By Melissa Hellmann
During a city council meeting last December, Quintero was one of several Portland residents who testified in favor of the city divesting from two corporations, in particular: Wells Fargo, for its financing of the for-profit prison operators CoreCivic and GEO Group; and Caterpillar, the construction equipment maker that provides bulldozers to the Israeli government. President Trump has also said that he will rely on Caterpillar to build a border wall with Mexico.
â€œThat was something that affected me,â€ Quintero said. Like many other immigrants in Portland, he was frustrated with the cityâ€™s investments in corporations that he said take advantage of vulnerable communities. He felt that went against the spirit of the Portlandâ€™s official status as a â€œsanctuary city,â€ which is one with policies that limit local law enforcementâ€™s cooperation with federal immigration officials.
The Portland City Council voted to halt all new investments in corporations.
An April 5 vote exceeded Quinteroâ€™s expectations. Through pressure from a coalition of grassroots organizations, the Portland City Council voted to halt all new investments in corporationsâ€”not just Wells Fargo and Caterpillar. The unanimous vote made Portland the first major U.S. city that has promised to end new investments in corporate securitiesâ€”debts that are repaid to the city with interest. For now, Portland will continue investing in its current corporate securities, but will not renew them when the final one matures in 2019. Instead, Portland will invest in non-corporate options like U.S. government bonds, and is in talks of creating a municipal bank.Â The cityâ€™s investments total over $1.7 billion, and about one-third of that is in corporations.
But ceasing investment in corporate securities will come at a price. Jen Clodius, Portland Office of Management and Finance spokeswoman, says that the city will likely lose $4.5 million in revenue a year.
â€œOregon has been a sanctuary state for more than 50 years. So weâ€™re constantly trying to be responsible neighbors and invest wisely,â€ Clodius said. â€œBut by the same token, we also want to have general funds available so that the city can operate, so that we have money to put into infrastructure, fixing potholes, and supporting homeless shelters.â€
The commissionersâ€™ decision came, in part, from wanting to save time spent on analyzing individual companiesâ€™ social responsibility. But activists say the driving force was a coalition of grassroots groups representing marginalized communities and divestment campaigns. Those who testified at city council meetings said that they didnâ€™t want tax money to go toward companies that fund the Dakota Access pipeline, private prison corporations, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They didnâ€™t want tax money to go toward companies that fund the Dakota Access pipeline.
The coalition originated from a comprehensive framework called the Freedom Cities movement that came out of the New York Worker Center Federation, which is a multiracial coalition of immigrants and workers that strive to build worker-led movements. Following the 2016 election, federation members met to brainstorm what cities needed to be more safe and welcoming for Muslims, black people, and immigrants. Their ideas included economic justice, workers rights, divestment from militarized policing, and investment in communities.
Enlace, an international alliance of organizations that works for racial and economic justice, and a co-convener of the New York Worker Center Federation, spearheaded a Portland Freedom Cities campaign by coalescing over 25 grassroots social, economic, and racial justice organizations. Their demands focused on divestment from companies that they said backed human rights abuses.
Throughout the years, the organizations in the coalition have won piecemeal victories, like pushing Portland to create a socially responsible investment policy. But they felt that it wasnâ€™t enough. Following a national movement to divest from Wells Fargo, the coalition convinced the city council to temporarily stop investing in all corporations last December.
â€œI think with that city council was perhaps hoping that we would just go away,â€ said Jamie Trinkle, Enlaceâ€™s senior campaign and research coordinator. But the coalition held community forums, circulated petitions, and asked immigrants and people of color to testify against corporations that they said were destroying and exploiting their communities, like Wells Fargo and Caterpillar. â€œWe were able to come back at the end of that temporary period and show really strong resistance and deep connection among all of our issues,â€ she added.
Hyung Kyu Nam, a member of the committee that ensured the city was investing in socially responsible companies, said that the vote is significant because Portland was willing to lose money. â€œIt sends a message that despite what theyâ€™re trying do at the federal level, that people getting involved in policy at the local level … can take back control and resist.â€ Since the vote, Nam has become involved in creating a municipal public bank in Portland.
Quintero hopes that Portlandâ€™s vote to end new corporate investments will be the first of many policies that make life easier for immigrants. He hopes that others will be granted a pathway to citizenship like he was.Â If nothing else, he says, the vote sends a message to the Trump administration that if â€œyou want our money, you have to treat us well.â€Î¦
MelissaÂ Hellmann wrote this article forÂ YES! Magazine.Â Melissa is the YES! Surdna reporting fellow and graduate of U.C. Berkeleyâ€™s Graduate School of Journalism. She has written for the Associated Press, TIME, The Christian Science Monitor, NPR, Time Out, and SF Weekly. Follow her on TwitterÂ @M_HellmannÂ or email her atÂ Melissa@yesmagazine.org. This article appeared first in Yes! Magazine on May 5th.