On this consequential election day, and at a perilous moment for our state and our nation, I want to share some thoughts on where we go from here. Early last Spring, in a letter I sent to several large Oregon foundations, I expressed concern about the health and integrity of our communities—a concern that economic stress, social isolation and prolonged uncertainty could tear apart the fabric of our society, and erode any sense of shared purpose.
Fortunately, those outcomes did not materialize, at least in the way I had feared, due in large part to the $484 billion relief package passed by Congress on April 24, which added another $321 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), pumping tens of millions of dollars into our state and local economies. This, coupled with a declining COVID infection rate this summer due to social distancing measures, brought a degree of temporary stability, and perhaps a false sense of security, to struggling individuals and businesses.
Supplemental unemployment benefits, however, expired in late July and PPP expired in early August. No additional relief has been forthcoming from a hopelessly divided Congress, even as millions of small businesses and the bottom quarter of our population are in free fall. The converging factors that can lead to the disintegration of communities are still present and, in some ways, have intensified—fanned by the divisive rhetoric of the national political debate.
The signs are all around us: ongoing protests and violence in downtown Portland, the specter of further restrictions on business activity as COVID cases surge, the incredible stress on parents, teachers and children from the necessity of learning at home. A generation of Oregon children who were at risk on January 1 of this year and have fallen even further behind; and an overdose death rate that increased by a shocking 70 % in April and May over the same period in 2019.
I am writing now because there is a very real chance that the outcome of today’s election will be contested, throwing our nation and our state into prolonged chaos and even greater uncertainty. I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong, but I think we must at least seriously consider the possibility. And even in the unlikely event that there is a clear winner with a mandate so strong that it precludes seriously contesting the outcome, there is no guarantee that a lame duck Congress will act to provide the relief and the leadership needed to climb back from the edge of the abyss. In either case, and particularly in the former, how do we hold the center and preserve some sense of common purpose here in Oregon?
I believe that part of the answer is to intentionally catalyze the voices of trusted local leaders in business, labor and philanthropy to help maintain calm and hope and a sense of belonging that will be needed to stabilize our communities in the months ahead. We could also actively engage the network of community-based problem-solving and delivery structures we have created over the years: watershed councils, regional solutions teams, early learning hubs and coordinated care organizations.
There are no quick solutions to the multiple challenges that beset us, but there are solutions. While some factors are beyond our control, others we can control and still more we can influence—but we cannot effectively control or influence anything if our communities are fractured beyond repair.
One thing that we can certainly control is how we choose to respond to what is going on around us. We don’t have to be Washington D.C. We don’t have to succumb to the endless parade of horrors trotted out by a 24-hour news cycle. We have a choice—partisanship is a choice and so is civility.
We need to remind ourselves that collectively we are better than what is going on around us. What we need right now is something to hold us together – something to believe in, something that transcends politics – a toehold, a beachhead, no matter how small, of civility and hope and the certainty that together we can weather this storm. We need to believe in ourselves and in each other, committed in common cause to preserve the fabric of the Oregon community as we move through this troubled time.