Dreaming up this 30 Stories for 30 Years commemoration of the historic Ballot Measure 9 campaign, Eric and I knew it would be relevant to the fight we’re in today to defend inclusive democracy. But we didn’t imagine how much that relevance would deepen every day.
With today’s ideological bias and resistance to change in the Portland Police Bureau, it’s hard to imagine a time when a police chief and some brave cops made national headlines for the ways they showed up for an LGBTQ community under attack. Similarly, it’s hard to remember when there were mainstream Republican leaders who refused to take the “culture war” bait and instead spoke out against discrimination and demonization.
We’ve come full circle in many ways, including with today’s continuing and horrific surge in anti-Asian hate violence. Even as they were largely marginalized and ignored by the campaign, leaders in Asian Pacific Islander communities recognized their own experiences in Measure 9 and came together with Asian and Pacific Islander Lesbians and Gays in a way that organizer Lynn Nakamoto says “was unprecedented in Oregon.”
“A lot of ground has been lost. What are the lessons we can learn from these stories about reconstituting bridges? What were the risks faced by those who refused to be silent in the face of exclusion, cultural norms, or political pressure? What were the values that made those risks worth taking? How can we center those values once again, and find the courage to rebuild bridges across our deepening divides?”
~ Eric K. Ward, Western States Center Executive Director
This month’s stories are about some of the unexpected voices amidst the chorus of Oregonians from all walks of life who, together, defeated one of the harshest antigay measures ever put to American voters. Each story offers a unique prism on how this epic battle for civil and human rights can impart lessons for today’s fight for inclusive democracy.
STORY 16: TOM & KATIE POTTER
“I visited the No on 9 campaign headquarters at least weekly. I wanted officers to see that, as well as the community,” remembers Tom Potter. “The chief’s responsibility isn’t just to parrot something, but to live it.” His daughter Katie, an out lesbian cop, says of the protective measures in response to the extreme danger during the campaign, “I was very grateful for all that was put into place for people whose lives were endangered just because they were being outspoken about who they are and supporting civil rights for queer people. All of that depends on who is at the top. I don’t think it would have happened on that level had there been somebody in that position who was not so pro-LGBTQ and pro-civil rights.”
Read about the critical roles Tom and Katie played during the No on 9 campaign, along with candid reflections from the former chief and his daughter about police culture — what needed to change then and now.
“In Oregon, the idea to gain unified Asian and Pacific Islander opposition to Measure 9 did not come from the No On 9 Campaign, but instead from Asian and Pacific Islander Lesbians and Gays,” wrote Lynn Nakamoto in her contemporary account of their efforts. Read Lynn’s reflections on the challenges they faced in the white LGBTQ community and the success they had bringing together a broad range of Asian groups for a historic press conference.
With the current “battle for the soul of the Republican party” in which even the fundamentals of democracy are no longer respected, we remember the time in Oregon, only three decades ago, when a state’s GOP establishment united against discrimination. Read more.
“Through 40 years of political service, I have found myself many times in the trenches of civil rights battles, believing such rights are guaranteed by at least two basic principles: the separation of church and state and political-religious pluralism. Measure 9 violates these principles.”
U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield, Oregon Republican
The response to Ballot Measure 9 is a story of and for all Oregonians — not just the names we know and remember, but the big and small acts that may have gone unseen, the everyday gestures of kindness or courage that created more space for inclusion.
This effort 30 years ago illustrates that every one of us can do something to be part of history. To each person committed to defending democracy and all who are wondering what is asked of us in these fractious times, we hope that No on 9 Remembered encourages you to be brave. To take action and take heart.
To remembering the past and shaping the future,
Holly J. Pruett, Senior Fellow
No on 9 Remembered Co-Curator
P.S. Thank you to all who have shared their memories and questions in response to the first four months of our 30 stories — contact us to share your thoughts! Be sure to check out our project’s comprehensive Timeline and the other historical memory projects that inspire us in our Resources section.