Wednesday… Around 6pm, my section of the house was ransacked. Everyone was home; no one heard a thing. I’d turned on the heater in my room and closed the door (to retain the heat), before going upstairs to prepare my Thanksgiving veggies.
Went down a bit later, immediately noticing light flowing out of what should’ve been a closed door. Then saw personal items, strewn about. My crayon drawing of farm animals, on the floor. Drawers open. Lids off of boxes. Jewelry cases ajar, left empty. Cupboard to store important papers, in disarray. The intruder probably came in through the garage, which had been open for about an hour.
Police came, dusted for prints. Took two hours for them to arrive because they’d been downtown dealing with a Ferguson protest. They thought it was strange that my video cameras were taken, not my laptop. Also stolen: my birth certificate, social security card, passport and a few sentimental items.
Thursday was Thanksgiving. Lena had asked me to run the Turkey Trot, a SUPER hilly 4-mile run that starts and ends at the zoo. Said she’d understand if I wanted to bail, after being up late with the robbery drama.
Not a chance! Yes, it’s unsettling. But there might never be answers. When something is beyond our control yet still consuming our mind… a good sweat helps.
Saturday, found myself downtown with a few gal pals. They wanted to go man hunting among whoever was at the bars, watching the Oregon Civil War game. Spot the Hottie is low on my priority list, being in Cocoon Mode. The appeal of catching up with a bunch of gal pals drew me out.
Once downtown, discovered my true reason for being there.
There was another protest underway, outside the bar where we were not paying attention to football whatsoever. The demonstrators gathered at the foot of the Justice Center, listening to a handful of speakers including my friend Jules, on behalf of the Latino community (regarding the recent fall of Measure 88) and a local political activist and civil rights leader named Teressa Raiford, who organized the rally.
The featured guest was Reverend Jesse Jackson.
After the speeches, Jules brought Teressa to meet us at the bar (while protesters continued making a ruckus outside). Teressa explained, she’d won an award recently (on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) which piqued the attention of one man in particular: Jesse Jackson. When he heard of her efforts to fight social injustice, he made it a point to stop by and speak with her. Teressa invited everyone at our table to meet Jackson the next day.
For reasons I can’t quite comprehend, I’m the only one who went.
Sunday: Arrived 45 minutes early, my first time attending church (of any kind) since going with the neighbors, as a kid. Happened to be a black congregation, something that hadn’t occurred to me, going in.
Everyone wore their Sunday Finest. Had me feeling underdressed! Was approached by no less than a dozen people, welcoming. Having done some writing for social justice, was deemed press. The woman who dealt with members of the media on behalf of the church, seated me next to Laura Gunderson (from the Oregonian). A man named Cornelius (GoLocalPDX) slid in on her other side.
Didn’t see a single familiar face. No Jules. No Teressa. A cryptic message on Jules’ Facebook page indicates they were involved in a mass-arrest while walking to their car (which happened to be parked among lingering protesters) after we parted ways, Saturday night.
The crowd was electric with anticipation, waiting for Reverend Jackson to arrive. Music came from all directions as church members chimed in with the singers and band on stage. There were several large bouquets with roses, purple and cream. The woman on my left had a paper fan, printed with an image of MLK. A couple people with tissue boxes circled the room, for all the tears, sure to be flowing.
The entire congregation was singing, swaying, arms up, hands clapping, giving praise to God. Forced myself to get in the groove. Strange as it was singing and dancing with the crowd of strangers, it’s far less awkward than being still or fiddling with my phone.
When our Guest of Honor entered the room, there were a few minutes of handshakes and hugs before Bishop CT Wells (head of Emmanuel Temple Church) asked us to receive him. Jackson took a minute to thank Bishop Wells “with all his buoyancy and joy” as well as several individual members of the church.
“When I come to Portland, this is my station… Any appointed officials in the house?” He wanted to thank them too. No one stood. “If you want to be appointed to something, please stand.” Again, none.
Many of his ideas were spoken one or two words at a time (or in short, easy-to-digest phrases), in a call-and-response style I hadn’t witnessed since grade school. He began by drawing attention to darkness, in particular to the violence and civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
Jackson described his sorrow over the impact of these events, “Eroding our confidence in the judicial system. We are rotted by racism… America is rotting… like Michael Brown was left rotting in the street. With children walking by, having adjusted. One thing worse than injustice, is to adjust. We cannot adjust to racist behavior.”
“Racism is a mental disease; Gender inequality is a cultural disease.” (This he repeated at least three times.)
“Compounded injustice leads to anarchy and violence; Justice leads to peace.”
“We reject violence. Because it’s impractical. It’s impractical to fight guns and tanks with bricks and stones. An eye for an eye makes you blind… disfigured… and ugly.”
In darkness, it’s up to our own willful determination to stay strong. “Deep water does not drown you. You drown when you stop kicking.”
At times, felt like Jesse Jackson was talking to me, specifically. His eye contact is so direct – it’s like we’re having a private conversation. Wondered if he has this effect on others. Such a profound ability to connect with the audience is a gift for any public speaker.
“People care that you know. People really want to know that you care.”
“Power unchecked is corruptive.” Jackson reminded us, the problem is not only the presence of racism within the police force. We must look also at the banks and Silicon Valley. Jackson asked us to consider, why there isn’t a single black person on the board of Apple.
Then listed 4 Monumental Steps in the ongoing march of Civil Rights:
1. Freedom from 246 years of slavery. “We were slaves, for longer than we’ve been free.”
3. Right to Vote
4. Access to Capital, Industry, Technology
This is where the fight for Civil Rights continues today. Corporations are largely, segregated organizations. Here, he introduced the concept of Economic Violence.
Even when we are free, we can sit where we want on the bus and we can vote, “We starve to death without access to capital… Nobody can swim without water.”
Jackson offered comfort, because once we’ve found ourselves an unfortunate place, “Even though it is dark, we don’t internalize the dark. Don’t internalize the ugliness, hatred, fear, arrogance. Even when surrounded by hate, we don’t have to swallow it!”
At the end, Jackson asked anyone who is not a member of a church to come on down and get healed.
Two individuals made their way to the front of the room, where hands were raised and whispered prayers commenced. Meanwhile, Jackson led the crowd in song: This Little Light of Mine. Happy to recall some of the words, I sang along.
Offstage, people immediately clustered around Reverend Jackson, greeting and giving thanks. He pointed at the three of us in the media section, signaling he wanted to speak with us in a quiet place. We followed him to a purple room near the front of the building.
Cornelius did most of the questioning, first raising the recent (and more recently, removed) Facebook post of local police officers wielding the message, “I am Derek Wilson.”
Jackson said, “The people can understand, those officers are trying to protect the integrity of the badge… We need the police.” Made me think of how grateful I was, once they finally did arrive, after the robbery.
He warned against Blue Flu, a socio-cultural contagion that sickens relations between police and the community.
His overall message was one of “justice, fairness and co-existence. We must understand, recognize, “Military occupation is violence. Quiet is the absence of noise; peace is the presence of justice.”
Cornelius asked for Jackson’s reaction to the fact, many activists have given up on the justice system.
Reverend Jackson replied with sympathy and deep resolve, “This is not the best America… It’s discouraging sometimes but you shouldn’t give up. When you have a weapon like the vote, you must use it.”
He cited many long, hard-fought successes of the Progressive movement. Freedom from slavery, Right to Vote, the march of Feminism and others. We are winning. But there is still much work to do: We must fight for student loan debt reduction (AMEN!), and change the fact that fewer and fewer people amass more and more wealth all the time.
“It’s not the distance that kills us, it’s the undercurrent.”
Someone announced this would be the end of the interview. Jackson made a beeline for the two small kids in the room. The littlest one was getting fussy.
“Let me see my grandson,” said Jackson, picking up the bigger boy. He was blonde with big blue eyes. That eye-contact!
Makes sense, this is his main haunt in Portland. Reverend Jesse Jackson matched the place, perfectly.