grantees and partners to guide us and will participate in community listening and learning sessions to better understand needs and where Meyer can plug into support and tactical opportunities.

  • We will identify where Oregon can lead. Local action is very important. There are many examples where local action either blunted regressive federal efforts or lifted up and protected civil liberties on a local or regional level, creating models for other regions or at the federal level. As noted by Huy Ong, executive director of OPAL (Organizing People/Activating Leaders) recently noted: "Now more than ever is a time for everyone to get involved in grassroots organizing."

  • We will be nimble by remaining open to time-sensitive instances where our established program strategies are not positioned to respond.

  • We will factor into future program strategies the implication of national policy and funding shifts for personal or civil liberties in Oregon.

  • We will engage in advocacy and use the Meyer bully pulpit to give voice to the vulnerable.

Meyer is in this for the long haul. It isn't hyperbole to say there's never been a more important time to hold fast to our values in the face of demagoguery and hate. We will lead from the front as well as lead from behind in our support of others. Either way we will not waver.

I hope you'll stand beside us.