Since the 2018 midterms, one message has been clear: politicians are ready to shake up and disrupt the status-quo. Our current government systems aren’t representing all constituents and change at all levels is desperately needed. It’s clear that the current system needs a redesign to create a more inclusive civic space on all levels. Portland’s very own Jo Ann Hardesty has been making waves at the local level since taking office in January.
As the first Black woman to be elected to Portland’s City Council, Hardesty has already made history. She decided to run for City Council after realizing that only a handful of very specific voices were, and are, being heard in City Hall. In a city that can come across as very homogenous, Hardesty is looking to create an opportunity for historically silenced voices to be heard. Prior to her election, she’s also been a state legislator, a former president of NAACP’s Portland branch, and a leader in the city’s activist community.
Hardesty currently oversees four bureaus: Portland Fire and Rescue, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications, and the Fire and Police Disability & Retirement Fund – ultimately granting her authority over a majority of public safety issues. She’s looking to utilize her position to push for criminal justice reform, create better support systems for those experiencing mental health crises, and advocate for police accountability.
Only two weeks into the job, Hardesty did not hesitate to disrupt the disruptive. After a handful of folks interrupted her first council meeting, she was quick to release a statement: “I am concerned about how privilege, and, specifically, white male privilege is limiting the public’s access to City Hall. These disruptions create a chilling effect on people who are unaccustomed to coming to our City Hall to have their voices heard.” While the statement didn’t sit well with a select audience of white men, Hardesty proved to the public early on in her career as Commissioner that she is ready and willing to hold individuals accountable for their actions. This accountability will be what propels a redesigned, inclusive civic space forward.
In addition to her civil advocacy, she has a track record as an environmental activist. Before her run for Commissioner, she was one of the original sponsors of the Portland Clean Energy Fund – a campaign led by a coalition of community-based organizations such as the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, the Coalition of Communities of Color, the NAACP Portland, and more Money raised from the fund will support renewable energy, energy efficiency, green agriculture, and job training. A majority of the funding will be dedicated to programs targeting low-income residents and people of color. In February, Portland City Council took the first formal steps to transform the fund into reality.
In a time of political turmoil, we’re looking to the ones who are unabashedly redesigning our current socio-political systems or creating new ones that can support people who have historically been excluded. Hardesty demonstrates what is possible when disruption redesigns inclusion in the civic space.