Do What You Can Do 8/27/2020

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  
—Helen Keller


This photo from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was provided by Matt Witt. Have a photo you've taken and want to share with us? Send it to with the subject “Photo Reminder.” We’d love to feature them.

A Deeply Dangerous Moment

This week, our country moved closer to the kind of violence none of us want to imagine. A teenager with an assault rifle shot three people protesting police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two. Many believe that could happen in Portland, where peaceful protesters have now taken to the streets for 90 straight nights. The problem is they’re not the only ones who’ve taken to the streets. A small minority—very small, according to all onsite news coverage I’ve seen—is damaging property and threatening police and demonstrators.  Reports from the ground also agree that those outliers hold all kinds of views—some furious at the killings of George Floyd and others, some furious at the protesters and aiming to discredit them by creating violent images for the media. The debate rolls on over which are more numerous, and I don’t think anyone really knows.

Now a mostly urban conflict is spreading to rural areas, and not just in Wisconsin. This public radio report describes a grim stand-off in Prineville, near Bend. Odds are we’re going to see more of the same across Oregon, damaging communities and piling up fuel for bigger explosions.

I posted the Prineville story on Facebook with a question: “Rather than lobbing grenades at each other, can we use this space for ideas on how to move back from the brink of more violence?” Based on the chat thread that followed, the answer seems to be...not really. Some commenters think the answer is a massive police crackdown, as heavy as it takes to crush any disorder. One comment read “If you continue to do nothing to stop these thugs, citizens are going to start standing up and taking on the job you refuse to do.” Chilling to read days after a self-styled militiaman shot and killed Kenosha protesters.


Photo from Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

The lesser point here is that the claim that nothing’s being done, which I read regularly in accusatory press releases from Republican legislators, is false. There are dozens of arrests and protective measures in Portland every day. That doesn’t mean the unrest and intentional property damage has ended; they’re an ongoing reality in dozens of cities across America. No police force has quite figured out how to manage the current mix of elements, which includes respect for First Amendment rights, protection of property, physical separation of bitter political enemies, and resisting manipulation by people intent on creating explosive images for the media. It’s a lot easier to criticize than figure out.

The larger point is that we have to look long and hard at the premise underlying all the “Why don’t you do anything?” complaints: that all we need to end civil unrest is more force. I hope that people who believe that have a chance to hear the words of long-time civil rights leaders. They’ve spent decades pleading with young people in the streets to remain peaceful in order to avoid backlash from frightened citizens and angry police. They’ve preached patience and persistent work within the system year after year after year. Now they have no answer when those young people ask them what’s been  accomplished. The gaps between white and non-white Americans on most metrics of health and economic well-being are simply staggering, and they’re not getting smaller (one of many summary reports is here). How many of us would accept the lowest rung of these ladders indefinitely?

None of this makes any kind of violence right.  It just makes it inevitable, and ultimately beyond the ability of repression to resolve. Once people reach a point of feeling they have nothing to lose, they’re historically hard to put down and impossible to keep there indefinitely. The four-word slogan for this is No Justice, No Peace. And if we decide to ban demonstrations whenever fire or vandalism or flying water bottles break out, we’re effectively giving any provocateur group with black T-shirts the power to stop all protests and deny our constitutional right to assemble.

I wonder if people demanding a crackdown can try to imagine how it would feel to repeatedly watch videos of people who look like them die inexplicably at the hands of police, and to crash against the prejudice and barriers to achievement that Americans of color do; I wonder whether they’d keep behaving politely through it all.  I wonder if they really believe they can have the peace they’re seeking without significant change.

And I wonder if people pushing for that change are mindful of how dark the rapid unraveling of the old order seems to people who, having followed the rules their whole lives, feel like they’ve earned some security and stability...which is to say, what almost all of us want.  I wonder if people with whatever strong conviction can acknowledge the painful confusion of life these days, breathe deeply, and find a little more compassion.

I’ll leave this for now with the same question I naively asked on Facebook: what’s needed to make things better?

How Are We Doing on Covid?

Statewide, better than some states and worse than others. This article describes the mixed picture very well.

Jackson County, with 762 total and 237 active cases reported, remains on the state’s watch list. A further rise in the infection rate could reverse some of the business and activity openings we’ve seen.

As always, see below for resources.


So How about Those Emergency Checks?

Last week I told you about the program to get $500 emergency checks into the hands of 70,000 Oregonians who’ve had some of the roughest experiences securing unemployment benefits and are consequently hurting more than the rest of us.

At least that was the goal. Somewhere along the way the eligibility rules for these checks were loosened to include people who’ve received some, even most, of their unemployment checks, and some entirely outside the unemployment system. That qualified far more than 70,000 people, so that last Friday morning, some 40 hours after we put out the word, the fund was empty.

I’m sure some people in desperate straits received a check that made an important difference. But I’m imagining what it must have felt like for anyone struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their head to have rushed down to the bank or credit union as soon as they could, only to be turned away with nothing but an apology. Having a rare moment of hope end like that has to be brutally hard.

I hope that didn’t happen to you. If it did, please let me know. I’m collecting names of people turned away in the first round in case there’s a second. Right now it’s hard to know how likely that is; it depends largely on the outcome of a current battle in Washington D.C. over providing aid to state and local governments. But if you write me at sen.jeffgolden@oregonlegislature with IF THERE’S A SECOND ROUND in the subject line, we’ll make sure you get early notification of any emergency assistance that develops. If you have critical needs for housing, food or personal care in the meantime, dial 211 for help.

Stay in touch, stay healthy, and do what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

Important Updates

Cares Fund-Black Relief and Resilience
  • The Oregon Cares Fund is awarding cash grants to Black individuals, Black-owned businesses, and Black-led non-profits experiencing financial adversity due to COVID-19. Apply here.

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  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a helpline if you are struggling with mental illness in this stressful time, as well as many support groups of all kinds. The helpline is available from 9 AM to 5 PM at 503-230-8009, or toll-free at 800-343-6264. Visit their website here to find out more.

  • Oregon Recovers has put together a list of resources for those struggling with addiction.
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