On Sept. 29 and Oct. 6, the Portland City Council and City bureau directors attended trainings on the history of white supremacy and its devastating impact on Portland and the nation. The trainings, administered and developed in collaboration with the Portland-based Western States Center, are the result of a 2019 resolution condemning white supremacist and alt-right hate groups that was unanimously co-sponsored and adopted by the Portland City Council.
The trainings reflect the Core Values Resolution passed by City Council in June 2020. The resolution identified anti-racism, equity, transparency, communication, collaboration and fiscal responsibility as the City’s core values.
“We made a commitment to becoming an anti-racist city,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “Our partnership with the experts at the Western States Center will help us understand the white nationalists and improve our response to the very real threats they pose to our community.”
The trainings and the City’s commitment to being an anti-racist institution are important steps to increasing equity in Portland.
“Given our state’s history of white supremacy and our current national leaders’ efforts to downplay its dangers, it is critical local governments like ours understand the threat and take the steps to protect Portlanders as we continue working together to build a more equitable Portland,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said.
In recent months, alt-right and paramilitary organizations have mobilized in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and government actions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Portland’s leadership in racial justice reform and community demands for change have made the city a target for right-wing politicians and white supremacist groups, who use Portland as a rhetorical tool for division.
“The alt-right and white nationalist groups go to great lengths to radically intensify division during ANY crisis—creating anxiety, division, and exhaustion. Their goal is the devastation of an inclusive and civil society,” Commissioner Dan Ryan said. “Portlanders will not be fooled. We will come together as one to amplify our inclusive and loving values. We will build forward from the profound lessons of 2020 with shared humility, sacrifice, prosperity and pride.”
The current political climate underlines how crucial it is to deliberately condemn white supremacy.
“While the federal administration adopts fascist policies like banning Critical Race Theory in federal agencies, white supremacist groups in turn have become even more visible and confident,” Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said. “I am grateful to local experts Western States Center for showing Council how to identify and disrupt white supremacy in our community. I am committed to applying my learnings to eliminate extremist ideologies from our city and our government.”
The trainings, attended by all current City Council members and Commissioner-Elect Carmen Rubio, along with bureau directors, provided context on white supremacy and white nationalism in the United States and Oregon, and described the tactics used by white nationalist groups to commit violence and undermine democracy. The trainings also provided approaches for City leaders to strengthen democracy in the face of threats from white nationalist and anti-democratic movements.
“I am deeply grateful to Western States Center for their expertise and for this training. I value their thoughtful, comprehensive approach and their encouragement for Council to have meaningful, collaborative conversations,” said Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “Systemic racism is constantly morphing to shape and adapt to societal changes and attitudes. White supremacy and hate systems must be dismantled institutionally and throughout our community. We must use our collective and individual privilege as leaders to strive for these goals.”
Western States Center worked in collaboration with City Council offices to develop the training. Anti-white supremacy training is being planned for all City staff. The new training is in addition to the existing mandatory racial equity training all City employees receive.
“I am proud of Portland today. Our city is demonstrating to the nation how to come together and reject hate and violence,” said Eric K. Ward, Executive director of Western States Center. “Western States Center welcomes the opportunity to engage with City leaders and looks forward to continuing the hard work of ensuring our city is safe for all.”