On May 16th, OPAL and the YEJA leadership team published a blog titled “The Mayor Doesn’t Care” in response to the final budget proposal of the City of Portland which lacked any funds to continue YouthPass for students in two East Portland school districts. Within the blog we outlined the discontent of YEJA leaders in their Mayor and the City of Portland in failing to take the adequate steps to maintain YouthPass for East Portland students. We asserted that this inaction is an example of “what white supremacy looks like in a progressive city like Portland”. We continue to emphasize that the lack of time and effort that went towards maintaining YouthPass by the City of Portland, and the increased focus on policing within the 2018-2019FY budget are an example of institutionalized white supremacy. Through policy, or lack thereof, the City of Portland budget continues to perpetuate under-investment and active disinvestment in East Portland communities – communities that are predominantly people of color and from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.
On May 22nd, OPAL’s Board of Directors received a letter from the Mayor’s office outlining the ways in which our blog was a misrepresentation of Mayor Wheeler’s record as an advocate and champion for equity. The letter highlights his “historically diverse professional staff,” his work in offering “transgender healthcare to public employees” and his time as State Treasurer, passing a savings program to benefit women and people of color through retirement benefits. We recognize these efforts. We also recognize that advocating for our communities, for people of color, for queer and trans folks, and for other communities that are marginalized, are actions that Mayor Wheeler should be doing and continuing to do. A completed checklist that eliminates the ability of any public official to perpetuate white supremacy does not exist. These actions do not negate how the FY2018-2019 budget perpetuates a historical lack of investment in the well-being and safety of communities of color, contrasted with consistent improvements and accountability to predominantly wealthy, white communities.
While Mayor Wheeler expressed that FY2017-2018 was a transitional year for the YouthPass program, we reiterate that the entire package of action items promised by Portland City Council to secure the sustainability of this critical program was not completed. An independent, objective analysis of TriMet’s actual costs associated with YouthPass was never conducted (as directed by Portland City Council of PBOT); it took nearly a year before a stakeholder meeting was convened; and the lack of leadership and participation from the Mayor’s representative at that stakeholder meeting was viewed as dismissive of the seriousness and urgency to find a permanent solution with sustained funding for the YouthPass program. To invest in this program for one year, then fail to set up the right procedures to maintain it, ignores the work of the youth of color that have been leading advocacy efforts for YouthPass for over 22 years.
When marginalized communities call attention to actions that perpetuate systemic racism, it is the role of those in positions of power and decision making to listen and take action to address the injustice. The Board of Directors at OPAL, staff, members and leaders of the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance, our allies and philanthropic partners call for leadership at the City of Portland to provide equitable access to public transportation for all youth in Portland. This must be done with the leadership of East Portland youth of color at the forefront to define and achieve a YouthPass program that is long-term, sustainable, and equitable.