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March 17, 2005: a crossroads in our paths toward greater political influence in Woodburn.

Even a few days beforehand, nothing signaled that multiple paths on our movement’s journal toward greater political power in Woodburn would converge March 17th. Events happened to coincide that day in ways that provided an unusual, multi-faceted measure of how much power—and what kind—our movement had developed and accrued. Tracing back each of the paths that intersected that day requires some considerable description. First, though, here’s the “headline news” version of what occurred on March 17th: 1. Leaders of Voz Hispana Causa Chavista addressed the Woodburn School board and persuaded the Board to scrap the proposed timeline for the Small Schools Initiative. 2. Woodburn School Board member Juan Manuel Hernández declined to file for election to the Board seat to which he had been appointed in 2004. 3. Only one candidate, former Woodburn School District Superintendent Jack Reeves, filed for election to the seat held by Hernández, meaning that all five Board members would be whites in a District with a student body that is 70% Latino. 4. At his initiative, Woodburn City Manager John Brown met with key leaders of Farmworker Housing Development Corporation (FHDC) and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) seeking support for the City’s Urban Growth Boundary expansion proposal in the face of land-use watchdog opposition. On its face, this list hardly seems to describe much that’s historic, much less a confluence. Of the four, arguably only the first item even seems particularly noteworthy. Taken together and placed in context, they offer a strikingly clear depiction of political power and influence, and the difference between them. The fact that our movement could command any influence that day was the product of many years of determined and often difficult work. The fact that our movement ended that day with no greater share of direct political power and control stands as a sobering reminder of the distance we still must travel on an already long journey. Story #1: The School Board Meeting The high profile event of March 17th was the regularly scheduled Woodburn School Board meeting. Though the District serves close to 5,000 students and is Woodburn’s largest employer with some 600 staff, the average monthly Board

meeting is sparsely attended. The March 17th meeting did attract about thirty observers, more than twice the usual core which is comprised mostly of administrators and principals of the District’s seven schools. The audience on March 17th was larger than usual mainly because the Board would take up for discussion and action a proposed timeline for deciding the designs of the four “academies” into which Woodburn High School would be divided beginning with the 2006 school year, as contemplated by the “Small Schools Initiative” (or “WESST” as it later came to be known). The Board meeting had a more claustrophobic feel than usual, due to the setting: a low-ceiling basement meeting room in the leased building housing the District’s high school “alternative” program. The uneasy atmosphere was compounded by the meeting’s slow pace and the fact that the WESST proposal was buried towards the end of a long agenda. Sometime after 9:00 PM, the staff coordinators of WESST laid out the design proposal timeline to the Board. The presentation was matter-of-fact and gave no hint of concerns. The proposal had been circulated a few days earlier as part of the Board’s monthly agenda packet. Few non-District staff receive the Board packets. Among those few, however, was Voz Hispana. When Voz Hispana staff organizers, Oscar Morales and Bartolo Márquez, read through the design timeline proposal the day before the Board meeting, they discovered that it called for submission of “letters of intent”—concept papers or specific ideas for an academy—in less than a month and for a final decision on academy designs by mid-June. In the preceding months, the District had held public mass orientation meetings on the WESST initiative that were well-attended but vague. The essential message was “the high school and its entire premise is a failure”. For many of the Latino parents who attended the meetings (in part at the urging of Voz Hispana), this came as something of a shock. The school’s higher than average drop-out rate gave some parents an inkling that the school faced problems. But the combination of sudden and sweeping candor and vague information about what kind of change might occur—and when--left many parents and community members confused and unnerved. As Oscar, Bart, and other Voz Hispana leaders saw it, the District was rushing ahead just as substantial numbers of Latino parents—historically disconnected from District policymaking—were beginning to get engaged. The proposed timeline seemed, at the very least, insensitive, a dramatic reversion to a paternalistic governance following a brief outburst of candor and “inclusiveness”.

WESST had begun in 2004 as a top-down initiative. Woodburn High School was falling woefully short of demonstrating “Adequately Year Progress” required under the “No Child Left Behind” law. Unspecified, but likely drastic consequences and measures loomed for the District. The District administration grabbed the opportunity offered by a consortium of major foundations, led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to seek millions in grant funds to re-engineer their “big” high school (1,300 students and growing) into at least four smaller schools to promote more intensive and individualized learning environments. The grant was sought, awarded and the program being implemented before anyone but “insiders” had a sense of what was afoot. In the weeks before the March 17th Board meeting, Voz Hispana leaders had warned District administrators that a credibility gap was again developing between the District and the Latino community. Again, as it had in 1997, when Voz Hispana was established. That year, the District invited community-wide participation in the process to select names for two new schools, an elementary and a middle school. Dozens of Latinos answered the District’s call. After several brainstorm and sense-of-the-community gatherings, “César E. Chávez” emerged as the overwhelming favorite. The idea of naming a school for César did provoke strong opposition among handful of Russian “Old Believer” and white participants. The School Board chair feared that “César E. Chávez Middle School”, would spark a political backlash against the District from residents of the “Senior Estates” section of Woodburn, an all-white section built in the 1960’s and ‘70’s explicitly for retirees. Senior Estates residents comprised about 15% of Woodburn’s population, but nearly 50% of its active electorate. By a vote of 4-1, the Board voted to name the schools “Heritage Elementary School” and “Valor Middle School”. Latinos who had participated in the selection process felt betrayed and disrespected. After all, nothing in Woodburn—not one public building nor even one of the sixty streets named for people—bore the name of a Latino. With the support of PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union headquartered in Woodburn, and FHDC (including a number of residents at FHDC’s housing project, Nuevo Amanecer), dozens of Latinos came together to found Voz Hispana, an ad hoc committee dedicated to overturning the Board’s decision. In 1997, Board meetings were usually no better attended than in 2005. So it was highly unusual when eighty Latinos turned out at three successive Board meetings in the Summer and Fall of 1997. Many spoke during the “public forum” segment of the meeting. The tone grew progressively angrier, the number of speakers more numerous; the meetings dragged on, pummeling the Board’s stonewall and slowing Board business to a crawl. At the third of those meetings, a motion to reconsider and re-open the naming process was defeated 3-2. Eloisa Chaudhary,

then the Board’s only Latino/a member, put forward the motion. She had also cast the lone vote against the original naming decision. This time she was joined by a new Board member, Brett Mecham, who had assumed his Board position in July. By the December 1997 meeting, Chaudhary and Voz Hispana had fashioned a compromise proposal: name the library in the Valor Middle School for César, organize a dedication celebration for the César E. Chávez Library, designate the period each year between March 31st and April 23rd (the anniversaries of César’s birth and death, respectively) for special activities and instruction in all Woodburn schools to recognize César life and legacy, and develop curricula for those purposes. The compromise passed unanimously and Voz Hispana took up an ongoing mission to organize community support and involvement in “César Chávez Day” activities, collaborating with the District. Voz Hispana’s encounter with local elected officials eventually prompted the organization to develop a project organizing and educating Latino voters, first in Woodburn and later reaching statewide. In 2005, Voz Hispana’s voter base included around 2,500 Latino voters, most in Marion County cities of Woodburn, Gervais and Salem. In Woodburn, Voz Hispana’s base included about half of the nearly 1,000 Latino registered voters. While that sounds somewhat impressive, it’s sobering to recall that, in 2005, Woodburn’s registered voter total approached 9,000. While Latinos made up about 12% of registered voters, they constituted well over 50% of Woodburn’s population. While some casual observers assumed that the “low” Latino voter registration numbers suggested political indifference or worse, the two overwhelming factors were age and immigration status. The vast majority of Woodburn’s Latino residents were either under 18 and/or not U.S. citizens. Restrictive immigration laws denied many immigrants any “path” to citizenship, that is, no way to qualify regardless of their motivation or efforts. This reality figures centrally in the third of the four events which distinguished March 17th. At the March 17th Board meeting, when Bart approached the lectern reserved for speakers from the audience, Voz Hispana’s eight years of activism in the Woodburn School District was not lost on any one in the room. This was especially true for Board Chair, Brett Mecham. Bart began his comments cautiously, typical of his understated manner. The son of immigrant farmworkers, Bart attended Woodburn schools for twelve years, graduating from Woodburn High School in 1998 and from Western Oregon University in 2002. As a high school senior, he had taken part in the first annual César Chávez Day activities.

“People in the community are just beginning to become aware this process and understand it,” Bart began, after introducing himself. “They haven’t been presented with a full and clear picture of the process, past or future. This timeline just doesn’t work; the community needs more time.” At first, neither the Board members nor the Superintendent, Walt Blomberg, responded, but the tension was palpable. For anyone who had attended the 1997 Board meetings, the silence seemed ominously familiar. Oscar spoke next, reiterating Bart’s sentiments. “We’re talking to parents and they want to participate. Many have attended the orientations but don’t yet feel comfortable to offer ideas. For some there is distrust. For others, trust has yet to be established. Please give us more time.” Administrators and some board members were acquainted with Oscar. He had graduated from Woodburn High School in 2004, having arrived in the U.S. only about four years earlier. While at WHS, he co-founded and was the principal leader of a new student organization, now called La Unión Chavista de América (LUChA), drawing together “newcomers”, students nearly arrived from other countries struggling to quickly adapt to the secondary education system while learning enough English to function effectively in it. In the fall of 2003, Oscar was one of four dozen immigrants and allies on the Portland bus of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a twelve-day journey from Oregon to Washington D.C. and New York. Oscar joined the Voz Hispana staff part-time in the summer of 2004 organizing Latino voters for the general election and stayed on to leading a new Voz Hispana project, organizing Latino parents to understand and take part in District policymaking. For Bart, and even more so for Oscar, taking a visible and firm stand meant risking confrontation with teachers who had supported them when they were students at the high school. Neither Bart nor Oscar had fully adjusted yet to the pace of the power shift that they’re actions now accelerated. The Board seemed to take the fact that both Oscar and Bart had spoken as a signal that Voz Hispana’s purpose was not to politely register a concern for the “record”. Board members’ initial comments in response suggested that they felt constrained by the dictates and expectations of the foundation consortium to proceed expeditiously. They also seemed taken aback by the challenge to the proposed schedule. Caught between a “wish” for community involvement and a “dictate” that change happen (and soon), the Board was going with the dictate. Ironically, the grant agreement governing the WESST process included lofty language about the indispensability of community involvement and ownership. On the other hand, it also included seemingly immutable provisions about “outcomes”, to the

effect that the District will have at least one small academy operational by the start of the 2006-07 school year. After verbally fumbling around for a few minutes, the Board seemed to lean towards a “we’d like to help you but there’s not much we can do” conclusion. I hadn’t planned to speak, but I decided that issue of community-District trust needed to be stated even more forcefully. As I arrived at the lectern, I noticed that Board members and audience members adjusted their posture. Some seemed to reflexively straighten or stiffen up. A few others perceptibly slumped. I identified myself, without thinking, with my PCUN title, Secretary-Treasurer. I didn’t state that I was a long-time Woodburn resident, co-founder and active member of Voz Hispana, or that I was now in my third year of service on the School District Budget Committee and second year as its Chair. The body language in the room, however, suggested that some combination of these facts was understood. “This District has, to its credit, extended a invitation to the Latino community to join in shaping the future of Woodburn High School. The community has responded in a fashion not seen in many years. This, itself, is evidence of the potential which WESST has to be a transformative process, not just for what happens in the classroom, but for how the District engages the majority of its public. If the District administration and a delegation of Latino parents went to the funders and jointly asked for more time—should that be ultimately needed— the unprecedented nature of such a request would be regarded as quite compelling.” High School Principal Laura Lanka rose and delivered a lengthy and impassioned defense of the process, of the District’s upstanding intentions, and of the need to move forward expeditiously because underachieving high school students couldn’t and shouldn’t have to wait for improvement. It took a few minutes to mentally take the full measure of her misplaced premises and faulty insinuations, such as “it’s the parents’ interests versus the students’”, and “you [Voz Hispana] are obstructing Latino progress” and “now that we’re finally taking action, how dare you get in the way”. In sum, she cast Voz Hispana as an obstructer, an opponent of WESST and she was surely not the only person in the room who thought so. Lanka had concluded her speech with something like “we’ve worked so hard to involve the community”. This brought what had now become a debate back to Voz Hispana’s original contention: now that the District has involved the community, give the community an opportunity to meaningfully participate.

At this point, the process devolved from an orderly procession of speakers to a direct back-and-forth between Board, Superintendent and audience members, mostly Bart, Oscar and I, speaking from the floor. No one on the Board seemed as passionately invested in the proposed timeline as Lanka, and prospect of facing community discontent seemed to sap their willingness to move WESST forward as proposed. No one said it out loud, but Board members seemed to be mentally visualizing the clash of ideas which the Board had just observed between Lanka and Voz Hispana, but writ large, loud and long, before an overflow crowd at subsequent Board meetings. The Board grew restless. Several members put forth their own discomforts with the WESST process and the funder-driven deadlines the Board had adopted but now seemed to regret. Superintendent Blomberg, seated next to the Board, looked in our direction and asked “how much time does the community need?” This was a turning point, the kind that had occurred behind the scenes in 1997 rather than in plain view. Voz Hispana’s intervention on March 17th was playing out rapidly, not building steadily as it had in the school naming struggle. Bart and Oscar’s decision to speak up at the Board meeting was understandably last-minute. They had discussed it with me on the morning of the Board meeting, but there wasn’t time to fashion a specific counter proposal for a design process timeline. We did conclude that the proposed timeline was geared to complete the design process before the end of the 2005-06 school year and that any delay would add several months due to summer vacation. Blomberg’s question was followed by silence as the three of us looked at each other, attempting a sort of telepathic caucus. Bart and Oscar both nodded to me, a signal that I should answer. I responded with an “after you” nod back to them to encourage them and discern if they were simply deferring to me. It seemed that they weren’t. Another few moments passed. I turned to Blomberg and said “let’s ask the community”. This might have sounded like a stall or a deflection, but it seemed to fit in the flow of the District’s orientation gatherings which had surfaced frustrations with vague answers about the process and the District’s decision-making. The next gathering was already scheduled for April 19th, plenty of time for the District and Voz Hispana to prepare and mobilize for a more frank and definitive discussion, including the design process timeline. Lanka and the WESST staffers reacted with momentary exasperation as the mirage of academy design completion before summer vacation evaporated. They looked distressed and disheartened as they pictured added months trekking

through the dangerous wilderness of possible pushback from the small but powerful white elite in the District, aroused by greater and more visible involvement from the Latino community and aided by the extra time to gain momentum. The underlying actual and imagined tug of war was playing out again in the Woodburn School District. “Ask the community” did not seem to strike Blomberg or the Board as a satisfactory response. They must have been expecting something more specific, assuming that Voz Hispana had maneuvered precisely to clear a path for its own proposal. Their expressions were a mix of confusion and surprise with a hint of indignation. “Ask the community,” I repeated, hoping that it would turn their attention from dwelling on the fear and disappointment triggered by junking their proposal and begin to consider and connect with the deeper and compelling purpose served by actually asking the community. It was after 10:00 PM by this point and a “back to the drawing board” consensus had taken hold. The motion to approve the timeline proposal was abandoned and nothing was moved in its stead. The discussion had closed on a hopeful note, though, when Lanka returned to the lectern, turned to us and asked “will you help us?”. Bart responded: “Yes”. Mentally, I added “we just did”. After the meeting adjourned, Bart, Oscar and I huddled briefly in the parking lot. The contrast of outdoor cold, damp air after more than two hours of stuffy enclosure seemed to sharpen our sense that something historic had just transpired. “We stopped a freight train, or at least slowed it down,” I remember saying. Oscar thought a moment and added “enough for the community to get on board.” Subsequent events amply demonstrated that our sense of a shift was right. On April 1st, Superintendent Blomberg convened a special meeting involving key administrators, WESST staff, and others with Bart, Oscar and me expressly to surface and address the accumulated questions and issues about the WESST process and community involvement. Voz Hispana was offered and, on behalf of VHCC, Bart accepted a seat on the WESST Leadership Steering Committee. It was agreed that the April 19th meeting would address the timeline and communications issues and be jointly planned and facilitated by Voz Hispana and the District. A new proposed timeline emerged, extending the design process into October, four additional months. Voz Hispana convened students, teachers and parents to articulate a set of principles, values, and strategies applicable to all academy designs. Voz Hispana staff joined design working groups and organized community forums on proposed design plans. Voz Hispana’s board president was named to the design selection advisory committee. When the final recommendation was presented to a special Board meeting (convened at Voz Hispana’s suggestion), Voz Hispana enthusiastically supported it.

Despite apparent rumblings, such as occasional disgruntled phone calls to administrators, the feared backlash never materialized. The WESST process continues, on track to establish four small academies by September 2006. It’s transformational promise and potential remain significant, but untested; it has catalyzed Voz Hispana’s role as a significant participant in fundamental education reform in Woodburn. Story #2: The School Board’s only Latino member steps down In course of the WESST debate and discussion on March 17th, Board member Juan Manuel Hernández didn’t say much. This was pretty much in character for him. At one point in the midst of the back-and-forth about community involvement, he offered a rather pointed commentary: “people mostly react, they don’t step forward to get involved before key decisions are made.” I had known Juan Manuel for over twenty years. He was earnest, straightforward, thoughtful, reasonably opinionated, usually engaging the world with a “can do” orientation. His comment on March 17th and, more so, his tone conveyed a disenchantment that had apparently been growing for some months. On the afternoon of March 17th, I had learned that he intended not to file for election to his Board seat. The news came from another Board member and only a few hours before the filing deadline. I encountered Juan Manuel briefly right after the Board meeting and asked him about his decision to leave the Board. He explained that he had actually made up his mind two weeks earlier not to file but hadn’t told anyone. Other Board members and District administrators were expecting him to file, win the election (likely unopposed), and continue on the Board. As he described to me at some length two months later, he’d concluded that the District administration and his fellow board members didn’t take his concerns seriously and that his friends in the community largely ignored his entreaties to get involved even when they had sought him out to with complaints about the District. He’d come to view the process of District policymaking as “pura política”, nothing but politics, and the community as apathetic. In that same conversation, Juan Manuel readily acknowledged that he could have but didn’t reach out to Voz Hispana for support and that his go-it-alone approach wasn’t very effective. He said he didn’t really have a plan for his Board service when he was encouraged by a former administrator to apply, first for a position on the District’s Budget Committee and then for a vacancy on the board. He was the only Latino to apply and, at that time, no other Latinos served on the Board.

Not seeing himself as part of a collective or organized effort, it didn’t occur to him to let people like me know that he had decided not to file for election. In retrospect, he recognized that it had put Voz Hispana at a disadvantage, something he seemed to regret. Juan Manuel’s Board tenure, juxtaposed with the course and outcome of the March 17th Board meeting, can serve as the basis for several useful insights. First, while a Board member has official and formal power, that alone accomplishes little without an agenda and a strategy backed by “inside” and/or “outside” support. Second, “outside” pressure, and even the credible threat or prospect of it, can check official power. To see, on the same day, clear cut examples of both contributed to March 17th’s standout quality. Story #3: The School Board is all-white again When I had received the call on March 17th about Juan Manuel not intending to file, it was about 2:00 PM. Soon another board member called me with the same news. Both sought my help to identify and contact Latinos eligible and interested in the position. They were clearly embarrassed about the prospect that the Board would revert again to an all-white composition in a District whose official student demographic charts lumped white student enrollment into the “other” category (statistically, it’s about 18%). Candidacy forms had to be delivered to the County Clerk in Salem by 5:00 PM that same afternoon. It was a long-shot, but I made four phone calls searching for possible last-minute candidates. One was a former Board member, one in a series of occupants of the “Latino” seat on the Board. He recognized that the situation was critical and expressed interest but said he couldn’t return to Board service just yet. Two others were retired labor leaders, each of whom had unsuccessfully sought appointment when a vacancy had occurred. Both sympathized but no longer could step forward. The final call was to a teacher active in Woodburn Education Association leadership, just to see if he had heard the news and had any suggestions. All four of them concluded the respective conversations by encouraging me to file. I uniformly declined. Given that Voz Hispana had been active in school and electoral politics in Woodburn for some years, where was the pool of potential Latino candidates? Had Voz Hispana simply neglected or failed to prepare them? Was there scant interest, as Juan Manuel had found? Voz Hispana had devoted some, though not systematic effort to identifying potential candidates. The primary difficulties seemed to be that the pool of

eligible candidates—registered voters residing in but not employed by the District—was quite limited. Of the 9,000 or so registered voters in the District, about 1,000 are Latinos. 50 to 75 are employed by the District and include a substantial percentage of those with considerable formal education and professional skills. Next, reduce the pool by removing those who have English language skill that is (or who regard theirs as) inadequate for effective Board service. Take out those whose personal and/or work life make service practically impossible and a few more whose religious beliefs dictate that they abstain. Lastly, remove those who know or sense that becoming the only Latino Board member is a District like Woodburn will subject them to a level of pressure, scrutiny and responsibility that few whites recognize or comprehend. White people, even in Woodburn where white people are now officially the minority, rarely notice that almost no one ever comes up them in the store or asks them in meetings “what do white people think about [insert topic]?”. As the few who have occupied the position of “sole” Latino on the Woodburn School Board or City Council can amply attest, white people ask this type of question frequently to Latinos in positions of authority. Also, as Juan Manuel discovered, the “sole” Latino officer-holder can become the go-to person for those in the Latino community with questions, complaints or opinions. Being the “sole” Latino Board member has an unwritten but substantial set of additional responsibilities in the job description. It’s no surprise, therefore, that there are few to choose from and to prepare. Still, the events of March 17th, delivered yet another reminder to Voz Hispana that much more work remains to be done if the Latino community is to access and exercise direct political power as well as wield political influence. If not a Latino candidate, what about a close ally who knows the Latino community and is trusted by many Latinos in Woodburn to advocate for their interests? This is precisely the case that, recently and over the years, a number of people have put to me as they urge me to step forward as a candidate; I heard it most recently on the occasion of the suddenly open Board position. I have many reasons why I choose not run and have instead pursued a strategy of supporting and helping to prepare others to step forward. Though it probably wasn’t the first time, the most memorable occasion when the question was put to me came in January 2003, about twenty minutes into what was scheduled to be a five minute interview with the Board on my application to serve on the District Budget Committee. Three minutes into the interview, the conversation diverged into the topic of why so few Latinos seek School Board and other elected positions. I laid out the numbers and factors, few if any of which the Board members either knew or had previously connected. Veering suddenly back,

closer to the purpose of our meeting, a Board member put forward the question with a disarming directness: why aren’t you applying for the (then) Board vacancy, rather than the Budget Committee? A couple of others nodded, as if the same question had just crystallized in their minds. Surprised by the both the abruptness and the apparent invitation itself, I hesitated and conducted a quick mental inventory of the reasons, searching for the ones that would make sense to them. The two that I articulated that day, reasons most relevant to the topic of our movement’s political power, are the commitments I’ve already undertaken, which too severely limit the time I could devote to carrying out Board responsibilities, and my belief that I should dedicate the efforts I can make to hastening the day when more Latinos are ready and available to serve on the Board. Seeking to serve on the Budget Committee, I continued, was just such an effort. Once oriented myself, I intended to recruit more Latinos to serve on that Committee, intending that Committee service and my support for them during and beyond that service would both substantively and personally equip them to join the School Board. My answer remained the same on March 17th. The part about previous commitments certainly made sense to the four people I called. The part about abstaining to serve others mostly elicited a polite silence. Story #4: FHDC becomes a valued ally of Woodburn City government In the afternoon of March 17th, a few hours before the School Board meeting, I went to City Hall, together with Mark Wilk, a fellow board member of FHDC, for a meeting with City Manager John Brown. I didn’t meet often with Brown, but we (FHDC and PCUN co-leaders) had established a relationship of mutual respect with Brown, the mayor, police chief and several City Councilors. The City government had never sought our support on a critical policy matter. On March 17th, that was about to change. The City was engaged in a drawn out and contentious revision and expansion of their twenty-year Urban Growth and re-zoning plan. Neither FHDC nor PCUN had taken an active role in the process. Several prominent local growers and landuse advocates with 1000 Friends of Oregon challenged inclusion in the Urban Growth Boundary of agricultural parcels located near the I-5 interchange. The City proposed zoning them for commercial and industrial purposes as part of a long-range strategy to attract better paying jobs to Woodburn. Though Woodburn had grown dramatically in the 1990’s, it seemed to be evolving into more of bedroom community for Portland, Salem and environs than it had been in the past. Farm labor, especially nurseries, remained a employment

mainstay for Latinos residing in Woodburn, but food processing and manufactured home construction had declined substantially due to NAFTA and the Bush/post9/11 recession. The City planners’ objectives included revitalizing Woodburn’s family-wage job base. The proximity to I-5 and major population centers figured as key factors. Critics of this expansion questioned whether such jobs would actually materialize and whether they would benefit Woodburn residents generally and Latinos in particular. Brown’s sought to enlist FHDC and PCUN in the debate as authentic and credible voices for Latino workers. After considering Brown’s presentation and his responses to our questions, we came away convinced that the City’s plan would likely benefit today’s immigrant workers and, even more likely, their U.S.educated children, raised in Woodburn. For decades, thousands of the children of farmworkers, cannery and nursery workers who settled in Woodburn had left to seek better-paying and steadier employment. While many variables remained, the City’s plan and commitment seemed solid. If our organizations agreed with the City’s plans, Brown asked that we make that known in writing. After consulting with other FHDC and PCUN leaders, both organizations resolved to submit written statements of support. This sequence of events might seem routine, hardly noteworthy. However, when viewed from a more distant point in our movement’s history in Woodburn, the meeting and its outcomes were nothing short of astounding. In May 1978, when the Willamette Valley Immigration Project (today, Centro de Servicios para Campesinos, PCUN’s service arm) first established a permanent presence in Woodburn, Mexican immigrants lived in unrelenting fear of Immigration Service raids. Though they didn’t occur daily or weekly, INS and Border Patrol agents descended on apartments, movie theatres, workplaces and major thoroughfares in Woodburn, in Oregon and in the U.S. with sufficient frequency to sustain an atmosphere of terror. The Woodburn Police, under the command of Chief Lyle Henderson, actively assisted and even co-led such raids. Henderson’s demeanor, attitude and policies qualified him as a stereotypical small rural town police chief. He was widely known for his love and care of horses. Those beasts of burden certainly enjoyed greater respect and care from Henderson than the local farmworkers, whom he seemed to regard as a another and decidedly inferior animal.

In October 1978, Immigration Project leaders witnessed Woodburn Police officers directing INS officers to apartments they believed housed undocumented workers. We promptly presented this information to Chief Henderson, advised him that his officers’ conduct had violated federal law and promised him that if we learned of a future incidents, we would sue the Department. Henderson shifted his cowboyboot-wearing feet off his desk, stood up and thanked us for coming in. “I’ve got to go feed my horses,” he explained as he left us sitting in his office. Woodburn Police collusion with INS raids ceased, but Police-community relations remained mired in mutual distrust and suspicion. In October, 1983, a Woodburn Police sergeant shot and killed an unarmed farmworker getting out of his car in an apartment carport on Woodburn’s eastside. The community’s long-simmering anger and resentment exploded. A new organization, Community United for Justice, sprang up seeking redress for the family and police oversight. The Immigration Project and later PCUN leaders coled Community United as it uncovered evidence of rampant discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws and violations of due process. Community United staff supported local Latinas to come forward and denounce blatant sexual harassment by one of the Department’s only Latino officers. In 1988, Henderson finally retired and his top lieutenant, Ken Wright, became Chief. Community policing had begun to gain prominence in parts of Oregon and, in that spirit, Wright took a trip to Mexico where he discovered that workers and families routinely spend Sundays socializing in the town square. For years, Woodburn Police had hassled and taken a hostile approach with the hundreds of Mexican workers who hung out in a parking lot on weekends in the heart of Woodburn’s downtown Latino business district. Wright’s experience in Mexico convinced him that the Woodburn Police had wrongly regarded this custom as “loitering” and a “gateway” to more serious crime. He changed Department patrol practices and improved relations with the community. His successors have largely followed the strategies he instituted. Even as community-police relations gradually improved, conflicts over farmworker housing erupted. In 1990, PCUN, Oregon Legal Service and Salud Medical Clinic co-founded FHDC, dedicated to building and managing farmworker housing located within Urban Growth Boundaries (not on grower land or in remote locations) and with farmworker participation. FHDC promptly set its sights on constructing an apartment complex in Woodburn. The City Council responded by setting out to do everything in its power to thwart FHDC ‘s efforts. This wasn’t the first time the Council had sought to block new housing for farmworkers. In 1982, the Council voted 6-1 to block Marion

County’s attempt to build a project in Woodburn; the Council justified their decision by asserting that “Woodburn already had its fair share of farmworkers.” Ten years later, there was still only one farmworker housing project in Woodburn, built in 1972. Early in 1991, the FHDC founding committee’s survey of suitable project sites in Woodburn zeroed in on an eleven acre parcel along Newberg Highway, one the town’s busiest roads, situated about a quarter mile from the high school in one direction and from K-8 schools in the other direction. The site seemed ideal— zoned correctly, amply sized for a project of scale, located close to schools and services, and available. In fact, the site was partially developed for multi-family housing and had a completed four-plex model and footings and partial walls standing nearby. The problem, FHDC soon discovered, was the sellers: the City of Woodburn. The City hadn’t intended to acquire the property. A private developer had secured community development financing from the State, through the City, to build “Grace Village” as senior housing. The project folded, the City foreclosed on the loan and became the proud owners--and debtors. The property sat idle as the City looked for a suitable buyer. “Suitable”, it turned out, as in “not intending to build farmworker housing”. The City’s first strategy was to try to “interest” FHDC in other sites. The one they pushed the hardest lay at the end of a dead-end street at the opposite edge of town. One FHDC board member was tempted, but the rest of the board held firm for the Grace Village site. The board began researching the financing foreclosed by the City, causing State officials to take an interest in the matter. They began questioning the City’s refusal to consider selling Grace Village to FHDC, especially since no other viable buyer had stepped forward. These concerns soon worked their way up to the office of the Governor, Barbara Roberts. Governor Roberts was and remains a stalwart supporter of farmworkers, human services and equality opportunity. She found the City’s stance shockingly lacking—even offensive--in all three respects. She directed her economic development department director to offer the City forgiveness for the outstanding loan if the City transferred the land to FHDC. To her surprise, the City refused. She then instructed the director to advise the City that all future economic development funds for Woodburn would be frozen until the Grace Village issue was resolved. The City caved, but still refused to deed the property to FHDC.

Instead, they transferred ownership to Marion County who promptly conveyed it to FHDC. So there! Predictably, when Governor Roberts, State Housing Director Ray Ramsey and FHDC board members posed with their shovels at the December 1992 groundbreaking ceremony for Nuevo Amanecer, no one from the City was in the picture. When the first phase—50 apartment units—of Nuevo Amanecer opened in April 1994, it truly seemed be offer a “new dawn” for farmworker families. Not so for relations with the City. City officials continued to predict that the complex would become a magnet for crime, gangs, drugs, junk cars, overcrowding, trash…in short, a slum right at the City’s front door. Gradually, it became clear that Nuevo Amanecer would become a showcase, rather than a disgrace. The townhouse style buildings at Nuevo were nicely spaced. FHDC’s strategy of community organizing involved residents in the project’s management—setting and upholding community conduct standards--and provided support for families struggling with social problems. Calls for police intervention at Nuevo were a fraction of those at similarly sized apartment complexes in Woodburn. Nuevo won statewide and even national recognition. In 1999, FHDC would expand Nuevo, completing “phase two” which added 40 more units. City leaders seemed to be coming around to accepting FHDC, until the organization purchased a small parcel, three-quarters of an acre—across the street from City Hall in downtown Woodburn—to construct Esperanza Court, including offices and twelve apartment units. The property had been on the market for three years when FHDC bought it in August 1995; it was zoned for mixed use, including multi-family housing. Whatever credibility with City leaders which the better-than-expected track record at Nuevo Amanecer had developed seemed to vanish as they lashed out against FHDC and the Esperanza Court plan. Farmworker housing located across the street from City Hall, seemed as intolerable as Nuevo Amanecer on Newberg Highway. City leaders also, it seemed, had designs on the property, having become enamored of a vision to re-develop downtown as a tourist Mecca, including tours of “little Mexico” and train rides to Silverton and Silver Falls State Park. Esperanza Court clashed with that vision. Mayor Nancy Kirksey took up blocking Esperanza Court as a personal, as well as political crusade. I cannot now describe what transpired in the late summer and early fall of 1996 much more vividly than I did in the February, 1997 edition of PCUN Update:

From the outset, some opponents, including the Mayor, realized that openly opposing Esperanza Court because it would house farmworkers would be legally indefensible and perceived as racist. So, when the Mayor announced her opposition in the local paper, she cited three other reasons: “danger” to children posed by railroad tracks a block away [there’s a city park also adjacent the tracks and the Esperanza Court site], the project’s costs, and City Hall’s need for more parking. A committee was hastily formed to develop plans for a new community center (on the Esperanza Court site), even though the City had no funds for it and the existing community center is only four blocks away! FHDC began organizing grassroots support for Esperanza Court. 765 local residents signed petitions and downtown businesses wrote letters. Meanwhile, the City stalled Planning Commission consideration of the design plan; opponents plotted condemnation. PCUN assisted FHDC to mobilize farmworkers for the Commission hearings on August 8th and 22nd. Farmworkers overflowed the Council chambers at both hearings. Lacking any land use or zoning basis to deny approval, Commissioners nitpicked FHDC’s plan: they required two loading zone parking spaces, not one, for the modest office complex. Commission member and former Mayor Walt Lawson futilely begged the City Attorney to suggest a defensible reason to justify denial. With FHDC’s legal team in the front row, the Commission unwillingly voted approval. As he left City Hall, an opponent shouted “go home!” to the farmworkers gathered outside. “We are home,” they shouted back. The City Council suspended Planning Commission approval by scheduling their own hearing. The Council also authorized an “advisory” vote for November 5th on condemnation of the Esperanza Court site. Though the four-hour long Council hearing on October 15th should not have been necessary, it turned out to be one of the most important hearings ever held in Woodburn. Farmworkers again overflowed the chambers and about thirty testified. Some spoke of living in their cars or with relatives in overcrowded apartments. Former farmworker María Parra put the question bluntly to Councilors: “Think of where you’ll be going and where they’ll be going when this hearing ends tonight. Then ask yourself: ‘What’s more important: a new community center or housing for farmworkers?’”. Councilors’ pre-vote comments confirmed that none supported the project. They denounced inflexible land use rules and bemoaned the City’s failure to buy the site first. Then, citing duly to uphold the law and fulfill their Pledge of Allegiance, three voted ‘yes’, one voted ‘no’ and one abstained. On November 5th, voters dashed opponents’ last hope for

stopping Esperanza Court by defeating the advisory condemnation ballot measure and passing a state property tax rollback, gutting City funding. There are a few details and images not included in this narrative which still stand out nine years later. One is the Mayor recusing herself at the October 15th Council hearing and speaking from the floor in opposition to Esperanza Court. When the five minutes allotted for each speaker expired, she asked for, but did not receive, an additional five minutes in the name of her husband who was not present. Another is the comment of City Attorney Bob Shields, known for his cautious and carefully worded responses to Councilor questions, when a Council member asked him point-blank whether she could vote against the project: “You will be sued and you will lose.” As the hearing wound down, there emerged one faint sign of a different future for FHDC/City relations. Council President Dick Jennings, who had assumed control of the meeting after the Mayor had recused herself, seemed to acknowledge that the process generally, and the Mayor’s behavior specifically, was an embarrassment for Woodburn and its government. On October 4, 1997, Governor John Kitzhhaber joined a host of other dignitaries and community members at the Esperanza Court grand opening celebration. City Councilor (and future Mayor) Kathy Figley participated. In 1998, Jennings succeed Kirksey as Mayor and set about mending relations with FHDC and the Latino community. Two years later, as FHDC began organizing the capital campaign to build the third phase of Nuevo Amanecer—the Cipriano Ferrel Education Center—Mayor Jennings quickly and enthusiastically volunteered to help lead the local fundraising chaired by former Governor Roberts. At the Center’s groundbreaking on October 7, 2001, the Mayor joined in the shoveling. Seven weeks later, Mayor Jennings championed FHDC’s request that the City of Woodburn sponsor a proposal for $600,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the Center. The Council vote was unanimous and councilors couldn’t say enough good things about FHDC and the Center. The Council chambers looked exactly the same in 2001as they had in 1996, but almost everything about the politics that unfolded within them was completely different. On October 12, 2003, dignitaries and the community again gathered, this time led by Governor Ted Kulongoski, to dedicated the Cipriano Ferrel Education Center. An 8,600 square foot multi-purpose education facility, it is still FHDC’s “crown jewel”, physically, politically and financially. FHDC had raised more than

$1,500,000 to develop the Center, completing it on-time, on-budget and with no outstanding debt. It had taken just over ten years to make the Nuevo Amanecer envisioned in 1992 a reality. Along the way, a new political vision—and reality—had developed. Former Mayor Jennings and Mayor Kathy Figley had became regulars at the annual César Chávez Day celebration jointly organized by Voz Hispana, the Woodburn School District and co-sponsored by the City. The 2000 Census official confirmed that Latinos had become a majority in Woodburn. The 2001 legislative re-districting carved Woodburn out of its perennial rural-dominated district and placed it prominently in House District 22 together with Gervais and portions of Salem. In the 2004 general election, Democrat Betty Komp was elected by an eleven point margin to represent District 22, the first Democrat ever to represent Woodburn in the State House of Representatives. Woodburn’s state senator, Senate President Peter Courtney, is also a Democrat and a staunch ally of our movement. Compared with the “great leap forward” of the late 90’s, the step City Manager Brown took on March 17th does seem unremarkable. View in qualitative terms, though, its significance increases because it constituted the first time the City had asked. We had progressed from protestor to pariah to partner to player, pretty much on our own terms. Conclusion: How we understand and recognize what’s “historic” The calendar I buy every year still lists March 17th as St. Patrick’s Day. I’m certain that it will never be labeled “Political Shift in Woodburn Day”. In fact, had I not noticed and decided to write this narrative, March 17, 2005 would, at most and by a few, have been remembered for what happened at the School Board meeting. It’s not just the calendar printers who determine which historic dates deserve and receive recognition. We all have a role, however minute and passive. In Woodburn, our movement has had an historic and ongoing impact. Casting March 17, 2005 as historic in Woodburn, contributes to our process of individual and collective adjustment to the realities we are changing and that, in turn, are changing us. Everyone embraces the notion that change happens by doing. March 17th, I contend, is evidence that change also happens by measuring.