Where is your line?

“How bad does it have to get?”

Here’s a conversation I’d like to have with my friends and family, and that I wish I had a few years ago:

I think that rule by Republicans will lead to a police state. I’m saying that Trump is a disaster for democracy. And I know it sounds like partisan hyperbole, but also I think it’s real.

Maybe you think I’m wholly wrong, and are voting R. Maybe you think it won’t be that bad, and you’re voting D, but not donating, volunteering, and generally throwing yourself into the struggle.

That’s okay. Just please do this exercise with me: where is your line? What’s the thing that, if it happens, is proof that things are really really bad?

Not just evidence. Proof. How bad does it have to be, so that’s we’re undoubtedly in the Bad Place? What sort of things, exactly, would happen that would spur you to action?

Make it as preposterous as you like.

Maybe Trump announces he’s shutting down elections. Death squads wandering around and killing leftists, then being pardoned.

Or maybe: secret police grabbing people off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans.

Or maybe: “undesirables” being arrested and thrown into concentration camps, where they start dying.

Let it be whatever outlandish thing you like, that you think might never come to pass. Just be honest with yourself. And then, write down what you would do if that day arrived.

Would you change your vote? Would you start volunteering with a political group? Would you give up your savings and plow it into donations? Would you spend 20-30 hours a week doing whatever it took to fight back?

Whatever it is, just please, write it down. Keep it safe. Check it once in a while: are we there yet?

I hope that time never comes to pass. Maybe it won’t this presidency, but during the next R presidency. But if it ever does — remember that you made this commitment. Remember, because the human mind has a marvelous ability to make the abnormal, normal.

(And, for some people, that breaking point might have been hit already, without you realizing).

I haven’t hit my breaking point yet. I still watch television at night, when I could be making phone calls. The other day, I spent way too much money for a hot water heater, when I could have put it to better use. But I can see it on the horizon. That time isn’t so preposterously far away, any more.

If that breaking point comes, I hope I push the button and go all-in. I hope that when your breaking point comes, you change your vote. Or, (to a different audience) you execute on your plan to fight back.

Wherever you are in the spectrum, whatever that action might be: I hope you take it. Because when we shrug at the previously indefensible, we lose a part of our soul.


The Center For Intercultural Organizing

Five minutes before my ride to Seattle picked me up, I dropped by the Center For Intercultural Organizing, which I’m told is the best community organization in Portland.

I really didn’t have much time – and I interrupted an all-staff meeting! So I just said hello, chatted for a few minutes, and left.

If I ever come back to Portland, though, I’m staying for longer. They’re cool people!


Portland has a lot of strip clubs

Strip clubs are everywhere here.

There exists a one in Portland called “Dancing Bare”.

Yes, it has a really cheesy sign.

Also this adult video store exists:

Fat Cobra Video. You can’t make this up.


The life and death of a feminist hackerspace

This is kind of a bittersweet story.

I checked out makerspaces/hackerspaces in Portland, and I found Flux. It was really cool – a nice space downtown, explicitly feminist, and complete with a zines library (even a comic by Susie Cagle!) Through the people I met at Flux, I ended up on the adventure that lead me to Right To Dream Too.

A few days after I first stopped by, however, I visited again to grim news. The new leadership of the hackerspace (who just joined up 3 weeks prior) just realized that they had a big operating deficit – and rent was due in just a few days.

There was not much to be done – they needed $800 just to keep the space, and more besides every month to get a good budget balance.

As far as I can tell, the original crew that set up the space had bailed earlier – they had wanted it to be a more “radical” space and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of recruiting outsiders to keep it financially viable. (Of course, I could be totally wrong on that. Just one story I heard).

After casting a sad look around the space, we went for pizza. I just checked their website a few minutes ago – looks like the end really did come for Flux:

What a shame.


Distillery tours in Portland

Portland is known for its local craft beers. But I don’t like beer! What is a fellow to do?

Distillery tours, of course!

We went on a walking tour of 5 different distilleries, each with a different take on what a “hipster distillery” could be.

  1. New Deal Distillery (the first photo) is clean, shiny, and into typography.
  2. The next was run by asian (Japanese) immigrants – a small room full of rice-based brews.
  3. Next, we went to a family-run distillery just getting set up, strangely enough, in a small office park. It was weird – you just walk down some normal-looking corporate hallways, and then BOOM! Vats, etc. It wasn’t fully ready yet, so we get a bunch of cocktails and learned about business from the friendly woman who set it up with her husband and daughter.
  4. This place had a biker vibe. Dark clothes, leather, whiskey.
  5. The last place (the later photos) was the original distillery around. The people behind the counter were really cool. I had the familiar problem of getting along well with a man, and then worrying I was accidentally flirting with him. I suppose I have that worry with women as well. Except often when I realize it I decide not to worry about it and “what if I’m flirting with them? That means we could go out maybe!” Whereas there isn’t that potential upside with guys. Anyways, thanks for listening to me ramble.

Hats off to Monique Teal for organizing a great trip!

P.S. Check out the sort of fliers that abound in Portland:


July 4th, 2014

On July 4th, I had no idea what to do.

I checked some email, woke up slowly, and generally was a slow loris until my phone beeped a reminder: “Arts BBQ? At That Gallery. In 1 hour”

Oh my! I grabbed my gear and headed out to the bus stop. I could check out that cool art gallery that I kept ending up hanging out at, and there’d be food. All by noon, when all my other plans started around 4ish.

So there I am, waiting at the bus stop, sitting next to this guy in a funny/classy hat. He’s loudly excited about the upcoming bluegrass festival, and loudly *not* a fan of the blues festival happening that night. “Blues sucks man. It’s just so easy to play. The same chords over and over again.”

“Okay guy. I’ll talk to you,” thought I.

What a character. So exuberant. So pleased with life. I want to get to that point – chortling over little jokes, slapping my knee of emphasis, just crackling with energy.

He’s a musician, but also an art manager. The guy who reps local artists, sort of thing.

Turns out he was heading the same way I was! I invite him to the art bbq. He comes! We check out the exibits – 50 different takes on the american flag.

That was fun. I get a vegan dog eventually, hang out with a few of the worker/curators, etc. Meet some cool people. Then it’s off to the next adventure!

Sumana, a friend from Wikimedia, says she has time to chat on IRC. Man, I love the Wikimedia Foundation. What a great bunch of people – and they stick to their guns and use open standards of communication as much as possible.

Hurry to the closest cafe that is open on the 4th and seems to have wifi.

The glare hides how classy this joint is.

Sumana has lots of interesting things to say.

You know, I might indeed enjoy life as a UU pastor! Or possibly even a Rabbi. :-)

Then I’m off again. To a party!

[Unfortunately, no pic here]

I meet up with Sarah, my host at the time, at the surprise birthday / not-at-all-a-surprise barbeque at her friend’s house. It was fun. I met a middle-aged libertarian, hearty, home-made-sausage grilling lesbian couple (the louder of which taught plus-sized yoga). They were fun. (“I bought the whole cow! Gave it to the butcher, and he made me 71 pounds of sausage!”)

Soon, everyone leaves for the park, and I walk over to party #2 at Monique’s. Most people have left, but I hang out with a cool handful of folks. We talk about life, being a lawyer, Portland, and the Oregon Student Association. Then eat an American Flag Cake:

And go to the park.

It was lovely!


There exists a place called “Red and Black Cafe” in Portland Oregon

And it’s pretty great!

On my first day in Portland, I walked due east, over the river. I was not impressed. There’s a strong “concrete wasteland” vibe right as you cross the river east, and the stores afterwards are often bars or stripclubs. Not my scene.

The first interesting place I found was an art gallery. The curator/worker/person there wasn’t doing much, so we chatted for 45 minutes or so about Portland, life, happiness, etc. I said I might stop by for the 4th of July Barbeque and art show they were going to put on. (Spoiler alert! I did).

Here’s what the gallery looked like:

Then ambled south. Being a man who takes my metaphores seriously, I stopped and smelled the flowers that were overflowing from a house’s garden plot.

They smelled heavenly. Amazingly heavenly. So, in full flower bliss, I walked a little further, saw the owner outside on his porch, and said “man, your flowers smell amazing.” “Thanks dude!”

We talked about Portland, community, and life for about 20 minutes before I kept walking. Before I left, though, I took note of something he casually mentioned:

“Yeah, there’s all sorts of interesting places around this area. We’ve got a makerspace just down the block. And an anarchist cafe”

So to the anarchist cafe I went!

(Photo from Instagram)

The Cafe is pretty sweet. It’s completely worker-owned AND unionized to boot. (Which seems a bit like overkill, but rad nonetheless). It hosts all sorts of groups in the community. I’ve noticed the unhoused using its wifi, which stays on all day and night and is accessible from the outside. To top it all off, the cafe has legit nice beer and fun names for their food, like the Nihilist Cheesesteak.

As I walked in, I noticed a group of people hanging out in what seemed like a meeting. They didn’t seem to friendly so I went to the counter. After a lovely discussion with the woman working the desk, she introduced me to everyone. They were having a meeting of the local branch of Black Rose – the very same federation that Rochester’s Red and Black is a member of. Small world!

To make it the world even smaller, the people there (who ended up being super friendly) not only knew about Rochester Red and Black, but even knew Colin O’Malley from when he did his nationwide speaking tour. 

Turns out that Red and Black also has housing above the cafe, and we all stayed up late into the night talking about the local political scene, radicals-as-subculture vs radicals-as-organizers, history, online organizing, reagan, you name it.

What a fun bunch of people. You should definitely check out R&B if you’re ever in town.


Portland is kind of awesome.

Portland is kind of awesome.

Their community radio station, KBOO, seems actually legit. They have staff. They have a budget. They have the feel of a college radio station, only for a city of 700k people. Plus they have awesome murals outside the walls.

When having the “should I live here” conversation with strangers, they often ask what I’m looking for. I tell them:

“I’m looking for a real community. Where people at least know of each other, where everyone is working on a cool project, and you can run into your friends on the street and pull them to lunch and plot.”

According to everyone who hung out there (and my own sense of the vibe), KBOO is a lot like that. I was really impressed. Plus, right next door was the worker-owned bike shop, which has a rocking mural of its own.

Life is good.


This is a post about unhoused and poor people in Portland. It is not a sad post.

One day, I hung out at Flux, a feminist hackerspace/makerspace in downtown Portland.

Here’s what it looks like:


3D printers! Soldering irons! Etc!


NOTE: Sadly, it looks like Flux is having trouble making financial ends meet, so last time I checked they were possibly about to be evicted and feverishly looking for a solution. Sadface.

Back to the story!

At Flux, I met a man named Kevin. Kevin is intense. Kevin took me out to lunch at this place called “Sisters of the Traveling Road”. It’s a sort of soup kitchen, I guess. Lunch is a 1.50, and you can earn credit by doing chores there.

It was not cool to photo the people there, so I just captured a bit of ceiling:

During lunch, Kevin told me about how he worked with Richard Stallman back in the day at the MIT AI lab, how he’s working on a bunch of software projects to benefit the radical community in Portland, how he co-founded a huge hardware business in the 80’s before it was destroyed by the rise of the MIPS instruction set, and how he helped set up Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2), the tent village / houseless encampment not too far from here.

Kevin is pretty un-googleable, so I’m not sure how true any of that was. He’s definitely a smart, interesting guy though. And that spurred me to check out this R2D2 that everyone kept talking about.

R2D2 is actually super baller!

Again, I didn’t want to be rude and photo much of the camp, but here’s a peek at the entrance:

And an older photo I found online that don’t seem to violate anyone’s privacy:

(Note that the camp has changed since then. The middle tents are gone, replaced by large communal tents for “walk-ins”. New tents have gone up for the kitchen, computer lab, storage warehouse, etc)

The story, as I understand it:

Years ago, this guy had a property that he couldn’t use. The city wouldn’t let him give it away, they wouldn’t let him use it as a parking lot, and he didn’t have the money to build ontop of it. So in an offhand comment, he told a reporter, “I might as well give this place to the homeless and let them use it”. Right To Survive, a local direct-action group, saw the interview, called him up, and asked if he was serious. He was.

Early October, 2011, right as Occupy became visible in Portland, Right to Survive leased the lot from the owner for 1$, and set up a tent city. At first, things were pretty loose and flexible. Occupy was a godsend – they distracted the police, and were able to do visible and rowdy actions to save the camp if needed.

Eventually, Right 2 Dream Too became more established. They now have an elected board. Local police can’t search the city without a warrant. 108 former members have gone on to permanent housing. Walk-ins are welcome to stay in large communal tents, as long as they follow the camp rules (which include progressive language, like “no transphobia”, etc). After a walk-in stays around for a while, is generally liked, and does some chores, members can choose to accept them as a new member to the camp, with new privileges, a tent, blankets, etc.

People escaping domestic abuse are particularly welcome, and the camp has a strict policy of respecting people’s privacy from the outside. (If someone comes looking for “Jamie”, the person volunteering at the gate will refuse to say whether “Jamie” even stays at the camp, much less bring her forth.

It’s an amazing, friendly, resilient, and functioning community. And, like I said, people are using it as a way to escape being unhoused. It’s inspiring, it’s led by the homeless themselves, and apparently organizations from around the country are visiting to learn from the model.

The people I met at the camp were similarly warm and friendly. I learned about a woman estranged from her family and lacking government ID. Without ID, she couldn’t get a job. And without her family vouching for her, she couldn’t get an ID. At the time we spoke, she was seriously contemplating getting arrested, just so her mugshot could serve as enough ID to be able to get her passport back.

Another person I met was thoughtful, intellectual, and spoke like an organizer. He’s actually “graduated” from the camp to secure housing, but he hangs with everyone else at the camp from time to time. His main priority: finding ways to extend the camp to more people.

What a great time I had there. Hours after leaving, I still felt more connected to my fellow humans, more likely to say hello to odd and beaten-down-looking strangers, just more alive.