Greetings from the air, somewhere west of Salt Lake City and en route to Portland, Oregon. I lived in Portland from 2004 to 2019, a period - or most of it - I've come to think of as steered by the builders. The city began to fray around 2016. There were multiple reasons, including disillusionment with the Portland dream not delivering fast enough, or at all, especially for young people, and resentment and fear of newly-elected president Trump, and what a sizable portion of the citizenry believed he represented: intolerance, institutional inequality, racism and misogyny.
It was in 2020, during the COVID lockdowns and after the death of George Floyd, that the discouragement and frustration reached full flower. People started to dismantle and disavow what their recent forbearers had built, and then take the city itself down to the studs, claiming this would result in a safer, more just society. The people who did so I think of as the breakers. I’ve documented their efforts in more than 80 stories, for Reason, Tablet, the Washington Examiner, The New York Times, the Dispatch, Persuasion and here on my Substack, Make More Pie.
Those I will be speaking with this week I think of as the builders: a deputy DA who will run against his boss; a former special agent in charge of the Portland division of the FBI; a drug counselor helping addicts get off drugs and off the streets; cops and lawyers, people in the media and small business owners.
These people are all looking not to rebuild Portland as it was, but to recapture some of the energy of the early aughts, to lose the cynicism, to trust their neighbors again. I hope you will join me as I write some of their stories. I do this work on my own dime and my own time. If you are interested, as I ever am, in seeing where Portland may be heading, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They're right about that. For example, consider the monumental portrait of an earlier generation of Portland "Builders" that was the subject of a news blurb in the Portland Tribune in 2015: https://www.portlandtribune.com/lifestyle/features/hiltons-prominent-people-portrait-on-its-way-to-historical-society-museum/article_24d4971d-9c9d-5661-b7fc-e30726792d35.html
Now, imagine how many thousands of words it would take to write the biographies and describe the many civic contributions of the 54 movers and shakers pictured in this mid-90s group portrait by the late Bill Papas.
Here's an even greater challenge that should appeal to any journalist with a passion for Portland history and politics: How many of the 54 have more or less similar counterparts today in terms of the type, scope and impact of their contributions to the city? How many of these men and women do not have anyone to carry on their legacy today? In other words, which of Portland's needs aren't getting the attention they deserve from movers and shakers today? Are there new movers and shakers - "Builders," in other words - who are meeting significant needs that didn't exist in the mid-90s?
It was disheartening to hear, on this morning's Smoke 'Em with Matt Welch, that you were not able to add a local journalist to your talk there. That seems like such an obvious thing. Portland's journalists should want to be telling Portland's stories.