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Advocates come together at The Street Trust’s Alice Awards benefit gala


Only when most people arrived by bike could you have a parking area that actually contributes to the pre-event mingling.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“The Alice Awards are cool again,” said an attendee at Friday night’s Alice Awards gala hosted by The Street Trust.

This year’s Alice Award winners: William Henderson and Leah Benson.

The annual gathering has been a staple for many years; a date circled on the calendar of agency staffers, activists, electeds, industry leaders, and civic do-gooders. But there have been times in recent years when the event seemed to have lost its mojo. It started when the pendulum swung too far away from honoring advocates and too close to raising money. Small decisions like announcing winners weeks before the event in hopes it would lead to more ticket sales (if you know you’re going to win you want to make sure your friends/family are there to see it right?); not allowing winners to make speeches; and an overwhelming number of auction items (and the time — and blaring auctioneer — needed to sell them all), sapped the fun away.

But something felt different on Friday. Maybe it was the venue; an open and airy warehouse in the northwest industrial district with a large outdoor space that was perfect for pre-event mingling. Maybe it was the more casual foodservice; all-you-can-eat small plates available in themed stations crafted by (friend of the blog) Spin Events and Catering. Or maybe it was all the new faces at The Street Trust; the 13-person staff is 100% new compared to just a few short years ago.

Whatever the reason, I’m here for it.

Our transportation advocacy ecosystem desperately needs a large, well-funded and entrenched nonprofit that can flex muscle at the local, regional, and statewide level. The Street Trust is the natural fit for that role and the better job they do at it, the healthier our ecosystem will be.

The Alice Awards has always been a proving ground of sorts for local politicians. They have a chance to rub shoulders and grab the ear of some of the most dedicated advocates in the region. On that note, it was notable that the role of emcee for the night was taken up by Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson (I can’t ever recall an elected official having this role at the event). A former state legislator, Pederson has been popping up everywhere lately and has thrust herself into her role as the County’s go-to elected official for all things transportation. And people have noticed. When recognized by The Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler, chants of “JVP! JVP! JVP!” rang out.

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Pederson was one of just several electeds in the room on Friday. She was joined by: Portland City Council Candidate JoAnn Hardesty, Metro President-elect Lynn Peterson, Metro councilors Bob Stacey and Kathryn Harrington (who’s running for Washington County Chair), Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and her Chief of Staff Marshall Runkel, former City Commissioner Steve Novick, Beaverton City Councilor Marc San Soucie, and Congressman Earl Bluemenauer’s District Director Tara Sulzen.

The Street Trust ED Jillian Detweiler with Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson in the background.

We need these folks in the room. Nonprofits that work on other issues have gala fundraisers too. If we don’t, it’d be that much easier for powerful policymakers to forget about us. If these electeds don’t respect (and fear, to some extent) The Street Trust and the rest of us around this table, they won’t be willing to shoulder the political risk needed to change the transportation status quo.

In her remarks, The Street Trust’s Jillian Detweiler asked the crowd to consider what things would be like without her organization. “If there was no Street Trust,” she said, “the movement to make walking, biking and transit safe and convenient would not have a persistent, credible, principled voice making a difference in policies and projects small and large.” Detweiler used the words “active”, “fierce”, and “inclusive” to describe the type of work it will take for The Street Trust to, “achieve the future we want.”

Detweiler named three main priorities her organization plans to focus on in the coming year: Metro’s 2020 transportation bond (via the Getting Together Coalition), the City of Portland’s Enhanced Transit Corridors (which she calls the “Get buses out of traffic now!” plan), and Vision Zero.

But enough about politicians and professional advocates. At their core, the Alice Awards is about volunteer activists who go the extra mile. This year that honor belonged to Gladys Bikes owner and founder Leah Benson and the co-founder of Ride Report, William Henderson.

In her acceptance speech, Benson said the responsibility to serve women, trans, and non-binary people belongs to all of us, not just niche businesses like hers. For Benson, it’s all about bringing new people into the fold. “It’s important for all of us to take advantage of our resources, power, access, and privilege to bring new people to the table.”

Henderson also spoke of using what he has (“time, treasure, and resources”) to do more for the community. He left the audience with a call-to-action. “Ask this question about yourselves: What more can I do?… The capacity to give in this room — not just money — is enormous. Maybe even infinite.”

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

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