Striving for higher ground

By Elizabeth Hovde

Fall was hard. I lost some friends after opposing a teacher strike and writing my newspaper column about it. Showing up to picket lines with questions instead of doughnuts was not welcome. And years of volunteer support and crafting cocktails for my kids’ teachers wasn’t enough to insulate some relationships.

Shortly thereafter, I was off-the-charts disappointed in what I saw as #BelieveWomen laziness. In the rush to say women should be valued and respected, we did some harm. I raise two middle-school boys busy becoming men. They’re watching. And they heard they’re not to be believed. Women are. 

When I expressed frustration while hearing a man-bash in process, I was treated like I had betrayed my gender. My beliefs were ridiculed, even around a campfire with some of my oldest friends. 

Then in October, I took a public and colleagues’ lashing after talking with an activist many of us were writing about — but, in many cases, not actually speaking to. I lost more friends. Piles of research and first-hand inquiry did not spare me from the verbal flogging. Local politicians even weighed in with disdain. 

The result of the fall season? I feel more isolated and conservative than I ever have. That troubles me.

I’ve always felt center-right in this liberal land. I cycle, hike and drink craft beer, which has allowed me to play reindeer games with a lot of people whose politics I don’t share. I listen to and read mainstream and left-leaning news, avoiding conservative pundits so I can better think my own right-leaning thoughts. I have a fairly obsessive Oregon Public Broadcasting habit. Like others, I often sit in my driveway to finish listening to guests interviewed on Think Out Loud. I’ve even been one of those guests — again, allowed to play reindeer games.

The vast majority of my friends are liberal. Of course they are! I grew up and live in a liberal land where the biggest minority is an ideological one. Conservatives don’t grow on trees. I also worked in and wrote for newspapers for 24 years, hitting a 10-year mark for The Oregonian this year. My column was discontinued shortly after my head was hunted when I wasn’t saying what others were about a polarizing figure.

In my experience, it’s true that conservatives in newsrooms are as rare as preteens who don’t like Fortnite. It’s also true in my experience that despite wide disagreement on issues, newsroom employees usually agree on going out together after work, learning from each other, sharing laughs at parties and finding common ground. Some of my greatest supporters and friends have been liberals I spent time with in a newsroom.

I didn’t support Trump or Obama. I am anti-death penalty and anti-abortion, even if I would leave Roe v. Wade on the books. Because of my Purple Party tendencies, I’d be considered a liberal in the South. I was when I lived there for a short stint in the ‘90s. In Portland, however, I’m often labeled “right wing” and called things like “the Northwest Ann Coulter” — when I’m not being called an “idiot” by the “tolerant, inclusive” left, that is.

President Trump gets a lot of blame for the way members of the media are treated. He should. He often says, irresponsibly, that reporters and columnists are unprofessional losers. Poor form, Mr. President. But be assured: Some of us were treated as enemies of the state in the Clinton, Bush and Obama years, too. I have plenty of hate mail to prove it. 

Feeling more conservative than ever concerns me, and it should concern liberals, too. I believe Trump was elected in 2016 in large part because right-leaning people were being kicked in a corner, called stupid and told that their opinions were unwelcome. Those beatings seem worse than ever now.

As Trump continues hitting below the belt, people like Former Attorney General Eric Holder are joining him. He’s said Former First Lady Michelle Obama got it wrong. Instead of the wise encouragement she gave to go high when others go low, Holder said, “No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”

With all the kicking, on both sides, I worry we’re sending more conservatives into bubbles of unchallenged conservative thought, leaving those who lean left in liberal-only bubbles to nod in unison without interruption. Less growth. Less learning.

I hope we find our way to higher ground soon. The view is way better up there.  And you get to keep your friends.

Elizabeth Hovde is a recent Oregonian columnist. One of those “greatest supporters” she mentioned in this writing was her editor of several years, George Rede. He knows how to find common ground, Hovde says, and she is forever grateful.

Editor’s note: Elizabeth is a longtime colleague and friend who, like me, has gone from traditional journalism to adjunct college teaching. We’ve confronted similar challenges in the newsroom and classroom and shared strategies that we hope will engage the newest generation of students. I admire her energy, her grit and hustle, and her determination to keep an open mind in the face of way too many trolls.

Tomorrow: Eric Wilcox | Falling from the sky

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Three hikes in one

I like variety. I’m not one of those who thrives on routine. I intentionally mix things up, whether it’s working out on a bike or in a pool, walking my dog on different routes, or choosing something new on a menu.

So it came as a pleasant surprise that Friday’s urban hike felt like three walks packaged into one.

Once again following “Portland Hill Walks,” I chose a route that began 12 miles from where I live — out to Southeast Portland and up to the Willamette National Cemetery on Mount Scott.

Starting at the city-owned Leach Botancial Garden just off SE 122nd Avenue, I walked through what I’d call a working class neighborhood, with wide streets, no sidewalks, houses set back into the woods, and an abundance of pickup trucks and not-so-new Hondas and Fords.

From there, I trudged up the hill to the national cemetery, a sacred space where more than 116,000 men and women have been interred on an expanse of 269 acres straddling the Multnomah and Clackamas county line.

On the way back down, I found myself in a more affluent neighborhood with luxury homes, many with spectacular views of the West Hills and downtown Portland and other trappings of exclusivity.

These two neighborhood walks sandwiched around a tour of the cemetery grounds made it seem like three-in-one. And now I can add another part of town to those I’ve become familiar with, thanks to “Portland Hill Walks” author Laura O. Foster.

***

Truth be told, I did this urban hike backwards. No, not literally. What I mean is for some reason, I turned west instead of south from the lush, shaded Leach Botanical Garden. As a result, I began with the working class neighborhood instead of the higher-elevation affluent neighborhood.

No harm, no foul, though. I enjoyed the solitude in both places.

Except for a woman who was walking far ahead of me and eventually turned off onto a side street, I was alone on Brookside Drive and adjoining streets as I passed a number of oddities. Here are a few:

On the return trip to my car, I was completely alone as I walked through the upscale neighborhood, passing by homes with strikingly different facades. Take a look:

The real highlight of this hike was the time spent at the cemetery. It’s the second time I’ve walked among the dead on these urban hikes and I have to say it’s good for the soul. To be alone with my thoughts in a beautifully cared-for space, lush and green and quiet, is something to appreciate in this hurly-burly world.

And if death is the great equalizer — between rich and poor, between young and old — then it’s doubly true at a national veterans cemetery.

According to Foster, there’s a reason why you don’t see huge, ornate monuments like you do in private cemeteries. It’s because the flat, unadorned grave markers, no matter a service member’s rank, provide the national cemeteries “with a deep and humbling sense of democracy.”

To me, that equal treatment honors the service to country performed by each of one of the thousands laid to rest in parallel rows stretching as far as the eye can see.

They all sacrificed, whether they were named Floyd, Chester, Cyrus, Arthur, Benjamin, Margaret or Isidro. Whether they served in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Whether they served in the Second World War, Korea or Vietnam.

When I visited at mid-morning, Old Glory was at half-mast in memory of the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the latest stains on this country’s character.

Near the entrance on SE 112th Avenue, there was a racket from weed wackers and leaf blowers — a necessary aspect of keeping up the immaculate grounds. Similarly, there was a crew with a backhoe in another part of the cemetery, working on a minor construction project.

Away from those two areas, it was quiet and peaceful. I could walk alongside the grave markers. I could pause and take in the west-facing views of downtown. I could linger at the amphitheater beneath the U.S. flag, hanging limp. I could focus on the bios of four Medal of Honor winners buried nearby. I could watch from a distance as a young woman and child laid fresh flowers at a grave — that of her husband or father or some other loved one? Who knows?

I left the shade of Willamette National Cemetery and headed back out to the entrance road. Walking downhill, I learned from Foster’s book that the land had been originally owned by Harvey Scott, a former editor of The Oregonian and the person for whom Mount Scott was named. Scott cleared the land over two decades and sold it in 1909 to the Mount Scott Cemetery Corporation.

According to Foster, the hillside was graded by hand — imagine that — by WPA laborers from 1935 to 1936. Eventually, the property was given to the state of Oregon just before World War II. Congress passed a bill in 1941 authorizing the cemetery but no money was appropriated for several years. Finally, construction began in 1950 and the first burial occurred in 1951, the same year Oregon deeded the land to the federal government.

Since then, Willamette has become one of the busiest of the 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico with about 3,500 burials a year.

On this day, I felt privileged to walk among these veterans and appreciate their patriotism. At the same time, I felt humbled to tour the grounds of an emerald jewel that wouldn’t exist without the painstaking labor of ordinary workers whose names and faces we’ll likely never know.

Woody Guthrie Place: a home for dignity

Named for the famous folksinger, Woody Guthrie Place will soon be home to 64 families in the Lents neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

Most weekday evenings you’ll find Lori and me at “yappy hour” — a time when our little Charlotte can run around with her fellow terriers and any other dogs that show up at our neighborhood school.

On Thursday, I deviated from the routine for a good cause. I attended a grand opening celebration of an affordable housing project in Southeast Portland and a fundraising dinner to benefit the nonprofit agency that led the way in developing it.

The development is called Woody Guthrie Place, named for the famous Depression-era folksinger who once lived two blocks away from the site in the Lents neighborhood. The agency that made it happen is ROSE Community Development.

A ROSE staff member I’ve come to know through my work invited me to attend as a way of becoming more familiar with the organization, which has provided valuable work experience to several Communications students I’ve had in an internship class at Portland State University.

Jami LeBaron, communications manager at ROSE, organized Thursday’s grand opening celebration. She also mentors Portland State student interns.

To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I came away with a handful of positive takeaways about the great work being done by the public, private and nonprofit sectors to provide affordable housing — and dignity — to people who live in a part of the city that really needs it. My takeaways:

***

No. 1. Rose CDC rocks. For nearly 30 years, this nonprofit agency has been a beacon of hope to residents of outer-Southeast Portland through development of good homes, youth and family programs, and community support. With a 9-member staff, a volunteer board, and a dozen partnerships with public agencies and community organizations, ROSE CDC typifies the vital work that small nonprofits do, often flying below the radar.

The agency is perennially honored as of the Best 100 Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon Award as named by Oregon Business magazine, and its work has earned recognition from the governor’s and mayor’s offices, as well as other state and local awards.

No. 2. Meeting a basic need. With the completion of 64 mixed-income units at Woody Guthrie Place and 48 fully affordable units at Orchards of 82nd, another ROSE development recently opened in the nearby Jade District, ROSE is providing more then 100 families with a safe, affordable place to live. Most are seniors, single moms and people of color, all of whom are on limited incomes. The two new projects will bring to 465 the number of rental units, including single-family homes and and apartments, managed by ROSE.

For all these tenants, affordable housing means more than just a roof over their head. It means a safe place to call your own and raise a family.

I joined a tour of Woody Guthrie Place near the intersection of SE 91st Avenue and Foster Road and was impressed with what I saw: a four-story building offering 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units with brand-new appliances, fresh carpeting, ceiling fans in every room, and a laundry room on each floor. Amenities include a community room, rooftop patio, an outdoors play space, car and bike parking, and ADA accessible units. The building is LEED Gold certified, has a solar rooftop and electric car charging stations.

No. 3. The right kind of housing in the right kind of place. As the third affordable housing development to open in the past year in this area, Woody Guthrie Place is the latest manifestation of the city’s plans for the urban renewal area known as Lents Town Center. Long disparaged as a mishmash of sketchy and outdated businesses just off Interstate 205, the district is taking on new life as a hub for affordable housing, brewpubs, restaurants and retail businesses. (Never imagined I’d see a Planet Fitness in this long-struggling area.)

Thursday’s fundraising event was held at the Asian Health and Service Center, a gleaming three-story building that is also a new addition to Lents Town Center. From the covered third-floor deck, you can look across the street to Woody Guthrie Place or further south toward Oliver Place, a two-building development comprised of apartments and ground-floor commercial space.

All of this development is the result of public investment led by Prosper Portland, the city’s urban renewal agency, and supported by the Metro regional government, Multnomah County and Home Forward, the city’s housing authority. Private sector involvement has come from a variety of construction companies, architectural and engineering firms, banks and utilities, notably Portland General Electric.

Bob Stacey, the elected official representing Metro’s District 6, which includes Lents, was among a half-dozen speakers Thursday night. He called Woody Guthrie Place “an amazing asset” for the region and the community. He said because it is close to public transit, it will serve the new residents well and make it “the right kind of housing in the right kind of place.”

No. 4. Why Woody Guthrie? The new development is named in honor of the prolific songwriter who lived briefly in the area while writing songs for the Bonneville Power Administration about the benefits of hydroelectric power being developed on the Columbia River. Originally from Oklahoma, Guthrie moved from Los Angeles to Portland with his young family in the spring of 1941 and wound up writing 26 songs in 30 days, including “Roll On, Columbia.” During that month, he lived with wife and three children in an apartment on SE 92nd Avenue.

Woody Guthrie and his family in 1941 (courtesy of the Woody Guthrie Museum)

Guthrie wrote more than 1,400 songs during his lifetime, including the famous ballad “This Land Is Your Land.”

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

And all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

According to a 2018 magazine article, it was during his time in Portland that Guthrie wrote a song that many view as his masterpiece: “Pastures of Plenty,” about poor migrant farm workers leaving Oklahoma to look for work picking fruit in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s clearly drawn from Grapes of Wrath, a book Guthrie read for the first time in Portland, but the fact that he wrote it while tromping around Oregon in the springtime reveals the masterpiece in a new light,” said the writer, Isaac Peterson.

No. 5. The music and message of Simon Tam. More than one speaker at Thursday’s event invoked the spirit of Guthrie’s work as a voice for justice, equality and civil rights. Among them was keynote speaker Simon Tam, an author and musician best known as bassist and founder of the Asian American dance-rock band, The Slants. In his remarks, he skillfully touched on music as a connector of people and places, and on dignity.

Keynote speaker Simon Tam with Travis Dang of SERA Architects, project designer of the Orchards on 82nd apartments.

Tam recently moved to Nashville but lived in Portland “just two blocks from here” for 15 years. In 2006, he founded an all-Asian American band and later applied to register a trademark for the band’s name, a move that triggered an eight-year legal battle with the federal government that ended in June 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had rejected the band’s name as “disparaging” but Tam said he and his bandmates “were re-appropriating this term and injecting it with our own power.”

If that fight over a racial slur was about self-identity, it was also about justice and dignity.

Tam said he loves ROSE precisely because of the sense of dignity that permeates its work, whether it comes from staff, board members, volunteers or donors.

“Music is both a ceremony and a time capsule,” tied to specific events and memories, Tam said. When you support ROSE, he declared, “you’re helping write that song of justice, community and dignity.”

***

Want to know more?

Here is the ROSE CDC web site: https://rosecdc.org/

Here’s a Washington Post story about Simon Tam and his memoir “Slanted: How an Asian-American Troublemaker Wound Up Before The Supreme Court.” https://wapo.st/2ZAez0g

Here’s a piece from 1859 Oregon’s Magazine about Woody Guthrie and his time in Oregon: https://1859oregonmagazine.com/think-oregon/history/woody-guthrie-oregon/