While some Portlanders ride bikes and walk around their neighborhoods with relative ease, that ostensibly simple act isn’t so easy for many others. Local nonprofit leaders who work with immigrants, people of color, and families that rely on social services, paint a much different picture of neighborhood mobility.
In the case of Oregon Walks, Executive Director Jess Thompson said in a recent member newsletter that many people they serve, “Are not feeling safe leaving home during the pandemic.” “Too many folks do not have enough (or any) access to face coverings or reliable information about how to walk ‘Covid-aware’ and more safely when they walk out the door.”
Think about that the next time you head outside for a run or a bike ride: There are people who feel trapped inside their homes because of fear of the virus, fear of authorities, fear of the unknown.
To help ease anxieties, Oregon Walks has created “walking kits” they’ll distribute via partners in food boxes, at health clinics, and homeless shelters. According to Thompson, each kit has a face covering, safety light, literature on public health and walking safety guidelines, and links to local services and resources.
“They’re struggling with economic fallout and don’t want to engage on this topic because we’re trying to survive.”
— Duncan Hwang, APANO
Duncan Hwang is associate director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and transportation justice is one of his priority policy areas.
I spoke to Hwang earlier this month. While we hosted a debate about open streets and pushed the city to move forward with them, Hwang said the community he serves was reeling. Unemployment, xenophobia directed at Asian-owned businesses, health fears, the digital divide that impacts families with schoolkids and adults who don’t have reliable access to news and other information — those are the issues faced by many Portlanders whose voices are underrepresented here and in other local media outlets.
“No one’s really going anywhere, so it’s hard to have transportation conversations,” Hwang said when I asked him for his thoughts on open streets. “Vulnerable communities are suffering right now, they’re struggling with economic fallout and don’t want to engage on this topic because we’re trying to survive.”
“No walking kit can erase the terrorism white supremacy culture inflicts.”
— Jess Thompson, Oregon Walks
For Oregon Walks, Jess Thompson says the murder of Ahmaud Arbery helped crystalize their mission. “[News of his murder] shook us to the core,” Thompson wrote in a newsletter this week. “It was a stark organizational reminder that no walking kit can erase the terrorism white supremacy culture inflicts. This, along with the anti-Asian racism many of our community members are experiencing in the public right of way, give us deep pause as an organization and make us more committed than ever to engage mainstream active transportation professionals and public planners in expanding the focus of our work to create a more broad understanding of ‘safety’.”
For Thompson, safety isn’t just about infrastructure or lower speed limits or sidewalks. “Safety is uprooting white supremacy culture that permeates every system in the US.”
Thompson says Oregon Walks is planning a series of virtual conversations in late June dubbed “Talk the Walk, Walk the Talk” that will be about equity and safety in the public right-of-way. If you’d like to get involved contact her at jess@oregonwalks[dot]org.
CORRECTION: I regret that I didn’t accurately relay Jess Thompson’s statement. It’s important to note she wrote in her newsletter that safety is not just about infrastructure. I unintentionally left out the “just” part and that omits a very important nuance. I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding my mistake caused.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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