I’m Just One Person,
What Can I …

... do, say, see, learn, contribute, teach, add, watch, read, lead … ?
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painting of James Baldwin saying, I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.
Hi! Welcome to What Can I, a site for neighbors to take action for a just world in Portland, OR.

My name is Anna. I’ve lived and worked in Northeast PDX for nearly 30 years, and you might even kind of recognize me because I look like a lot of people in Portland: tattooed, glasses-wearing and white.

The summer of 2020 seems decades away now, but it wasn’t really so long ago. That summer of dismay and discord, I saw that a lot of my white neighbors had an earnest desire to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of them put up BLM yard signs, and a lot of those yard signs are still there in 2023. I (still) like seeing those signs. I had my own sign in the window for months. But I wanted … more. I wanted to do more. Like a lot of my neighbors, I wasn’t sure where to start.

That year, as I learned I started
taking notes.

One of the results is this site. Its purpose is to invite you to join me in taking concrete, tangible actions to make the place we live better and kinder for all of us. And then to keep taking action! A lot of us are questioning how things came to work the way they do, and how we can work together to do things differently. These are not new questions for a lot of Black, Asian, Latinx and Native folks. Since America’s founding, white people have stood in the way of racial justice. We’ve put our faith in “All men are created equal” and looked the other way when it was patently untrue. It’s time for us to break the pattern. Here’s a place to start doing that.

Let's Start
Equity, diversity, inclusion, racial justice, anti-racism: These are buzzwords, but they’re still buzz-worthy concepts. And we can’t do anything about them until we can talk honestly with each other about whiteness: what we think it is, what it means to us as individuals, what it means culturally, how — and how recently in history — it came to be a thing that anyone thought about to the extent of protecting it at all costs.

I’m fumbling, through all this, toward the complicated question of how we build community and resilience, for all of us. Knowing we have each other’s backs when things get hard. Something like Beloved Community. And I haven’t been very good at this! I have a stash of bottled water and a tool for shutting off the gas in case of an earthquake; I do volunteer work; part of my paycheck goes to local nonprofits. But I don’t even know many of the neighbors on my block by name. I’ve kept myself to myself, for the most part. Why? Oh, lots of reasons, some cultural and some personal. (I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours.) Now, though, post-lockdown, post George Floyd, post my 60th birthday, post our becoming a world that’s more divided, divisive and violent every day, community and belonging look urgent and overdue.
Portland is facing a lot of urgent problems this decade: homelessness, poverty, addiction, gun violence. Why focus on racial equity? Because race is at the heart of so many of these problems. Pull on one thread and the others feel it. I can give up, overwhelmed. Or I can start somewhere. Join me: Let’s start.

The links collected here fall under five broad categories of action. Many are specific to the Portland area. It’s not a comprehensive list (and isn’t intended to be). If you have suggestions for links or categories you think I should add, please get in touch! I’d like to hear from you.

As a white person who wants to help move racial equity forward, I’m interested in questions like these: What community-building projects are organizations led by Black and indigenous folks already working on locally, and how can white allies/accomplices best support them? How can we put our energy and skills to work in service to our BIPOC neighbors, and not in opposition to them? How can we get better at listening to BIPOC organizers without trying to steer the whole ship? How can we keep ourselves and each other accountable to BIPOC-led efforts? How can we develop meaningful support for each other as a habit and not just a feel-good one-off? How can individuals and groups keep each other motivated? How can we keep each other safe? How in the world can we cool the heat of rage and violence that seems to be everywhere we look anymore?

If questions like these interest you, let’s get together and talk about them. Get in touch. I want to hear your story. Disagree? I’d welcome hearing from you, too.

Get In Touch