The bottom line is this: The city agency responsible for engaging and listening to Portlanders of all stripes hasn’t always nailed that, and we want to help them get it right.
Here’s the agency’s five-minute survey if you’d like to weigh in. And if you need help getting your civic juices flowing, here’s our full Q&A with Alex Lebow, Faith Briggs, and Love Jonson — three rad Bridgeliner readers who know a thing or two about engagement:
How would you answer the first question in the city’s survey: “Civic engagement to me is…”?
“Civic engagement for me is the action and the process that goes to the idea that your voice matters. And Trump being elected president made me realize how important it is.”
—Faith Briggs, tactical operations director at Soul River Inc.
“Civic engagement to me is an opportunity that should be accessible and fundamental across the community. There’s no prerequisite to having a perspective on the direction of the community, but forward progress requires representation from a diverse set of voices with a range of experiences.”
—Alex Lebow, engagement whiz in the footwear and apparel biz
“Civic engagement to me is simply demonstrating your love for the place you live, however you’re able to. Support nonprofits and advocacy groups with your brains, body, or wallet. Get involved in government at a level that directly impacts you. Or just go for a Pedalpalooza bike ride dressed as a bunny. Whatever suits you.”
—Love Jonson, government policy wonk
Have you ever been to a neighborhood association meeting?
“I’ve never been to a meeting, but I’ve also never seen or heard anything about one, whether that’s at a store, at a bus stop, or somewhere else. To speak to a younger demographic here in Portland, the way the messaging happens has to be more specifically targeted.”
“I showed up at a neighborhood association meeting on the very same day I moved into my Southeast Portland apartment. Everyone was quite welcoming, but it was still largely dominated by homeowners and people older than me. I think it would take a concerted effort by younger folks and renters to make neighborhood associations more representative — but that doesn’t mean the burden should be all on them. Many of us are working two jobs or strange hours and can’t make meetings, so it’s incumbent on government to hear from people in new ways.”
What opportunities for engagement do you wish existed in Portland?
“I think there could be greater efforts made to engage young professionals of color who are moving to Portland. Coming from New York, the process of trying to adjust to a city that’s a bit white has been really difficult. Creating community here just takes so much effort, so if it was easier to adjust to the city in that sense, it would probably be easier to get involved.”
“I see a huge opportunity to educate young (particularly corporate) professionals about civic issues in Portland. There’s a real opportunity — especially with the influx of people moving here to work for world class companies — to apply our collective capabilities, resources, and voices to address local challenges.”
I’ll always wish there were more obvious conduits to get young folks involved in local government issues—the federal situation is a train wreck that we’re all watching now, of course, but I wish everyone knew they would be heard more by orders of magnitude if they used their voice in their own backyard.
If the Office of Community and Civic Life gave you $100,000 to engage young people around big issues like housing and transit, how would you spend it?
“I would find out who’s already doing the work and put the money toward supporting them. There are people [who grew up] here doing this work already, and they need the financial support to keep doing it and not have it just be their side-hustle or passion project.”
“A few ideas come to mind, such as (1) hosting a civic-themed pitch competition and/or summit in the spirit of PitchfestNW or PitchBlack to generate innovation solution and leverage corporate dollars, (2) creating a welcome kit/crash-course for new arrivals in Portland to orient them to the opportunities and challenges around big issues or (3) developing a talent partnership that match government/community needs with available private-sector skills-based volunteers.”
“I would buy a ton of food. I’m only partly kidding — if you want people to come your meeting, feed them well— but I would also spend that massive chunk of change on people. If we’re trying to talk about housing and transit, we need to meaningfully work with community organizations that are advocating for the people that are squeezed the most by a lack of affordable housing and increased transportation costs due to displacement. That means partnering with these groups to host events so the people they serve can comfortably and conveniently get their needs and desires heard. We need to pay those organizations and fully recognize their labor, and the money should also go toward lowering other barriers by providing food, childcare, translation services, and stipends for participants. We need to pay people for their time and for telling us about their lived experience, which is just as important as any other professional analysis that goes into a project.”
For Alex: You previously worked for Mayor Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans. What’s the most important lesson you learned there?
A lot of our success following Hurricane Katrina was the result of partnership — between public, private, non-profit and faith-based communities. If we look around the country, including Portland, cities are laboratories for innovation and change. While there’s political gridlock in Washington D.C., cities are positioned to take on the tough stuff and develop open-source archetypes for communities to thrive.