Labor Radio on 10/16/17 - Interview w/ Portland City Council candidate


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Mon, 10/16/2017 - 6:00pm to 6:30pm
Of the working class, by the working class and for the working class


The Candidates Speak

Host Michael Cathcart sits down with Philip J. Wolfe, candidate for Portland City Council seat #2.


Connect with Michael on Twitter @MichaelBCath

(Show starts at timestamp: -29:15) 

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Transcript of Labor Radio on KBOO 90.7fm broadcast live on October 16th, 2017 

[Musical introduction for Labor Radio]


Michael Cathcart (MC): Good evening Portland, this is Labor Radio, I am Michael Cathcart. In the studio with me tonight is Philip J. Wolfe. Welcome Philip! 


Philip J. Wolfe (PJW): Thank you, hello.


MC: Well Philip, along with being a Portland resident, is also a city council candidate. He is running for Portland city council seat #2 against commissioner Nick Fish. So, you may remember, for folks who are loyal listeners of the show, a month ago on this night we had Julia DeGraw in this seat. So we are bringing another candidate for this position in to get their opinion and to get their platform heard. 

So, Philip, I just want to talk a little about your background and then we'll go right into some questions, because we only have about a half an hour here. Maybe if you could just introduce a little bit about yourself and our situation right now in the studio. 


PJW: Sure. So I was chosen for the Portland Commission on Disability (PCOD) in December 2013. And I served for a number of years. In the first term, I did a number of work and the decided to run for a second term. And so I was actually just recently appointed as a liaison between them and Ted Wheeler as well, to focus on public safety and police. And in 2015 I was involved in COAB (Community Oversight and Advisory Board), and I was appointed through COAB onto their advisory board for the community. And ran for chair of COAB as well. And now I'm running for city council in 2018. 


MC: That is awesome. 


PJW: Thank you, thank you!    


MC: So that is pretty much all of the intro that I think we need to do. I am going to jump right into some general questions if that works for you. 


PJW: Yeah, sure.    


MC: Alright, well the one that I like to start with...


PJW: Oh, hold on actually. Before I get going with questions and everything, I do want to mention that I have an interpreter that is going to be my voice tonight because I am deaf. 


MC: Perfect. That's all that needs to be said, and I'm going to jump right into some questions. The first one is, and this one is just for you, not regarding any specific issue. What do you consider to be the most urgent problem facing our city right now?


PJW: You know, I want to respond with the fact that we have a number of really pressing issues here in Portland, and all of them are equally pressing and urgent. I don't that it's easy to prioritize any one of them. If I had to choose one though that I say I would want to address, I would say it's the police here in Portland. 


MC: Ok, well that is definitely an issue we are going to get into. We are going to be looking a little deeper into your platform, and that is certainly a point on your platform. So, we'll circle back around to that. 

The next question I have for you is, when you leave office, what do you most want to have accomplished? 


PJW: What do I want to see accomplished when I leave office? Ooooh...


MC: Yeah...


PJW: know, my hope would be that we have no police killings during that time. 


MC: That's a pretty great bar to set I'd say. Well then the third general question I have for you here is, where do you feel our present city leadership falls short? 


PJW: Hmmmm...I think relating to transparency, community engagement.

You know, our leadership, our city council, our mayor, or any of them really. I think the point is Portland politicians, they should be under our community, they should be representing our community. And that's a serious deficit that we can see in the people who are representing us right now. We need people who really have a pulse on the community, and can empathize with us and know what our needs are, and engage with us. 


MC: That's a great bar to set as well. Um, a question that I didn't necessarily have written down here, just to sort of set context for folks. It's pretty widely known that Chloe Eudaly, city councilor, is the only city councilor that lives on the east side of the Willamette River. If elected, would you be one of few that lives on that side of the river as well or are you a west sider?


PJW: I live on the west, I'm a west sider. 


[laughter from both Michael and Philip]


MC: That is alright. I don't think that anyone holds that against anyone else. There are plenty of Labor Radio listeners that live on that side of the river as well. 


PJW: Of course. 


MC: And so I mentioned earlier that we were going to talk about your views for police reform, and police in general. So I'm going to jump right into that section here. 

It's pretty widely known, it's kind of big news right now in Portland, that we have a new police chief. Maybe one of the most serendipitous or amazing last names for that. Her name is Outlaw, and she is the chief of police. 


[laughter from both parties}


MC: That just tickles me a little bit...


PJW: Yeah yeah, it's very interesting.


MC: Yeah, that joke may almost be played out at this point, it has been a few months. 


PJW: [laughter] yeah.


MC: But anyways, have you met her at all, have you seen her speak? Do you see her as a potential ally in your efforts towards police reform?


PJW: So I haven't actually met her yet. I have watched all of the presentations and interviews that she's had so far, and only because they had captions on them was I actually able to access them at all, thankfully. 


MC: Right.


PJW: But I did enjoy that opportunity. And I would really love, love to sit down with her and really engage with her. I want to, you know, see what her real vision is because I do have some concerns. And I think other people do obviously. I want to see where we can engage with her to see the community and get her work to apply to our needs in the community. I really want to address just the conflicts that I see. I think it's hard to say my opinion about her specifically, because I haven't obviously sat down and met her yet. Just from interviews I can give some ideas maybe on what I think of her and her platform. Yeah I can kind of expand on that. 


MC: Yeah that would be wonderful.


PJW: So of course I am excited that we have a new chief, I do want to make sure that I mention that. But I do have a big concern, and it's a big big concern for me, and it concerns me to no end unfortunately. When she arrived to Portland, the statement that she made was "I'm not here for police reform, I am here to improve our police." And I would see that as militarizing or improving, you know, depending on what word you want to use. And I'm so motivated and passionate about police reform. This is my job, this is what I want. And as a city councilman, you know you're working with people where you're empowering them to work directly with police and make those kinds of changes. And, you know, the first amendment speaks about our freedom of speech, our freedom to protest. And of course that relates to issues like Black Lives Matter.


MC: Right.


PJW: And just for me, I see that police are almost waiving things like Blue Lives Matter and that sorts of rhetoric in the face of the community. And so, we have a woman who is a person of color, who is representing both Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter in the way she presents herself. And so for me that's a big conflict. 


MC: Yeah, and it's, I mean, in the city of Portland we have, you know, over the last, well really over decades, but really over the last year since the election of Donald Trump, we have seen a pretty pronounced presence of protesters in the streets. And we have also seen the reaction of the police. It has, for lack of a better term, it has been pretty scary the way that they've reacted to largely peaceful protesters. 


PJW: Definitely, definitely. 


MC: And so, you know, with chief Outlaw saying something like that, that "I'm not here for police reform, I'm here for police improvement." Some people may take that to mean those two terms are equivalent but I think it's interesting that you do point out that it seems to be like it's leaning towards more escalation and more militarization of their presence and of their response to, you know, what are mostly peaceful protests in this city. 


PJW: Right, right...and I think that, like you mentioned, we can look at the history, especially in Portland, because history says that Portland is one of the whitest cities in the United States... 


MC: Right.


PJW: ...and it's obvious that racism runs deep in the police force and the police's use of force. And it's things that have not been addressed for a number of years. There's no transparency with it, we see continued escalation, we see a lack of real training. And so we have to think, how can we support the community's concerns, and for them to feel better? You know, like you mentioned Trump running for president, it caused a reaction that is serious. 


MC: Right.              


PJW: It didn't just increase and escalate for no reason. These are people who are trying to get their message heard and work together to cause a movement to spread. And to, quite frankly, express their first amendment rights. 


MC: Yeah and just sort of going back around to the police reactions to those protests, I know a major part of your platform is to work towards demilitarizing the police and deescalating their approach to people just expressing their constitutional rights. 


PJW: Right, absolutely. 


MC: Do you...what tactics to you see as being effective for deescalating those situations and how would you go about implementing those? 


PJW: Great, well firstly I think that we need to really sit down and look at the crowd control policies we already have in place. We need to see the directives, and just review everything the city has already made. And my ideas would be included with that.  And, of course, I would want to pull ideas out of our community and then overlay all of those together. Once we kind of have an approval from our community, once we have people who feel like their voices are heard, we can really present something back to the city for change. With my experience with actually leading a protest about ending police brutality, this happened a few months ago, we took over the streets. I had actually negotiated with the police beforehand to not show up unless I specifically request them being needed for a situation. We did have a few moments where it was kind of scary. An actually we did have an undercover police car try to force its way and escalate a situation with us in the middle of the road. And that leads to the point of our actual protest and the attitude we're against in the first place, so it really made our point well. And we have so many people that are included in different groups like the Antifa group, who came. They were at that protest, they helped lead us. They didn't cause any sort of escalation. In fact they deescalated, the helped people with mobility issues move within the protest. And there were people who came and tried to escalate the situation and sort of get in our face, and people met them and deescalated and everything worked out peacefully. So I think that I really want to point out that the police don't have to show up. You know, we see so many times that police will show up with riot gear on automatically and that escalates the situation from the beginning. We need to figure out ways to address how to do this better. 


MC: Right, I mean we've seen it time and again from Ferguson to, really, the streets of every single city in this country. And you can even get as far back as 1968 at the Democratic Convention, you have moments where you have peaceful protesters expressing their constitutional rights to protest. And then the police show up in what is, you know, arguably military garb carrying weapons and looking very intimidating and creating a situation where, had they not been there, there would have just been peaceful demonstrations. But instead they intentionally escalate. 


PJW: Yes, yes, absolutely. That's exactly it. And it's depressing to see, it's so discouraging to see. And I don't mean that the situation itself is discouraging, I don't want to say that it's not severe, I really want to emphasize that this is a terrible, severe situation. But it is discouraging just to the fact that, as you said, as a protest is going on, as the movement is going on, as soon as the police show up it's taking the voice of those people. It's arresting those people just for speaking. You know we recently had 250 people that their cases were removed from the courts. You know, they were just arrested at these protests and then nothing happened from it. Why are we even arresting them? In 250 cases that happened. So even speaking back to chief Outlaw and trying to think about how she can support police reform, how we all want to support police reform. Does her vision match what we see as reform? And yes, I have already spoken with many police myself actually, who have on the job experience. And I do want to say that there are good cops...and there is a difference though. Yes we have good cops, but they're still under a system of oppression. So that system, and police culture, is oppressive in itself. So you could say there are good cops, and you can say chief Outlaw is there, but she's still representing this system and this culture. So all of them are bad cops, or representing this bad system, until we get true reform. And so that's what I mean when I say police reform.                


MC: That sort of reminds me of the phrase that's always used, or at least was maybe a couple years ago, was "a few bad apples" when referring to these instances of police acting out of line or being overly aggressive. They always say, "oh it's just a few bad apples." But it always struck me that no one ever finished that statement. And the phrase is, "a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch." Obviously we're talking about more than just cops and police officers, their personal opinions and their personal approach infecting the rest of their unit, but really a system that is designed intentionally to be oppressive. 


PJW: Yes, that. And it's exactly what you just said, you know you, it seems from what you said that we're on the same page with that.      


MC: Well, this is a question that is actually just coming off the top of my head, but it is an issue that has come to the fore in the last few months, but you know, the Antifa, the antifascist movement in this country has been equated largely in certain circles, and maybe the mainstream media, has been equated to the alt-right and the white supremacist neo-nazi people that are really coming up from the depths of our...well wherever they're coming from. What do you believe that, obviously you have spoken to the fact that you have marched with Antifa members, you believe in what their cause is. But what do you think the city of Portland could do to help...not deescalate, but reduce the rhetoric around them being an extremist organization, and them being akin to terrorist organizations? What would you see as a city councilor, or even as just a citizen of Portland and an activist in this city, things that we could do to help spread awareness for the fact that they are simply resisting what is the onslaught of hateful rhetoric and hateful actions by the other side of the political spectrum? 


PJW: I don't think there's a simple answer for that...


MC: Right, yeah...  


PJW: ...I had a Amela, a person that was there offering their opinion and mine, who helped deescalate the situation. But I know that there are people who are sitting on the outside who are really trying to assess the situation from just their lens, and that doesn't help anything. I know that our city leaders can do so much to stand and be visible. There's obviously work they can do, they can be more visible on a community level, and be working with the Antifa and kind of understanding where they're coming from opening that communication. I just think that's one place to start with that and I think that just opening that communication and moving forward is a good way to start. 


MC: Yeah absolutely, there clearly is a lack of communication from one side, or a lack of understanding potentially from both sides but really from the side of authority towards the people expressing their rights to protest. So yeah, I think that is the perfect place to start, just opening up dialogue, opening up communication about what it is they are protesting. And we see it in what has happened with the NFL and all of the vitriol around that, the concept of what Colin Kaepernick and all of these athletes are protesting has been misconstrued to be "they're protesting police, they're protesting the military" but no, that was never what they were protesting. In fact some of them have families in the military, have friends, respect what it is that police and the military do to a degree, but it's that they are actually protesting against the system of white supremacy and oppression within the society. But when that message gets misconstrued and spun around, you can have hate directed towards the from people who wouldn't otherwise feel that way. 


PJW: One thing I want to point out, relating to just city leaders in general. With their continuation to refuse to recognize that the city of Portland and America was designed for white men. 


MC: Right. 


PJW: the fact that we can pardon these people. The fact that we can, in the city that was built for, we continuously are just sort of running our head into the wall and not really getting anywhere. Because our leaders are refusing to accept responsibility and empower the community to actually make a change on an equal level. And that continual denial and empowerment thus doesn't cause any sort of change. So that's where where I want the change to start and that's where I think we can make thing better. 


MC: Yeah absolutely, there is a continual blindspot in the power apparatus within our country, within the people that we tend to put in power, and within the dominant culture as well, to the reality of how this country was built and what it was built on. And so I think that you are absolutely right. And just because I'm looking at the clock and we have sped through a lot of this time, as is always the case. Jumping along from one police overstep to another, houselessness is another point that is a major part of your platform. Obviously, there is a crisis right now in this city, a escalating situation that, unchecked, is going to become bigger and bigger and bigger. What steps do you think are necessary to take to address houselessness and how do you think we can go about funding more programs to find safe housing for the houseless? 


PJW: Great question. 


MC: Thank you!


PJW: So I live in the downtown area, I walk around all day, I don't have a car so I walk everywhere or take public transportation. And I tend to see the community and that includes the houseless people that are there. You know, they are visible as you walk through this city. Relating to funding and the houselessness crisis that the city is facing, I think that we need to be creative on how we're getting money. I think looking at a state level, a federal level, a county level, looking for grants, looking for money anywhere we can get. Even to the point of fundraising, maybe tax breaks, know, as of right now I don't have access to the Portland budget. I wish that I could look at it and really have ideas to give to you today. And I'm sure the community has wonderful ideas on how we can work that, even without looking at the specifics of it. I think it's not just houselessness that' a problem, but that it relates to things that support that crisis. So we have a lack of health services in this city. Often we notice housing, or a house will be "affordable, affordable, affordable" we see that buzz word on a lot of things. And I think affordability is so vital, but it's worthless without the work "accessibility." And that accessibility really is concrete in achieving both of those together, and making things truly affordable. So I don't want to waste too much time going into that...


MC: No, I mean you're absolutely right. And this is just my mind making connections, but I see a correlation between that and the rhetoric around, well people need expanded "access" to healthcare, well they have more choice now but it doesn't matter if you have access to all these different healthcare plans, if it's unaffordable. It's just, that is the sam type of rhetoric that needs to be combatted in a lot of different fields right now it seems. 


PJW: Exactly, yes absolutely. They're intertwined with each other and it's so important for our city leaders to recognize what that means, and what intersectionality means and how that affects us in the community. If you get one without the other then you're not really taking them all into consideration and seeing how they all affect each other. So that intersectionality truly is the key. 


MC: Absolutely. And just expanding off of that, not only is there a houselessness crisis within the city, but even for the people who are housed there is a crisis in housing. Rents, the rents are too dang high in this city. Do you have proposals, do you have thoughts as to what to do to deal with the housing crisis? Are you a fan of policies like rent control, or is there another idea you have on how to allow the people that make this city great and that work in the city to be able to continue living here?


PJW: So I have a strong belief in rent control and needing to establish rent control. I do need to research more on things just relating to rent control. For example, I want to know why we think it's ok to just increase our rent. I really want to get to the base of the issue. I want to pick that apart. Right now there's not really laws or policies, there's no requirement to let people know that rent is going to be increased. They can just sort of increase it and blame it on the systems that be, you know, there's no real rent control. So some sort of policy does need to be established for sure. I think we need to add things like tax breaks. If your landlord is willing to reduce your rent, maybe they can get a tax break and they can qualify for certain monies to figure how things can balance out and benefit everyone. We see condos and new buildings in Portland popping up all over the place using money. We need to hold off on all of that and take care of what we already have built here. They're being built around us all the time, it drives me crazy. We can see giant new parking lots for all of these new businesses and all of these new condos that are going to be charging whatever, You know, we can use that space for housing. We can use places where people have larger houses and maybe an off share room or a separate sort of area, maybe we can workout renting with that or situations with that. As a city we need to be creative. I feel like so far this city has been going in a direction that is so off what we really need and it's just about refocusing and getting creative on addressing these needs. 


MC: Yeah I mean you see it literally everywhere in the city, these giant buildings going up. Our skyline is mostly cranes at this point. And there are these brand new cookie-cutter apartments going up everywhere. But just like you said, affordability does not equal access. It may be "affordable" but what is...affordability is a relative concept based on what type of access you have to that housing and to a fair job and fair payment and things like that. It's striking to me that we have all these new condos and apartments going up and some of them can't even be filled, and yet there is such a major houselessness crisis in this city. 

And I would love to continue going with that, unfortunately we are about a minute out. This is, for those folks listening out there, we are in part one of a two part interview. So join us again exactly one month from tonight on the third Monday of November. Philip will be back and we will be going into more issues from his campaign platform, particularly talking about the transportation issues in this city and a few other major pressing issues. So Philip, in the one minute that we have left, if folks out there are are inspired by what you're talking about, how can they find information about you, how can they get involved?    


PJW: Yeah so first off thank you for your time and interviewing me, this has been a pleasure. People can start by looking on my website actually it's, so That goes into my platform, my goals, how people can donate, just things that I want to accomplish. All of that information is right there and easily accessible for people to see. And then I am also hosting a kick off party on October 22nd. It is going to be a smaller sort of event, I really want to focus on the core of the community and have just a small number of people there and hopefully let it sort of grow and bubble from there. And so that'll be the beginning of my journey and hopefully people come along with me. 


MC: Awesome! Well once again, Philip J. Wolfe thank you so much for being here. He is running for city council seat #2 against sitting commissioner Nick Fish. Join us exactly one month from tonight, Labor Radio the third Monday of November we will embark on part two of this interview. I am Michael Cathcart, thank you for joining us on Labor Radio. Have a great night!      


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