By Jesse Beason
One Saturday morning in February, right before gymnastics class, Caprina Harris ended reality for her granddaughter as she knew it: Barack Obama, she told her, would not be president forever.
The video of her granddaughter’s distraught and emotional reaction is endearing—in the way that adults often regard kids crying over “silly” things is. But I join her in that sense of loss. And behind it, I see more than just the loss of Barack.
I see its root in the fact that we simply don’t see very many elected officials that reflect our everyday experience as people of color. Often, we just see Barack. The one. The only. Our only.
Perhaps this lack of a reflective democracy is not surprising. We go to school learning of a political history without heroes who share our skin color, our sexual orientation or our gender identity. We see how politics dismisses our concerns, and politicians knock only when they need our vote. We note the absence of our neighbors, friends and community members on our school boards, city councils, and so many other decision-making tables. We internalize “our proper place” as away from these seats of power in all kinds of ways.
And it plays out in Oregon.
In this state one in four adults, and four out of ten children, are of color. At least 93 percent of our elected officials, however, are not. That’s neither progress or democracy.
It’s not enough that citizens of all races can vote—every Oregonian must also have equal access to lead. This belief is what inspired a group of us to create Color PAC, where we have a primary focus: to elect more progressive people of color to all levels of office while changing how campaigns are run and who runs them.
We have a vision of our elected officials at all levels reflecting the diverse voices and communities of Oregon. We have a vision of campaigns run and won by putting conversations above commercials, and knocking on all doors, regardless who lives there. We have a vision that our elected officials and voters, regardless of color, support policies that advance equity.
We are building an organization to help progressive people of color participate in elections, from consideration to inspiration to perspiration—and to support them once they’re elected.
This election, we have reason for optimism. More people of color, including LGBT leaders and allies, are running for state legislature than in any election folks can remember. If they all prevail in November, our legislature will welcome seven new state representatives and one senator from Oregon’s diverse communities. This doesn’t even include the many others running for city councils and county commissions in rural, suburban and urban areas.
Whether it’s race, ethnicity, gender or orientation, we’re strongest when our elected leadership reflects the full range of talent and lived experience that our state has to offer. That’s the Oregon—and America—that I believe in. And it’s the one I’m willing to work for.
Jesse is a founder and board member of ColorPAC, which exists to endorse, invest and support progressive candidates, regardless of party, as well as advancing racial equity and correcting social and economic inequities experienced by communities of color.