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STATUS AND POWER IN TWO PORTLAND ORGANIZING VENUES CCC AND PSU

The nominal heads of two local organizations, ASPSU at Portland State, and a $33,000,000 per year housing nonprofit, Central City Concern, both attended Obama's inauguration in D.C. However, both honchos have been engaged in censorship, repression and non-accountability to (a) tenant organizing and (b) pro-labor organizing campaigns.
STATUS AND POWER IN TWO PORTLAND ORGANIZING VENUES: CCC AND PSU


Dean Gisvold is a real estate attorney for McEwan Gisvold, with an office on the 16th floor of the Standard Insurance building in downtown Portland. Gisvold is also board chair of Central City Concern, downtown Portland's largest nonprofit landlord. Gisvold has been board chair of CCC for 21 years and used to be PPS school board chair, several years back. Central City has a $33,000,000 annual budget, 23 buildings, and 1300 tenants.


Hannah Fisher is the current 'liberal, Democratic' ASPSU student body president at PSU. Student government at Portland State next year will allocate (subject to Administration approval) $18,000,000, including several millions to sports, $700,000 to the notorius SALP department, and $300,000 to ASPSU itself. PSU OSPIRG has been defunded (over four of the last five years) of $600,000 by ASPSU/SFC, and PSU Progressive Student Union got $15,000 from ASPSU/SFC the one year the Progressive Slate took over student government, but none since.


What do Gisvold and Fisher have in common? They both attended Obama's Inaugueration in Washington, D.C.


Yet, in both cases, Gisvold (as a landlord/slumlord) and Fisher, as student body president in a blue state college like PSU, believe that certain categories of people (tenants, or 'non-recognized' persons or groups at Portland State) can be prevented from using the First Amendment, attending Central City board meetings, and attending/speaking at ASPSU student senate meetings.


CENTRAL CITY UNCONCERNED?


For years, Central City tenants have asked to speak at the board meetings of their non-profit landlord. The board says no. Dean Gisvold, board chair, says it is an 'oral preference' for tenants to not talk at board meetings. Ed Blackburn, CEO of CCC, makes $116,000 per year. Blackburn says that if some tenants were allowed to speak at board meetings, then the board would have to listen to all tenants.


Tenants were told, in 2008, to put in a written request if they wanted to talk to the board. They did, and were still told no. Tenants then asked for the written criteria for allowing tenants to talk at board meetings, and were told there are no written criteria. Gisvold states he runs CCC "like a business," since starting as CCC board chair 21 years ago. Gisvold has yet to say what is his business model: AIG, Exxon, Michael Milken, Bernie Madoff. CCC does have a few 'for-profit' business sections within their 'non-profit' corporate structure.


PSU Progressive Student Union, due to our connection with the daughter (now at UO, formerly of Laughing Horse Books in Portland) of the CEO, was able to start talks (four so far) with Blackburn, the CCC CEO, and, the fourth time, with both Blackburn and Gisvold.


WHAT TENANTS WANT


At Portland State, student tenants, at one point, organized a six month rent strike against student housing, including a secondary boycott against Blitz Beer (a landlord affiliated business). Pest control was a major issue (roaches, silverfish, mice in more than one PSS building).


At Central City, tenants in several buildings downtown (Biltmore, Henry and Butte) have extensive and persistant pest control problems in those buildings. CCC has several SRO, or single room occupancy, buildings. Cockroach and bedbug infestions remmain unaddressed by CCC management. One tenant in another building, Ramada, put in 14 written notices for repairs, over three weeks, to get a stopped up toilet fixed (a health hazard?). Ryan Lilly, one of CCC's housing managers, stated it took three weeks to fix the toilet because CCC 'had no money' for repairs.


Blackburn, the CCC CEO, was recently interviewed by Jim Hyde, KPTV-TV12, on the bug problems in the Henry Building. In terms of the Biltmore building (Sec. 8 SRO housing), Blackburn has said that "most people in that building don't work and should be glad that are out of the cold in winter" instead of being concerned about bugs.


Tenants have started meeting among themselves, and Blackburn says CCC has started having landlord-run building meetings. But, tenants still can't talk to, or at, board meetings. Tenants in the CCC buildings do tend to be low income, or people on disability or Social Security, at least in part (no statistics have been provided so far re sources of income for the 1300 CCC tenants, or broken down by building). The Housing Authority of Portland (HUD federal department locally) helps pay rent for some tenants, a third party payment source (making a rent strike problematic).


STUDENT GOVERNMENT AT PSU


Traditionally, student governments do nothing at many colleges. At PSU, OSU and UO, however, the 'student fee system' has been described by one CCC tenant as a 'slush fund.' At PSU, nearly half of the CCC annual budget, $33,000,000, is allocated by SFC (Student Fee Committee) in ASPSU: about $18,000,000 for the next school year. However, most of that money goes for conservative, or administration-determined 'educational' activities regulated by the SALP department (Student Activities Leadership Program/Police), which gets $700,000 off the top from the $18,000,000 fund.


Due to student and community activist protests about the lack of access to recources (office space, funding, being able to reserve meeting rooms and make photocopies), the current 'liberal, Democratic' student government, headed by ASPSU prez Hannah Fisher, and ASPSU VP Kyle Cady, have erected a system of 'virtual' language maneuvers that give the appearance of doing what some activists on the Left insist is needed, while actually doing nothing different from the right wing student Republican student governments of the past. (A bit similiar to the national Democratic Party being aligned behind Israel re the recent Gaza War, for example, just like the Republicans).


Yet, when pro-labor, anti-war activists attempt to get the current student senate, winter term, to endorse the Coke-Odwalla Boycott for labor rights in Colombia -- Fisher and Cady and ASPSU tell those organizers that they don't have "the right status" as individuals or groups. To be a registered campus group, SALP has created a set of bureaucratic procedures designed to attack the Left and prevent activists on the Left from using University resources, at all. Hence, OSPIRG losing their office and funding, and Progressive Student Union losing funding, as well.


When activists ask what student government does with the $300,000 it has, ASPSUites state they lobby Salem for more money for PSU. When activists ask student senate what they have accomplished this year, senators say they now get paid (they used to be volunteer student senators) but say nothing about Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Colombia, Darfur, globalization, sweatshops, Coke Boycott, or local anti-poverty organizing, per se).


ASPSU VP Kady is quoted in the right wing daily school paper saying that he has started a senate group, coordinated by him (he presides over senate meetings) to make sure he has far less power than VPs at ASPSU allegedly have had in the past, and that the senate runs their own meetings (that's a lie -- Cady runs the meetings, and specifically, after two written requests, refused to let pro-labor activists even address the senate to endorse the Coke Boycott). In addition, ASPSU had one of their SALP keystone kops harass activist organizers and calling campus security, for trying to use the First Amendment, is frequently used as a tactic to make sure the $18,000,000 is spent by those who are getting paid on (conservative) projects they support/endorse.


Like many student governments, paid salaries are an extension of financial aid, and ASPSU paid workers can "process" paperwork, cash their paychecks all school year, and work on polishing their resumes.


"PROCESS" AS THE OPPOSITE OF TRANSPARENCY AND ACTIVISM


In both CCC and PSU's cases, even though, according to local corporate media, both PSU and CCC may be seen as 'liberal, progressive' institutions, as a nonprofit and as a school -- both institutions use the notion of "process" (ie, bureaucracy -- forms, status, identity, whether you or your group is in the "right category" to "speak to" those with pocketbook decision making authority) -- to suppress the Left. It is probably most ironic that this takes place in "liberal" Portland, in "blue state" Oregon.


At Central City, CEO Ed Blackburn says that Legal Aid lawyers spent "hours and hours" coming up with their "process" of not allowing tenants to talk to the board of directors. At PSU, ASPSU honchos insist that only those people (not taxpayers, not citizens, not the poor, not alumni, not organizers, not voters) who are 'recognized' by them, have speaking rights at senate meetings, etc.


One can argue that student government types at PSU are being trained in how to mobilize bureaucracies to make sure that workers and tenants alike stay silent and inactive. The question is, is this the "change we can believe in", or is Obama, at the national/global level, simply the "loss leader" in the "display case" which looks cool and progressive, while the Obama "supporters" from Oregon (in this case, ASPSU's Fisher and CCC's Gisvold) have the wherewithal to get to DC for Obama's inaugueration, while people at Central City like tenants, and people at Portland State like stakeholders, are told they can't even talk to these 'liberal' powers-that-be, in their own city.


[One Coke Boycott organizer at PSU, while not being allowed, thusfar, to talk with the current, insulated student senate, did get, in a past year, the Student Fee Committee to fund that organizer being the only US college student to attend, be on the opening panel, and give two Coke Boycott workshops, at the annual national conference of UK No Swat at the Univ. of London-Union. Laura, an Oxford student at that conference, invited this PSU organizer to talk at her school -- Oxford -- on the Coke Boycott. So, British students are learning from PSU organizers, but ASPSU wants to make sure their own student senate doesn't even get to vote on such 'trade', or labor, issues, per se].


Not suprisingly, the brochure for Gisvold's real estate law firm says "Citizens are the riches of a city" on the front cover, with the tag line inside: "Our business is to know your business." (Excepting slumlords who don't want to let their tenants talk at board meetings).


Not surprisingly, the motto on the walkway at PSU over Broadway proclaims, "Let knowledge serve the city" -- not, "Let knowledge serve the rich and the yuppies" who support Obama (and may well have thought Bush was mismanaging 'their' economy and 'their' wars of imperial/economic expansion overseas).


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