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28 Oregon businesses sign pledge not to donate to candidates stoking violence

Twenty-eight Oregon businesses and trade groups signed onto an open letter with a blanket condemnation of “political violence” in the state — and vowed to not give campaign money to public officials who condone it.

The one-page letter, unveiled at a meeting Tuesday by the Portland Business Alliance, is somewhat open to interpretation. It appears to be condemning violence across the political spectrum and does not specifically single out demonstrators on the political left or right.

The letter includes seven pledges taken by the 28 businesses and organizations, all of which have to do with denouncing bigotry and intolerance. The most notable among them was a promise to withhold campaign contributions for candidates who either explicitly support political violence or fail to condemn it among their supporters.

The letter was introduced by Eric Ward, the executive director of Western States Center, an advocacy organization that works to defend democracy. Ward has spoken out often about the danger of white nationalist and far-right groups who come to Portland in search of a fight.

But some business owners have also become increasingly distressed by demonstrators on the left who have continued to gather on Portland’s streets for the last year and half, often leaving a trail of broken windows and graffitied storefronts in their wake. The note appears to encompass this activity as well.

The authors wrote that Oregon’s tradition of “outspoken and civil discourse” had soured as “bigoted and anti-democratic” forces in the state have increasingly turned to violence.

“We believe that escalating political violence threatens to dismantle our democratic institutions,” the letter stated. “By coming together to denounce political violence, attacks on access to our democracy, and threats of violence, we can effectively counter bigoted and anti-democratic activity and recommit ourselves to building an inclusive democracy that reflects our shared values.”

Ward said in his remarks to Alliance members Tuesday that he was looking to build “a broad-based coalition” that could send a signal to local leaders that stoking political violence would not be tolerated.

“Look, we don’t have to agree on everything — but what we do agree on is violence and bigotry do not provide the necessary solutions to meet the challenges of Portland, Oregon.”

The note went on to condemn officials who supported the violence, though the group did not single out any specific individual.

“Elected officials who explicitly or subtly encourage this political violence should be held accountable. Anyone indulging conspiracy theories or engaging with movements that exploit bigotry to raise campaign dollars is complicit,” the authors wrote.

The most recent example of such behavior is former State Rep. Mike Nearman, a Republican lawmaker who was expelled from the state legislature this month for helping a group of far right-protesters barge into the Capitol, which was closed due to the pandemic. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has also been criticized for stoking political violence this spring by civil rights groups after he called on the public to “unmask” demonstrators who don themselves in black clothing and plan marches, demonstrations and property destruction in the city.

The Western States Center and the Portland Business Alliance, both of which spearheaded the letter, have historically been some of Wheeler’s most public supporters.

Representatives from the Western States Center and the Portland Business Alliance were not available Tuesday to comment on the letter.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Ellis