Wednesday, May 17, 2017

On the Salem School Board elections

Levi Herrera-Lopez: in a better world Levi and people like him would fill every responsible elected position. 

It's always tough to take a loss, but the loss we took in the School Board elections last night has hit me particularly hard. I'm hoping that there will be a successful challenge in the Herrera-Lopez/Lippold race and I'm angry that faux progressive Ross Swartzendruber cost Kathleen Harder the race. These results are due in large part to racism and sexism, but they also show both the dangers of a resurgent and stubborn reactionary tide and particular and positive advancements for progressive Latino politics. We have to look at this as a moment of contrasting positives and negatives and understand that we have a new situation with new possibilities.

Levi Herrera-Lopez was encouraged to run by a coalition of liberal and progressive forces, but when it came down to the campaign and voting it was the working-class Latino community which carried his campaign. The youth leadership in that campaign was remarkable, stunningly so. The great victory by Teresa Alonso Leon, the May Day rally, the Latino Health Coalition lobby days, and immigrant rights organizing in the community should have created a wave of support which built participation from people of color and labor and kept white liberal and progressive support in place. Now it is fair to ask what the white liberal and progressive forces will do with Levi's loss: will they follow the lead of the Latino community in organizing and political action, or will they move on to the next big thing?

A quick read of the results for Levi and Kathleen show that votes came from unexpected places. We can't blame their losses solely on racism and sexism, but we can say that the School Board as an institution has not engaged with working-class women and people of color in ways which facilitate involvement. For instance, School Board meetings are held in South Salem, are in English and are held at a time of day which makes participation from working-class women hard. Absent identification and knowledge, women and people of color most often are excluded from voting in practical terms.

The losses come in part because Herrera-Lopez  and Harder represented advanced positions on education, community involvement, funding and curriculum. The right-wing in this town understands this, perhaps better then we do, and their candidates represented steps backward in every major area. For instance, they objected to the pro-choice, open-minded and pro-sex ed positions which Herrera-Lopez and Harder held and maintained in principled ways. Harder's story is all about being a working-class woman who worked her way up and wants to give back, and Herrera-Lopez's story is all about breaking down barriers and integrating without harmful assimilation: these are the stories which drive the white power structure crazy, and in their reactions there is no room for kindness.

The Herrera-Lopez/Lippold race may well be open to challenges. But even without challenges, there is a need for more of us to show up at School Board meetings and push hard against the reactionaries, forcing them to the point that the contradictions in the system are brought out more clearly and their roles in the system are better understood by workers, women and people of color. There should be a fight over the budget, teachers will need our support for a good union contract, the issue of "truancy" should be fought over and democratic solutions found, African-American students need the same coaching and support systems other youth have, every school should have what the wealthier and whiter schools have, and more people need to be hired and supported who come from people of color communities. Education itself needs to be democratized. Right-wingers like Kathy Goss and large sections of the liberal and progressive communities are not up to the tasks of following through on these issues.

One side note for me is that white male liberals and progressives need to step aside when liberal or progressive women and people of color step up to run for office. Another side note for me is that politics now needs to be about building united fronts of workers, women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and others, multigenerational and multiracial in character but led by the real core forces in the community. Another side note for me is that our politics can't be about integration, assimilation and disappearing ourselves into "citizenship," but should instead be about staking out real advanced positions based on peoples' needs and bringing everyone along. We are not, after all, only voters: we are workers, or people of color, or gender non-conforming, or differently abled, or any number of other things which need recognition.

Political struggle resolves all contradictions, and we should be looking forward to a moment of intense political struggle at the School Board and elsewhere. PCUN's political action committee did incredible work in the School Board election and can be relied upon to lead in the future. The greatest victory, for me, is that the youth who led the effort are dedicated to moving forward. It's a cliche to say that youth are the future, but in this case it's true. We owe them our great thanks and support.

         The young people who are organizing, leading and carrying the weight all of us should be sharing.

Photos from Sarah Rohrs.

Late word:

The other piece of the puzzle in Salem was the vote on the police station. Let's look at this from the correct point of view and take the words of a local Latina activist:

The city of Portland passed a bond to bring in affordable housing. Salem passed one to build a new police station. Good job Salem, NOT!!!

Well, instead of investing in our underfunded schools (of NE SALEM), we have decided to fund the same institution that criminalizes our youth. In other words, we are funding the school to prison pipeline. You can disagree all you want, but the fact is that our schools need funding, Healthcare needs funding, therefore, should be the first to obtain funding!

1 comment:

  1. The anti-Planned Parenthood element was a huge piece of this, unfortunately. I would love to get a more detailed breakdown of the 25% of people who actually voted in this election.

    There are a couple of other issues of concern with Mr. Lipold which you may have been referring to:
    1) he doesn't live in the district in which he ran and the current law states he doesn't need to live there until his term begins;
    2) he kept stating publicly and it was printed in the voter's guide and elsewhere, that he was endorsed by current board member Paul Kyllo, which was blatantly false.
    While he may ultimately be more "educable" than others, this is a far cry from the expertise that Mr. Herrera-Lopez would've brought. And the contrast between Ms. Goss and Ms. Harder is also stark, though possibly not as obvious to the average observer.

    Very sad day, indeed.