April 20, 2011

Shemia Fagan: A Force for David Douglas Schools

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:31 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

The first time I heard about Shemia Fagan, I remember hearing she was a force. Being a skeptical, yet curious person I reserved judgment until I met her. We first officially met at my Emerge Oregon training in Bend last year. She was a 2009 alumna of the program and was back to learn more from the program and engage with the new class.

Shemia presents well — engaging, full of enthusiasm and confidence, just as you might expect someone described as a “force” to present. And you might stop there and marvel at her presence and move on, but what’s special about Shemia is not her presence. It’s her depth. I sensed it from the moment I met her, that there was this depth with her that went beyond the charisma. She spoke often about her devout, hard-working father — family, though times were often tough with an absent mother who battled addiction well until Shemia’s adulthood, was her bedrock.

In a recent campaign video, Shemia says, “I believe that public education gives every kid a chance to determine their own life.” What I know only from our similar life experiences is that when Shemia talks about schools providing opportunities, it’s not a slogan. To a lot of kids, school is THE answer, the way up and/or out. For Shemia, it was her 4th grade teacher, Mr. Wagner at Dufur Elementary, who volunteered his own time to teach her in the Chess Club. She eventually went on to win the Oregon State Chess Championship, which ignited a drive in her. That drive led her to pursue college and then go on to Lewis & Clark Law school where she learned to effectively advocate and resolve disputes.

I recently had the opportunity to see her talents at dispute resolution in person — a by chance opportunity to join her for a Lakers-Blazers game at the Rose Garden. There’s nothing more serious than a couple of Laker fans sitting in front of this Blazer loyalist at her first ever Laker-Blazer game. Shemia quickly made their acquaintance and found out that they were Oregonians (Southern Oregon) just like us and you gotta love ’em, grew up Laker fans. My incredulity at this possibility aside, I thought back to that experience when Shemia recently told me she was challenging a 24-year incumbent for the David Douglas School Board. I thought if she can get me to empathize with Laker fans, I can’t wait to see her in action on something that really matters — advocating on behalf of the kids in her neighborhood.

On a more serious note, the David Douglas School District needs strong, empathic people like Shemia on their side. The number of students on free and reduced lunch has skyrocketed to nearly 80% over the past several years. She knows firsthand the value of public education and believes that East Portland deserves its fair share. For a city that prides itself on all its admittedly fabulous wonders, we still leave far too many people behind. A new, strong leader in East Portland’s “bulging at the seams” David Douglas School District will have impacts in the community beyond just the schools.

With endorsements from the David Douglas Education Association, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (who just announced his campaign for Congressman David Wu’s seat), State Representative Jefferson Smith and even a recent porchside endorsement from Mrs. Betty Merkley (the woman who raised our wonderful Senator Jeff Merkley), Shemia has a growing list of supporters. But it’s lifelong David Douglas resident Sam Kahl who says it best: ” Shemia Fagan is the kind of leader we need to guide us…young, imaginative, forward thinking and committed to her community through thick and thin.”

If you are interested in learning more about Shemia and what she stands for, visitShemiaFagan.com or find her on Facebook “Elect Shemia Fagan to David Douglas School Board”.


April 2, 2011

Respecting All Riders Revisited

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:29 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

My first blog on Blue Oregon back in July of last year was an issue about accessibility and accommodation of parents and guardians riding with children. I had first shared this idea with the founders of the MotherPAC and they had encouraged me to followup on this issue as they, along with mothers from Urbanmamas.com, had been in talks with TriMet on this very issue a year or so back.

I thought Blue Oregon was the perfect place to have this conversation and was delighted when Josh Collins of TriMet was thoughtful enough to post a comment on my post about TriMet’s policy. An e-mail exchange and a meeting at TriMet resulted in a TriMet-led Space Management Summit where Lisa Frack (MotherPAC, Family Forward Oregon) and I were able to meet with other concerned riders about space management issues.

It became clear early on in the meeting after a presentation by TriMet that the group of riders who ride with children were not a part of the official planning or stakeholder engagement process. Advocates for seniors and disabled passengers, a cycling advocate and an advocate for riders who speak English as a second language have official roles as part of TriMet’s community committee structure, however no such role exists for a parent or guardian riding with kids advocate. We also discovered that TriMet’s rider survey results did not include statistics about parents or guardians traveling with young kids. Nor did any of their capacity planning or train design drawings demonstrate the need for space for parents/guardians traveling with kids — in particular the concept of what to do with strollers (a necessary traveling tool for any long-term trip with an infant or small toddler) was not included in these drawings.

In addition, the campaign to “Respect the Ride” did not include any rider instruction on how to respectfully ride with young kids or to be a helpful passenger to a rider with young kids. There also was no other signage on the bus or MAX to suggest that there may be riders with young kids traveling and how to best share space on TriMet between all riders. And knowing how to share the space is particularly important, because of the necessary and critical accommodations and legally-protected space for disabled and senior passengers, who should not have to be put in a position to ask for this space, but are often blocked from access by riders (including parents traveling with young kids) who have no other place to sit with their stroller, luggage or otherwise bulky or irregular “cargo”.

I say all this because I was impressed with how TriMet included us in this meeting and brought different rider groups together. It wasn’t a perfect meeting and we didn’t all agree on everything, but it was clear in the room that there did need to be a way for parents and guardians riding with kids to know where they were allowed to use additional space on MAX and the bus. And TriMet came back with a list of improvements they were planning to implement to make riding on TriMet a better experience for parents and guardians with young children — work that is still very much in progress.

Original Max Sticker showing only bikes New multi-use stickerCredit J. Maus and Mitch L and Bike Portland.org for the photos

One of our early suggestions on the MAX side was to have a multi-use sticker for the bike hanger area to make sure that it was clear that riders with various cargo could use this area. Yesterday on BikePortland.org, a blog post showed early evidence that these new multi-use stickers were indeed being placed on MAX as TriMet had promised. The original sticker as shown, implies that bikes had priority to this area. Now, it more adequately represents that this is a multi-use area as space allows.

I know that cycling advocates at BikePortland.org are concerned about the impact of this new sticker to the cycling commuting community and I think their concerns are valid — I do think the overall message of this new sticker is that we all need to share our places on the road. A cyclist sharing the space on MAX with a parent or guardian with a young infant one day (there is room for a bike to hang and have a parent or guardian with a stroller stand there). A car sharing the road with a cyclist by observing bike lanes and making safe right-hand turns another day. A parent or guardian with a stroller moving for a senior or disabled passenger without being asked. All of us being more attentive to pedestrians.

To me, it’s about the fact that we all have places to go, things we feel are necessary to bring (whether it be a bike, a stroller, luggage for the airport or a basket of laundry). We should honor the fact that people with larger or irregular cargo have chosen to use public transit rather than put one more car on the road and make sure they are welcomed and have a place on our system. And of course, we should all consider our fellow passengers when bringing along these items. Space on the bus and MAX is limited and certain times in the day are specifically challenging. We all need to continue to advocate for TriMet to include different rider groups in their capacity and design planning processes so that our transit system is not only well-used but also accessible to senior and disabled passengers, cyclists, and parents and guardians with young children and others. If we want to increase ridership on public transit, we must consider the barriers to using it.

January 13, 2011

Her Democracy

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:27 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

Thank you, Mr. President. In the midst of the chaos and anger, you reminded me how important it is to grieve. That honoring the fallen means not giving into selfish fantasies, but rededicating oneself to being a better citizen. How on earth did I get here? Why did I need this reminder?

Since Saturday’s shooting, I have been wrought with confusion — hobbled by sadness and anger and by a fear realized. All last summer, reports of violent threats and violent displays at political rallies came pouring in — the manifestation of fear of those opposed to health care and other presumed government-intrusion. I remember feeling paralyzed with fear. Will the painful lessons we have learned so many times as a nation again come to bear?

Growing up around my father’s working class Irish Catholic family, the Kennedy assassination just one year after my father and his 7 siblings lost their dad to a brain tumor, had a profound effect on them. And though I wasn’t alive for these events, they in turn, had a profound effect on me — a budding political mind studying our nation’s history. A young President’s life cut short. A civil rights leader next. A brother after. My beloved America, I grew to learn, was also often marred by gun violence.

Then you name them one by one: Jonesboro, Columbine, Thurston High in Springfield, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson. And there are so many more not named here. And we want to know why. Just like with Columbine, we want so desperately for there to be simple answers to the horrific violence that happened in Tucson. I remember being outraged by the attempts to blame Marilyn Manson and goth culture for what happened at Columbine. Just the same, I remember recoiling at the idea that the attacks of 9/11 were because “they” hate our freedom.

And so, I must apologize for my own quick reaction to seek solace in blame for the events in Tucson. But I can’t apologize for my fear. The rhetoric and events of last summer and the fall campaign made me fearful something like this would happen. I am defensive when I hear people like me whose fear got the better of them this weekend being called petty and irresponsible, however I ask only for forgiveness. Forgiveness for letting my own needs trump my duty to honor the fallen. For letting my fear drive my behavior as a citizen. For wanting to rage, when we all just need more healing.

There was a 9 year-old little girl in Tucson who wanted to be the first woman in the major leagues and who was so excited by public service, she went to see her Congresswoman. And there’s a grown woman in Portland (who still loves baseball and public service as much now as she did when she was 9 years-old) who wants that little girl to know that she deserves better from me — from us. So, President Obama, I answer your call to “live up to her expectations.” I too want our democracy to be “as good as she imagined it.”

September 26, 2010

Marriage Matters to Me

Posted in Blue Oregon, Uncategorized at 9:25 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

I have a confession to make. Up until last year, I didn’t wholeheartedly support gay marriage. Not because I didn’t think that gay and lesbian people should be able to marry, just that I thought it wasn’t the right strategy to making it happen. I thought word play could replace the damage of discrimination by making it easier for people who opposed gay marriage to accept a “civil union” which accomplished the same thing. It turns out that’s not the case.

Civil unions for gay couples only codifies discrimination. And the larger battle beyond legally recognizing the rights of same sex couples is the battle of the hearts and minds. We know that the tide is turning. America’s youth overwhelmingly support tolerance and equality toward gay and lesbian people and majorities say they should be able to legally marry. But as Honorable Judge Walker wrote in his decision overturning Proposition 8, “fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” And I will take that a step further, fundamental rights should not be subject to a waiting period as public opinion catches up.

Personally, I would rather have the government only grant civil unions to all couples and have marriage be left to everyone’s respective religions. But that would be to deny the powerful cultural hold that marriage (whether secular or spiritual) has in our society. And it lets us all off the hook from, once and for all, confronting institutionalized discrimination of our citizens based on sexual orientation.

Knowing first-hand how marriage discrimination affects my friends and family members, it’s not enough for me to support a policy workaround. Marriage equality = civil rights issue. And it’s not good enough to say privately that you support gay marriage. It must be said in public. So, say it loud, say it often, say it with dignity. Marriage matters to me.

September 6, 2010

Bring Baseball Back

Posted in Baseball, Blue Oregon at 9:23 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

Today, I will walk through the gates at PGE Park (formerly my beloved Civic Stadium) for the last time for a baseball game.

As a young fan, I remember going with my dad to the games. He would park pretty far away above the Pearl before it was the Pearl and we would walk what seemed like AGES to the park, just so we didn’t have to pay for parking. And my dad would buy the General Admission tickets, which hovered around or under $5 then. He had just two rules when attending sporting events:

  • We didn’t come to buy anything and
  • We never leave a game early.

And we could have about 5 hours of entertainment (watching batting practice and all) for just about $10, not counting the gas.

But I didn’t just spend time at the ballpark as a fan. My first job was with the Portland Beavers in 1993. Portland baseball fans will remember this was the last time the Beavers left Portland. I was one of the zombie baseball fans who wandered aimlessly through the 1994 season with no baseball in Portland and (mostly) no Major League Baseball due to a strike.

When the Rockies came to town in the summer of 1995, I had to be a part of the excitement. I spent two fabulous summers working for the Rockies — the first year in souvenirs and the second as an intern doing in-game promotion and a segment on the daily Rockies Report on a local radio station. It was the time of my life. I still remember the rain-delay game in the 1995 season when Jack Cain told me I could go down to the booth and announce the batters for the inning. This then-aspiring sports broadcaster took the mic for the first time behind home plate at Civic Stadium.

And later as a media relations intern for the now-defunct Portland State baseball team, I would announce, keep score and sing the seventh-inning stretch over those loudspeakers every home game. (I had to endure the loss of the Portland State baseball team as well after the 1998 season.) You see, my coming of age happened at this ballpark, which is what makes it so hard for me to imagine it without baseball.

But, of course, my coming of age story and those of the countless other Beaver baseball fans in Portland weren’t enough to save this latest dance with the Portland Beavers. I remember coming back triumphantly in the 2001 season — I still have my commemorative opening day ball. I thought that baseball was again here to stay, though I have to admit I was then at a stage in my life and career when baseball had taken a backseat and I didn’t attend very many games.

Over the last couple of years since having my son, I didn’t go to any games. This was the summer that I was going to introduce my son, who is 2 and a half, to baseball — Portland Beaver baseball. In March, the news came that the deal for Major League Soccer had been made and that the Beavers no longer had a home. After failed attempts at finding a location and a deal for a new minor league park, the message was soon clear — the Beavers were not going to be staying in Portland. And so the season started and instead of racing to the park to take in every second that was left, I stayed away. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t introduce my son to something that wouldn’t be here next year. Some people might call it disloyal. Some people may say I’m a bad fan. I just call it heartbroken.

Baseball in Portland has a storied history and has provided affordable entertainment for families for decades. From Vaughn Street Park to Civic Stadium; from the Jantzen Lady to the recently-grown outfield ivy; from the birds in the rafters to the old press box behind home plate where I spent many days and nights; from the likes of Eddie Basinski to Ad Liska to the homerun hitter of my youth Bernardo Brito — a piece of our history once again flickers out tomorrow.

I know this isn’t a typical topic for a post on Blue Oregon, but I felt it was important to mark this moment. I know that frontline services are what need our attention now and we need to be creative and innovative about how we jumpstart our economy here so we can put Oregonians back to work. Worrying about baseball seems like a frivolous distraction. But when it seems appropriate and not a misguided use of scarce resources, I hope that we will look once again at the prospect of baseball for this town. It took the support of policymakers to make the Major League Soccer deal happen. If baseball is to ever return to our fair town, it will take the a committed business partner, the will of our local elected officials and a group of dedicated fans to make it happen.

Farewell to Baseball in Portland Once more

*”Empty Seats at PGE Park”, Photo by Sage Corson, Portland Sportsman

Today, I will be at the game surrounded by friends and family and my son to pay homage to the weary Portland Beavers. I wanted our group name on the sign at the park tomorrow to be “Bring Baseball Back” but dubbed too controversial, I settled for the equally-yearning “Beavers Fans Forever.” And after the game, as I round those bases with my son one last time, I will take comfort that baseball is still alive in Portland in the t-ball leagues, the little leagues, the legion teams, the high school teams and in the baseball and softball programs at Oregon’s colleges and universities.

And I will promise to my son that I will work to make sure he will have a hometown team to sing the 7th inning stretch for again soon.

July 23, 2010

Pay Equity: Fairness and Economic Recovery

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:20 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted at BlueOregon.com.

85%. Women are responsible for making 85% of all consumer purchases, but still make only $.78 for every dollar a man makes. Make that $.68 for African-American women and $.58 for Latinas for every dollar. And the disparity hits single women with children hardest — they average up to 44% less pay. The “Paycheck Fairness Act” supported by President Obama’s Administration aims to close that ever-present gap.

I spoke with Senator Merkley on Tuesday about the Administration’s support for pay equity following his attendance at Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force event. Vice President Biden emphasized that with two-thirds of families being run by working parents, the “Paycheck Fairness Act” would be creating a change to reflect the reality of today’s families.

Senator Merkley added, “The average income of working families has been flat since 1974. Since then, the economy has generated a tremendous amount of wealth (even with the current Great Recession) and we have seen a growing disparity.” And the continuing wage gap for women only exacerbates the disparity.

On its face, the fight for pay equity is simply about a principle of fairness: equal pay for equal work. A popular graphic from pay equity advocates is a coupon (see below) for 23% off services for women since they make that much less. But no such coupon exists for women. And working women with children, in particular, face a double whammy. Not only will they fall prey to the across-the-board wage disparity that women experience, but they also can face wage depression in the form of “mommy tracking” where mothers are put on a different career development path for various reasons.

23% off coupon

When you combine all of that with a lurching economy, pay equity takes on a brighter sheen. With women overwhelmingly responsible for the majority of consumer purchases, depressed wages for women have a ripple effect in the economy. In moderate income families, bringing in more money often results in spending more money to raise the family’s standard of living. Perhaps it’s new clothes for school, a much-needed appliance, or other purchases that get delayed due to lack of resources. Getting a fair and full wage into the hands of working women encourages spending and pumps up the GDP.

I don’t know about you, but I vote for doubling down on fairness and bolstering our economic recovery.

So what does the “Paycheck Fairness Act” do primarily to close the wage gap:

  • First of all, it would place gender-based discrimination on par with other forms of discrimination. As Senator Merkley said, “It’s an injustice that wage disparity exists for such a huge proportion of our work force.”
  • Secondly, it would protect employees from retaliation for asking about or discussing wages with other employees. Women can experience a loss of a half a million dollars over the course of their career for not negotiating their first salary. When employees have access to information about salaries, they are in a better position to successfully negotiate their salary.

In addition, the Obama Administration wants to close the 11% gender-wage gap found by the General Accounting Office in the federal workforce and is working on improving collection of data on salaries that will be open and accessible to the public. (Read the entire equal pay task force document.)

Vice President Biden summed it up nicely at his event on Tuesday. “Closing the gender pay gap, helping parents keep their jobs while balancing family responsibilities, and increasing workplace flexibility – these are not only women’s issues, they are issues of middle class economic security.”

July 18, 2010

Accepting all Riders

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:19 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted at BlueOregon.com.

Two summers ago, I was a new mom trying to take excursions with my newborn son and perhaps getting groceries and essentials on our way back home. One day, I packed up my stroller, grabbed my purse and my stocked diaper bag and went to the bus stop. When the bus pulled up, I was stunned to hear the bus driver tell me that I would have to break down my stroller and take my baby out of it and lug all of my other gear up on the bus with baby in hand. Thank goodness, he was willing to hop out of the bus and help me.

However, my experience is not typical and this was not during busy commuting time. Now as a downtown commuter who largely travels by bus without my child, I have seen countless mothers go through this same experience. In rush hour, tired bus drivers will be short with these moms. “You need to break down that stroller!” “That’s too big for this bus!” “You need to take that baby out of there!” And I have seen other passengers come to the aid of these mothers to help them get their equipment on the bus.Two years later, I find myself remembering my experience. I remember taking the bus less often because I was never sure if there would be a helping hand for me and my (necessary) gear. And I recall how I felt not included when I realized that my stroller was not an acceptable size for the bus, even though I would often fill it with groceries and essentials when out running errands for our household.

Most recently, this happened to a woman whose first language was not English. She didn’t understand what was being asked of her and her baby was sound asleep in the stroller. There was room on the bus for the stroller in the spots for wheelchairs and there were no disabled passengers on the bus at the time. The bus driver, following TriMet’s policy, asked her to break down her stroller. She didn’t understand and the bus driver asked again. Finally other passengers tried to explain and started trying to help her break down her stroller. By the time they were able to help her break down and secure her stroller while she held the three-month-old baby in her arms (she could have never broken down the stroller without help), she was two stops away from her stop.

Here is what I know. Space is at a premium on a city bus, bus drivers work hard and need passengers to respond to their requests and follow TriMet policy AND the current TriMet policy does not adequately reflect the reality of a mother commuting by bus with a baby.

Reading Trimet’s policy on traveling with kids, it all seems reasonable.

You’re welcome to bring a stroller on the bus or train, but keep in mind there may not always be room on board. If you do bring a stroller, we recommend using a folding “umbrella” style stroller. Large and double-wide strollers are not practical for use on TriMet.

In practice, this policy is a hardship on riding mothers. Consider these scenarios in regard to the policy:

  • Mothers with infants 0-6 months cannot use umbrella strollers because an infant cannot sit up on his/her own.
  • Breaking down and transporting a stroller requires two hands. This means that any parcels and in the case of an infant carseat/stroller combo, the infant carseat will need to be taken out of the stroller. I have seen mothers, receiving no assistance, have to leave their baby on the bus while she went back outside to get the rest of her belongings.
  • A baby is sleeping in the stroller and even though there is space on the bus, the baby must be taken out of the stroller (usually waking the baby up) and the stroller is broken down. Note: Again, a stroller cannot be taken down very easily while holding a baby.

The below changes would improve the experience for mothers greatly:

  • Lift option (in policy) for mothers with strollers should always be offered (I have yet to see this in practice, though I am sure it does happen).
  • Mothers with larger strollers (infant, twins, or two children) should be allowed the option of using the wheelchair space and lock when not needed for disabled or senior citizens and not have to break down their stroller.
  • If a stroller must be broken down, a bus driver will offer assistance.
  • Bike hangers on Max should be equipped with a “jump seat” for moms and a lock so that this can be an optional place for sitting with a stroller so as not to inconvenience other passengers. This space would then accommodate two types of Max riders.

I don’t believe Trimet’s policy is an intentional slight to mothers, I think it just needs a minor revision to help mothers, fathers and caretakers feel like an accepted class of riders.