The deadline for chief petitioner Colleen Swenson and her volunteer signature gatherers to collect 32,000 signatures on their petition to change Portland’s form of government is upon her. With something over 1,000 signatures collected to date, she comes up woefully shy of the goal.
But there is nothing shy about Swenson’s resolve to empower east Portland residents.
The Portland Community Equality Act would have ended Portland’s commission form of government and would have placed executive power in the hands of the mayor. More importantly, perhaps, it would have created nine city council seats including seven from geographic districts and two at large. This new geography-anchored form of city government would restore the balance of power to her disenfranchised Northeast Portland neighbors, Swenson reasoned (“Activists tack, take council geographic representation course” MCM June 2015).
Thirty-two thousand signatures would be required to place her petition on the November 2016 ballot. She had just under a year to collect signatures, until July 8, 2016 (“Sign here … please” MCM October 2015). In April 2016, Swenson extolled more neighborhood associations’ endorsements but lamented too few volunteers, presaging that the signature-gathering effort might fail (“Equal representation act signature gathering continues” MCM April 17, 2016).
Now, a mere week before the deadline—and with less than five percent of the required signatures—the handwriting is on the wall.
What happened, and what would she do different next time, if there were a next time?
First, Swenson said that no one in or even loosely connected to city government would assist her or give her space. Many NAs declined to assist, wrongly thinking they were not legally permitted to do so, according to Swenson. Even most businesses shied away, as they perhaps did not want to ruffle feathers at city hall. But Brew Line Coffee, Maria’s Beauty Salon, Gateway Hardware store and Moonshadow came through for her, as did many volunteers whose signature-bearing petitions are still trickling in by mail.
Second, timing is everything: Swenson said she thought the “presidential campaign detracted from the [petition] campaign.”
She would earlier bring in more NAs, the NAACP and other “invaluable” organizations like Common Cause Oregon.
“More people, more color and more connections,” said Swenson, would have made the difference. “One person can’t be heard by lots of people without the media,” she noted. “It’s for everybody. It’s not just [for a] minority, it’s [for all of] us … I think the community can bring it forward.”
For information about PCEA’s efforts and locations of signature gathering, check its website, portlandcommunityequalityact.com, or their Facebook page, or contact Swenson at 503-284-4424 or email@example.com.