Courage coursed through the Keizer City Council chambers Monday, Sept. 28.
At the outset of a planned meeting on inclusivity and equity, only three of the dozen or more attendees planned to offer input. But, by the time the meeting adjourned, more than twice that number had taken a turn at the mircophone. Each speaker seemed to ignite a fire in the next as they implored the council to begin taking action on inclusion and dismantling inequity.
“Let's ask what we can do as a city. Then let’s do it. Let’s ask what we can do as Oregonians. Then let’s do it. Then we can ask what we can do as a country. And do it,” said Mike De Blasi, a longtime volunteer with the city and current city council candidate.
Resident Carol Doerfler drew on her years as manager of a nursing staff.
“You do not learn equity and equality overnight. It takes a long time, and it takes a long time to see the results,” Doerfler said. “In the meantime, we still have neighbors who are afraid and we need you as city councilors to say you are welcome here, you are supported here and you are safe here.”
Ramiro “RJ” Navarro also drew on personal experience. He said he was riding as a passenger in a vehicle when it was pulled over and while the driver spoke with a police officer, he began conversing with another passenger in Spanish. When a second officer approached the vehicle and asked the two men, in Spanish, to begin speaking in English because his partner couldn’t understand it, “It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Navarro said. “Because that officer could understand us.”
Navarro was somewhat reassured to learn that Keizer had been incentivizing bilingual language among all its employees for several years.
Navarro said an inclusivity resolution would help Keizer’s people of color feel more welcome when entering the Keizer Civic Center whether it was to pay a bill, participate in a meeting or even support local businesses.
Michele Roland- Schwartz, another candidate for the council, was the first of the non-scheduled speakers to step forward. Roland-Schwartz is executive director of the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force. She said her team’s work, assessing risk factors for physical violence, incurs some of the same gut responses the Black Lives Matter movement sparks in others. On more than one occasion, people have accused her and members of her team of being “manhaters.”
“When someone makes a rape joke, I need RJ to intervene, to be a bystander. When someone says something that is racist, I need Lisa to speak up and intervene. When someone says something homophobic I need one of you to step up and intervene,” Roland-Schwartz said. “(An inclusivity) resolution adopted by the city council makes us all bystanders and makes us responsible to intervene.”
Resident Carolyn Homan stepped to the mic and added, “an inclusivity resolution is a welcome mat and signals what goes on in the house.”
A third council candidate, Dylan Juran, said the city was also being called on to do more than adopt a resolution.
“We must be actively fostering a culture of anti-racism. We need to be looking for the past racist ideas that our systems were built on and actively seeking to improve them,” Juran said.
Resident Lisa Cejka rounded out the speakers for night.
“Words matter,” said Cejka. “Someone else tonight said The Declaration of Independence is just words. If you say it enough times that people are welcome here, they will feel welcome and they will do so much more for the community than you ever could ask of them. When people feel like they belong, they will go out of their way to do everything they can to fill a need because they feel good about their community and being part of it.”
Taken together, citizen speakers made the night feel like the beginning of a revolution, Keizer-style.