Moving to Portland has made me think about a lot of things. Things like community, gardens, the need for and soon to be shortage of water, life after oil, and many other subjects I consider important. One of those other things has been diversity. After growing up in one of the most diverse places in the world, I have spent the last seven years in Boulder Colorado, where the only thing whiter than the mountain peaks are the residents. The scenery changed after moving to Portland; I regularly see people of all shades and accents when walking the streets or hanging out in a coffee shop or bar. At first this made me feel good, like a homecoming of sorts, but then I began to talk to the people who have lived her for a while.
Turns out, Portland used to be pretty segregated. It has only been over the past ten to fifteen years that young white people have come into town, bought houses cheap from struggling black and brown families, and caused property taxes and land values to climb upwards. This discovery has made me unable to completely enjoy myself. No matter how much fun I’m having or how much I love this fine city, there is a bit of bitterness in the back of my mind at all times. By paying a higher rent than one would have paid had this place stayed the same, I am doing my part in whitening the city. Deep down I know I’m not to blame, nor are the people who bought a house with the intention of making it a home. Still, the awareness as to what has occurred is stuck in my head.
After a few weeks of guilt I heard stories from a roommate and a few friends who experienced Portland in the past, causing me to think about things deeper. While I am by no means saying displacing people is any way to reduce crime, Portland, before gentrification was definitely not paradise. When my roommate bought his house, he had to scrape bullets out of his shingles. When a friend a couple miles away (who is white, but was raised in the so-called black section of town) bought her house, there was a crack house on one side and people turning tricks on the other. Now, crime is way down and it’s mostly safe to walk alone at night.
Obviously the reason that there was so much crime in the past has nothing to do with the color of the people who lived here. It’s much more systematic than that, but that’s a whole other story. What all of this made me think about is my version of utopia. Obviously a place where one risks getting shot walking down the street is not my utopia. Neither is an all white (hipster) town filled with overpriced coffee and fake dive bars (if you’re charging $4.50 for a pint of beer, you’re not a dive). So, what is my utopia?
After spending hours thinking up and shooting down different ideas of utopia, I realized that I was on a fool’s errand. There is no way to plan out a utopian society. There are some things in this life of ours that require plenty of theorizing before being put into action, but creating utopia is not one of them. Sure, let’s think about what’s wrong with our society and imagine ways to balance things out, but none of it will mean a thing until put into action. It’s silly to think “my perfect society would have 52% white people, 39% Latin@” and so on, or “there has to be less than 4 coffee shops per 1000 people, two of which must be run by women”. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that the only real way to create a utopian society is to create a utopian society. I understand this is simplifying things; it’s possible that my utopia is the opposite of someone else’s. What do we do then? Maybe we allow other to simultaneously create their utopia, with the one rule being not to hurt or take from others. Maybe I’m being naive or an idealist, but I’d rather be called those names than a realist.
Two activists (even though this story says three) remain in indefinite custody at a federal prison for refusing to snitch.
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