Amazing things you can learn by doing political work in your neighborhood.

I've been estranged from the local Democratic Party organization this season. It's a long story not worth repeating here.  But I will tell you that I finally decided to do political canvassing today for the first time with the coordinated Democratic campaign.

People were glad to see me in action central because I've been away for a long time. Now the way things work, the Ds take computer lists from the county elections division, and they parse them into walking maps with names and addresses to contact.  This is how we hoover up lazy voters. And in the process, we can swing the entire state towards progressive issues due to our critical geography and population.

The boss assigned me the old neighborhood where I had lived for ten years. Mind you, I've served on the city's neighborhood group, Mr Smarty Pants thought  that he knew everything about the place where I lived.  But I was wrong!

First, the last time I really lived there was 1988. So some changes were obviously in order. In my world, I lived in a middle class neighborhood of professionals -- nothing but nice single family houses with big trees all over. But when you go door to door you discover some unexpected diversity. Some properties are crazy hippie havens, with big buses in the back lot. Other houses have are lots of people living hardscrabble lives attempting to avoid total poverty by sharing expenses.

I was shocked to find that there are actually some abandoned houses that never existed before. They're absolutely great Pacific bungalows, but the laws and owners (the banks?) have  boarded them up with huge sheets of plywood.  Our city supposedly has a housing shortage, and rents have been escalating dramatically.  

How can you have a shortage and a surplus of housing at the same time?  It would be so easy for some government to write a grant for federal money to rehab these houses, turning them into safe spaces for the homeless people wandering the streets.  But there is apparently no money available for this in my community.  Meanwhile, the city has gone on an orgy of permitting construction on luxury housing units, which has increased rents dramatically -- thus making more homeless people and sending them into the streets.

In making political trouble elsewhere as a homeless advocate, I ran into a lady who scavenges all manner of supplies that she gives to the people living on the street without having to go through agencies like St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill. Anwar just captured 30 tents from a nearby town's Boy Scout organization, and she quickly became my favorite lefty libertarian friend.

While I was canvassing, I was in Monroe Park, and I saw one homeless guy after another. I saw two guys, asking them what I could get for them from Anwar's stash.  They said that they could use a tent, and I told them I'd be back in one hour to give it to them. When I returned to the park they were gone.There were some more homeless guys walking around, and I finally settled on an extra tall lanky young man, to whom I gave the tent to.

I figured out that I was in the middle of a daily migration route that the homeless take.  During the day, they congregate downtown, and before sunset they begin the trek to the Walmart area, which is five miles or more by foot. I figure that Anwar's group could just sort through all 30 tents, load them into a truck, and pass them all out during just one afternoon's migration.

But there were more surprises than this.  It's one thing to be surprised by new developments. But even  stranger is  finding things existing that have always been there. My voting list took me to many obscure addresses where "lazy" voters live, many of whom live in the alleys.  I always thought that my neighborhood alleys are very unattractive places. Imagine a narrow potholed gravel path cutting a straight line though high wooden fences covered with blackberry brambles.  And then thinking about walking down those alleys in the winter rain -- at night. I wouldn't think that a lot of people actually live on alleys, but they do. 

People live in crackerboard apartments constructed in the 1970s of plywood and concrete.  Tiny rooms are filled with the  obsolete television and litter of single mothers with children. Young men smoking cigarettes live alone in other warrens. Their cigarette butts litter the tiny areas in front of their door. Their lives are desperate and empty, as only someone who has been poor (and lived through Oregon winters) understands. I discovered them as I drove down these alleys for the first time.

The reactions I got while canvassing were fascinating.  Women hid behind doors, and men gave vague responses to some of my questions Maybe some of them thought I was a bill collector trying to trick people. Or perhaps I was potentially a rapist, to be sure. But sometimes there was a reaction of thrill and gratefulness. People were actually exited that someone had actually taken the trouble to look for them  to urge them to vote! 

If you're in that position, it's safe to say that you develop cynicism about the political process watching your clunker of a TV in your tiny, cluttered room giving you pictures of Donald Trump. feeling that it's very far removed away from you.  But imagine your thrill when someone goes to all that trouble to seek you out to ask you to vote.  You know that the overall vote is close, and that your personal vote is very important.  But then, we're Oregon. Who knows what their reactions would be in other states?

What are my final thoughts on this sociological expedition?

1. The spending of government money is badly needed at the local level. Taxes will have to be raised, mostly on the rich.

2. My city is deficient in dealing with housing problems and the homeless, and lately the government has proven itself to be incompetent. That has to change, and I am doing everything I possibly can to make that change happen.

3.I can see a period, not too far in the future -- when we will all begin to experience the revolution of rising expectations.  That's why, as a spiritual companion to Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis, I am looking forward to President Hillary Clinton.

4. From a Marxist perspective, charity is the most revolutionary act.

Views: 84

Comment by koshersalaami on October 31, 2016 at 7:49am

Thanks for this

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 31, 2016 at 7:58am

From each according to their means to each according to their needs?  Underlying philosophy of Beatitudes?  R&L

Comment by Zanelle on October 31, 2016 at 10:30am

Excellent reporting...thank you.  Sounds pretty bleak.  Socialism would be nice for awhile until it too backfires.  The future could be very apocalyptic or very efficient.   Maybe both.  Hang on.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on October 31, 2016 at 10:58am

will air this  

Comment by nerd cred on October 31, 2016 at 12:21pm

I read something recently quoting a Stein supporter, it may have been her VP candidate, happily anticipating the dictatorship of the proletariat. The good thing about that would be watching Stein et al trying to survive under it.

But anyway ... onl - is this experience going to precipitate a return to local activism for you? I can't see solutions to the problems you illustrate as anything but local. Some funds might come from the federal level but that won't solve problems.

Comment by old new lefty on October 31, 2016 at 10:51pm

nerd cred, I have been putting most of my energy into the local level since that is where I can make the biggest difference. With the internet being what it is, it's easy to learn of others' mistakes and successes. Your neighborhood and your city are suffering the effects of neoliberalism and imperialism just as much as anyplace else. And given the sorry state of the world at this point, it may be pointless to hope for outside intervention to local problems.  I've said that we all know how easy it is to turn someplace good and cosmopolitan into a hellhole. Look at Beirut or Sarajevo. The difficult thing is figuring out how to prevent those conditions from happening.

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