Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Every day she chalks ‘Black Lives Matter’ in a bike lane, and every day someone erases it

Posted by on August 25th, 2017 at 10:15 am

Chalk on NW 2nd Avenue bike lane in Old Town.
(Photos: Maria Cahill)

Maria Cahill has taken her fight against racism to a bike lane in Old Town. As an organizer with Irene’s Circle, a nonprofit that supports families impacted by police violence and hate crimes, it’s just one of the ways she exercises her commitment to justice.

Every day for nearly a month now, Cahill has chalked a message into the protected bike lane on NW 2nd Avenue right outside the Japanese American History Museum. Sometimes she’ll write, “All lives will matter when Black Lives Matter” and other times simply, “Black Lives Matter.”

Portlander John Russell leads free walking tours in downtown Portland. He has seen the chalked message many times — and he’s also noticed that it gets washed away each time. “Who cleans it off each day?” he wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. “A white guy who works for Portland’s Downtown Clean and Safe crew goes out of his way to clean it off. He doesn’t bother with other chalk in the neighborhood. Just this one.”

Downtown Clean & Safe is a private nonprofit that is partially funded by the City of Portland. They also contract with the Portland Business Alliance to provide a variety of cleaning and security services in the downtown retail district. I reached out to the director of Clean & Safe for comment but have yet to hear back.

Advertisement

(Photo: John Russell)

“The fact that it keeps being removed is why I keep putting it back right there as my once a day practice.”
— Maria Cahill, Irene’s Circle

For her part, Cahill sees this as just another example of why the work she does is so needed in Portland.

Reached for comment this morning, Cahill told me she’s been chalking “Black Lives Matter” and the names of people killed by police since May. As part of an organized campaign, Cahill and volunteers with Irene’s Circle chalk names of Oregonians of all races killed by police outside the downtown courthouse to target the District Attorney’s offices.

“This particular round of chalking was inspired by my experience attending the MAX stabbing vigil where someone chalked ‘All Lives Matter’,” Cahill shared. “While I can understand why someone would think this, because any compassionate person would recognize that they do, I felt that I needed to chalk Black Lives Matter once a day somewhere in Portland.” She usually chalks on the sidewalk but does this one in the bike lane so it will catch the eye of people riding.

Cahill rides through this bike lane on her way to work nearby will sometimes go back twice-a-day to refresh it. She’s re-chalked it in that same spot about 20 times so far. “The fact that it keeps being removed is why I keep putting it back right there as my once a day practice.”

In comments on the thread started by John Russell on Facebook yesterday, Cahill said she wants to organize a bike ride against racism. A ride that might coincide with the monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, a young black man shot and killed by a Portland Police officer in 2010. Beyond that, Cahill’s considering a chalk-a-thon event in Clean & Safe’s dowtown district. “I’ll buy the chalk,” she says, “I’m totally serious.” If you’d like to help with either event, contact Cahill via email at justice@Irenescircle.org.

UPDATE, 3:12pm: Laura Recko, director of communications for Portland Business Alliance, has provided this statement:

Downtown Clean & Safe’s Homeless-to-Work Program, in partnership with the nonprofit Central City Concern, offers training and mentorship opportunities to workers that are formerly homeless or have other barriers to employment. For more than 20 years, these individuals have provided cleaning services including sidewalk sweeping, graffiti removal, litter and cigarette removal, and pressure washing services in the 213-block business improvement district. In July 2017 alone, cleaning crews removed nearly 4,400 graffiti tags within the district. Crews remove all graffiti, as defined by city code, regardless of content.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

138
Leave a Reply

avatar
28 Comment threads
110 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
49 Comment authors
Hello, KittyMaria CahillGlennMr. Know It AllAdam Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Racer X
Guest
Racer X

A quick spray of clear coat on a dry Saturday may help give it a bit longer lifespan…

rick
Guest
rick

Get a permit ?

Maddy
Guest
Maddy

I shot them an email to inquire about the specific targeting of this chalking. A few more calls and emails may be hard to ignore.

Phone: 503.224.8684

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Future PBA Press Release: ” We clean off this radical graffiti because it might scare the tourists on the way back to their cars after picking up some donuts nearby.”

Adam
Subscriber

I ride my this chalk message every day. I had no idea the person doing it was re-drawing it every day. Keep it up! 🙂

patrickz
Guest
patrickz

RE: “…radical grafitti” —(should be “grafitto”, singular)— by that thinking even prayers would be “radical”…

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

This will be moot in about 4 weeks when the rain comes back.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

The executive director is a retired officer. Their board is stacked with business owners and land developers. Amazing what passes for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in this country, but this is just one example.

Here is “Clean & Safe Inc’s” 2014 tax return for anyone with a free Guidestar account – http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2015/930/923/2015-930923476-0c32a757-9.pdf

Maybe “safe” means no signs of resistance to white ideals?

Grafitti is certainly in their “mission” but focusing on messages like this rather than all grafitti equally is pretty rascist.

Their “district” as shown on their website can be easily avoided.

nb
Guest
nb

Clean and Safe’s contact form is here: http://cleanandsafepdx.com/about/contact-us.html

Chezz
Guest
Chezz

How do we help Irene with her effort?

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Just wait until it is a message you don’t agree with.

RH
Guest
RH

What’s this got to do with cycling? Is is because the chalk is in a bike lane?!

Justin
Guest
Justin

Can I just say that Clean and Safe do a really amazing job at working to keep Old Town streets looking nice? The homeless population there can generate a lot of trash including used hypodermic needles and other hazardous material that wouldn’t get cleaned up otherwise. I’d be interested in finding out more about this situation that’s been described here, and the motivations of the person who is erasing the chalk, but I am personally very grateful for the organization in general and all they do.

X
Guest
X

Well their office is in that neighborhood, so likely they would start nearby and see it early in day? –nobody has reported C & S actually doing this.

Why chalk a bike lane anyway? Sort of preaching to choir. On average.

SE
Guest
SE

would this story be on BP if she was doing it on the sidewalk ?

Maria Cahill
Guest

Love so much of this discussion. Thank you for engaging in the conversation.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Laura Recko from the Portland Business Association’s response to this sounds about as tone deaf as I would expect from the PBA.

*eyeroll*

M. Yawa
Guest
M. Yawa

It’s free speech, or should be, to write black lives matter or anything in chalk on a bike path or anywhere. It’s also free speech to erase it. That said black lives matter is an inherently racist statement. It’s pure pride/tribalism and is 100% based in ego, which we should all be getting away from if peace is ever going to happen. Black lives matter movement is the wrong execution of good intention. It only reinforces the concept of race and the ego based trappings of pride and tribalism that created racism in the first place. Race, especially based on skin color has no basis in science or rational thought. Race is a mental construct invented by tribalistic people to oppress others. Race as identification and self identification is purely ego-based and should be let go and forgotten about. More tribalism will only make it worse. Let go of the self and the ego, let go of the pride and racial identity. If we meditate on the essence of our being, we find we are far more than our skin color. If every one of us eliminates race as self identity we can eliminate it as a source of prejudice.

Maria Cahill
Guest

Thank you for expressing your opinion. Yes, race is a mental construct. It’s also a social construct and racism is “baked into” our institutions while it parades as “logic” or “compassion”. Many other things you say here are true.

On the other hand, in trainings on equity, diversity, and inclusion, I’ve heard from leaders and trainers that we’ve tried to “not see color” and this doesn’t allow us to see the differences that need to be accommodated to have a truly multicultural community. Instead, we refuse to see differences and require everyone to live up to a single, mainstream standard. When we don’t happen to comform to the standard (e.g. being Muslim instead of Christian) or can’t conform to the standard because of something out of our control like skin color (e.g. being a Black person instead of a White person), then we’re less likely to be given the tools we need to be successful (i.e. to have an equitable society).

I’ve been a part of this movement for about 2.5 years and feel like I know at least a little about what it is and what it isn’t.

It’s a movement with compassionate leaders. Here’s their statement on the Dallas police shootings last year, calling them a tragedy: http://blacklivesmatter.com/the-black-lives-matter-network-advocates-for-dignity-justice-and-respect/

It’s an inclusive movement. Here’s the leaders’ statement on DAPL:
http://blacklivesmatter.com/solidarity-with-standing-rock/

To say Black Lives Matter is not to say that other lives don’t matter, as you can see from the statement about police shootings. It doesn’t say Only Black Lives Matter. To chalk Black Lives Matter is to recognize the very real disparities that Black people experience as a result of individual and institutional racism that they experience everyday. Those structural inequalities won’t go away until we’re willing to see and name the differences between us. The first page of this handout is a snapshot of racism in Oregon and you can see the disparities between Black people and White people quite clearly: http://greengirlpdx.com/BLM/SURJBLMhandout2016.pdf

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Right-on! Way to go chalk lady!

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Tempest in a teacup.

Tommy Chong
Guest
Tommy Chong

Wow what heroes writing cute little messages in chalk. This will fix everything.

SE
Guest
SE

OKAY , I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here a bit ( and am NOT advocating this action).

IF someone goes a little further (20-30 feet) past your message and then in chalk writes
“NO” or “THEY DON’T” or something similar , does Maria C. get incensed ? Does she go erase that message or laugh it off ??

IE: Is the message only permitted IF you agree with the content ?. *NOTE = “NO” or “THEY DON’T” did NOT refer specifically to the first chalk message (only by location).

Bike Curious
Guest
Bike Curious

The people who the black lives matter message is aimed at, don’t get it.

Perhaps the message could use some tweaking?

Carrie
Subscriber

Thank you for writing this article Jonathan. It’s important to bring things like this to the attention of all of us. On a similar theme, the statue of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville gets covered with black cloth by the city every morning and every night someone rips it off. For the past two weeks. That’s not being covered by most media, so again thank you for covering this event!

Maria Cahill
Guest

The chalk was still there today (8/28) in the afternoon. Amazing what just a little bit of attention will do. We’ll see if it lasts…

Thanks everybody, for a great discussion!

V
Guest
V

Reading these comments just after reading the Mercury article about people of color leaving Portland is jarring. The critique in the Merc article (Thanks JM for linking) is that Portland has a problem with denying that there is racism in our city. Then folks provide some clear, written examples denying racism exists.

I’m glad Bikeportland runs these articles.