report back from people places politics tour

On Saturday, April 21st, DPC partnered with the Bus Project and Rebooting Democracy to lead “People Places Politics: A Tour of Portland’s Activist History.” 45 participants boarded the bus to take in sites and hear from guest speakers who addressed Portland’s many social movements. Here is a report back, courtesy of Sara Walker, a Bus Project volunteer; photos by Marc Moscato.

On Saturday, a bus full of Portlanders spent an afternoon learning about more than 100 years of activism in the community. The first stop was to meet with Diana Banning at the Portland Archives and Records Center on the Portland State University Campus in SW Portland. Diana has been a Portland city archivist since 1997 and displayed several historical municipal records for the group, including ordinances from the early 20th Century, city maps from the 1970s with the planned route of the to-be-discontinued Mt. Hood Freeway, as well as photos documenting the suffrage and civil rights movements in Oregon. Diana informed the group that there are over 56,000 cubic feet of records held in the Archives that date from 1851 – she noted that the documents, laid end to end, could stretch across Oregon over 15 times. Diana and her staff emphasized that there is no topic too obscure to garner their support in fostering further understanding and research of Portland’s history. For those who are interested in learning more, the 3rd annual Oregon Archives Crawl will be held in October 2012, including opportunities to visit the Portland Archives in addition to three other host locations.

Diana Banning, City Archivist

See more pics and read the full report after the jump…

The second stop of the tour was to meet with Meeky Blizzard at Piccolo Park in SE Portland. Meeky was co-founder of Sensible Transportation Options for People (STOP), which was at the heart of in stopping construction of the Western Bypass freeway. She detailed the beginnings of the Land Use, Transportation, and Air Quality (LUTRAQ) study, which was the first attempt in the country to empirically explore land use alternatives to highway construction. Findings from the study, in conjunction with Meeky and others’ activism, helped to ultimately redirect funds toward expanding public transit into previously under-served Portland neighborhoods. Piccolo Park itself is a part of related history, as it is situated on land from which homes were razed for the anticipated construction of the Mt. Hood Freeway in the 1970s. Transportation activism in the community at the time was successful in stopping that project from demolishing portions of long-standing SE Portland neighborhoods.

Meeky Blizzard addresses group at Piccolo Park

The group again boarded the bus to Dawson’s Park in NE Portland to meet with Rep. Lew Frederick. Representative Frederick has worked throughout his career to improve race relations in Oregon and elsewhere. He represents House District 43, which extends into North and Northeast Portland. In addition to his multiple roles in the state legislature, he is active in mentoring individuals from the black community as they consider and pursue roles in state politics. During this stop on the tour, Rep. Frederick provided introduction to events that have shaped African-Americans’ experiences in Portland during past and contemporary eras (e.g., Vanport flood, small business ownership in Mississippi and Albina neighborhoods). The group also learned about the history of Dawson’s Park, including its origin as a cow pasture, transformation into a ball field, and evolution into part of the Immaculate Heart Church and School community. The gazebo at the park holds particular significance due to its 120 year-old cupola that was once part of the Hill Block Building, a former cornerstone of the Albina district prior to reconstruction in the 1970s.

Rep. Lew Frederick at Dawson Park

The group next had a chance to meet with Joe Uris, Associate Professor of Sociology at Portland State University and lifelong activist for issues related to peace and justice. Professor Uris spoke with the group in Lair Hill Park in SW Portland and described the location in terms of its significance during the cultural revolutions of the mid-1960s. Specifically, the park and adjacent Neighborhood House served as a gathering place for diverse groups of Portlanders during that time. The tour was introduced to the impact of the anti-war movement, counterculture, psychedelic drugs, and the sexual revolution on SW Portland residents. There was also discussion of the power dynamic within Portland during that time, including relationships among youth, immigrant, police, and religious communities.

Joe Uris at Lair Hill Park

The final stop of the day was to meet with Janice Dilg, a Portland State University instructor and independent historian, at the Walk of the Heroines on the PSU campus. Janice is also the Project Director for Century of Action, a group celebrating 100 years of Oregon women’s right to vote. The Walk of Heroines a location that honors women who have impacted Portlander’s lives by actions at local, state, and national levels.  Organization including the American Associationg of University Women, The Portland YWCA, and the Portland Women’s Union are also honored on the walk. The group also learned that Portland was the site of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association meeting over 100 years ago (1905).

Jan Dilg speaks at the Walk of Heroines

At this point in the first 75-degree day of the year, Portland history surely repeated itself as the occasional complaint about the heat could be overheard. The group disbanded after several buttons, pamphlets, and additional information about local organizations effecting change exchanged hands.

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