November 4, 2020

It isn't remotely over

Multnomah County Elections Division's memorial to Abigail Scott Duniway, a suffragist who led the effort to secure voting rights for women in Oregon.

Our community will keep us going.

Those words have been my mantra in 2020, the last thoughts before I fall asleep, the thoughts I woke to this morning. I share them with you now as we take a breath and acknowledge that this isn’t over. 

What happened this election season, nationally and especially here in Oregon, what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic that has overturned normal life across the globe, what has happened in Western forests that has devastated rural communities and made caustic the very air we breathe, what has happened on our streets since Americans began to decry the institutional racism that has eaten away at our democracy since its founding — none of it is over. Whatever historians decide to call this moment of rupture and reckoning, it isn’t over yet.

No matter the uncertainty that we awoke to today and may awake to for days, weeks or months to come, the work continues to ensure our democracy lives up to its promise. That work has never been pretty, and it is rarely without discomfort. Black and Indigenous communities and people of color have long fought for the flourishing and equitable country that we all want. No substantial change toward fair housing, healthy environments, equitable education or thriving, inclusive communities has come without the leadership of BIPOC folks. In recent months, we’ve seen Black communities call for the country we all want, a democracy that serves each of us. We recognize and honor their leadership in this election cycle and in this voting season. Even as the work continues to ensure every vote is counted and marshalling resistance to injustice, so too does the work continue for institutions like Meyer Memorial Trust.

The values that guide Meyer are tailor-made for this long moment of uncertainty.

  • Responsiveness and flexibility, because we recognize that although the needs of Oregon evolve over time, there is value in long-term commitments in order to bring about change
  • Collaboration, because we cannot make change happen alone
  • Humbleness, which our founder, Fred G. Meyer, modeled and which guides us in all our interactions
  • Accountability and transparency, because measuring our progress and being honest about our missteps build trust
  • Advocacy, which acts as a lever for systems change
  • Most importantly equity, which we define as fair access to opportunities

Hundreds of years of inequity weren’t going to change last night, no matter which lawmakers won. No matter how many Americans braved rain, long lines or other efforts to disenfranchise. But our values will keep us resilient 

What I have watched these past months gives me a flame of hope. Although this country’s system of constitutional democracy can be paralyzed by partisan polarization, it can also be mobilized by it. A broken democracy is a democracy ripe for bold reforms. Protest, the bedrock of our democracy, has been reinvigorated right here in Portland, where Oregonians have raised their voices daily for more than six months, and their calls for justice have produced real results. The 2020 census self-response rate surpassed 2010’s rate, thanks to the “We Count Oregon” and “Hard to Count” campaigns, funded by a public/private partnership Meyer was proud to lead. Record-breaking voter turnout is a win. Last night, voters approved a new Portland police oversight board and signed off on universal preschool.  

In the next few weeks, Meyer will announce its new Justice Director, hired to oversee our largest-ever initiative, Justice Oregon for Black Lives. This five-year initiative is among over a billion dollars committed by foundations around the country to fuel racial justice. In a state founded as a white utopia, Justice Oregon for Black Lives is a powerful step to fund and uplift a just system of public safety and community well-being while investing in long-term, lasting strategic change.

I remind myself to credit every win, to celebrate victories where they come, to be spacious with others as each of us grapples with this year’s unique combination of struggles, to step into joy when agitators use their voices and power to call out inequities. 

It can be challenging when your inbox is full of tears. 

But we know that even in chaos there is great possibility. Eight months into this global pandemic, in the early stages of an anti-racist reckoning, faced with the environmental consequences we have known were likely, this is the time to be audacious. To refuse to settle for the old normal. To hold firm. To listen and bridge and act on our common values.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what my organization will continue to do. No matter the political winds. No matter the uncertainty. No matter how long it takes to change unfair systems. I may not know what the future holds, but I know what I’m going to fight for. Meyer will continue to lift up the voices of our grantee partners, to support justice and democracy, and to pursue our mission of an Oregon that is equitable and thriving for each Oregonian.

It most certainly isn’t over. If this year has taught us anything it is that we navigate the unimaginable, together. The challenge, James Baldwin reminded us, is in the moment and the time is always now.  

Michelle