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This is about your dreams...
-Mayor Vera Katz

This gift may be savvy, but is also strikes us as just plain sweet. Nike is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and, in effect, it's invited all the kids of Portland to join the party...
-The Oregonian; June 24, 2002

What's this all about? Has the Rose City's best-known Scrooge (aka Phil Knight) repented? Has Phil recognized that his penurious ways have helped starve state and local governments - not to mention the people those governments serve?

Don't go pulling a Tiny Tim just yet. Our city leaders are genuflecting over the gift of shredded rubber. That's not a typo. Mayor Katz has gone ga-ga over $2.2 million worth of shredded rubber donated by the Nike Foundation. Of course, it isn't just any old pile of shredded rubber - the bouncy gift to our ailing park system is made from Nike athletic shoes.

That's right. The shoes that started as mere twinkles in the eyes of thousands of young Asian women working for Nike sweat shops - or contractors as Phil likes to call them - have traveled across the seas, covered the feet of countless American youth (at least those who can come up with a c-note), and will now cover 90 crumbling basketball courts in 30 of our city parks. Phil's gift is rubber basketball court mats, each one stylishly emblazoned with the Nike swoosh.

Of course, the mayor (and let's not forget Commissioner Francesconi, also on hand to remind folks it takes a village and apparently a whole bunch of shredded rubber to raise a child) wasn't about to rain on this well-orchestrated Nike public relations event by pointing out that $2.2 million in hard cash might have helped a whole lot more - particularly as the state faces an $800 million shortfall and our school district is slashing school days, increasing class sizes, and laying off custodians and other "non-essential" school staff. On the bright side, our kids can spend those cut school days playing b-ball on great new surfaces and even our laid-off school custodians might stay in shape by shooting hoops compliments of Phil.

This sort of thing is hardly new. Phil's gift of shredded footware is just the latest in the ever-popular "public-private partnerships" so popular with our elected officials. By letting corporations, that are making obscene profits from wealth created by Oregonians, offer up their cast-offs rather than pay their fair share of taxes, politicians can appear to be addressing our state's problems without jeopardizing the fat campaign contributions they receive from those same corporations. This morally bankrupt political careerism, of course, is slowly killing the body politic these "leaders" are sworn to protect and preserve. In lieu of much needed dollars for schools, roads, libraries, and other essential infrastructure, we receive cast-off computers, polluted real estate, or in Phil's case, shoes that can't even shod those Portlanders who don't have shoes on their feet (not to mention roofs over their heads).

Despite our elected leaders' penchant for them, there are no easy fixes or "win-win" situations here. These leaders have served as unwilling - and in some cases very willing - handmaidens to a grotesque transfer of wealth, a transfer that has left a small elite swollen like ticks with enormous wealth while millions are unable to make a decent living, have a decent home, or get adequate health care or an education. Now that they've allowed one redistribution of wealth to take place, it is time that they help us begin another - or get out of our way.

Taking back the wealth will not be easy. Too many elements of our progressive movement - like deer caught in the headlights - refuse to move on this issue, fearing that the leap into a fight for higher taxes will bring greater harm than waiting for the oncoming vehicle to strike. We need to start the hard work of bringing those elements onboard to a real campaign for tax justice. We need to convince them that the polling they cite to justify their inaction is a snapshot of how things are now, not what they could be if we actually go out and organize people. It will be a long, hard struggle, far better than standing by and watching yet another corporation be praised for dodging their obligation to the community.

In the meantime, maybe we should take the mayor at her word. Perhaps shredded rubber is truly a gift of value. And if she and others are willing to accept shredded shoes in lieu of corporate taxes, then why not for individual taxes, traffic tickets, and other fines, fees, and so forth? Let's get ahead of the curve on this exciting new form of revenue collection by sending our old athletic shoes to City Hall (there's no shortage of shredders there) with a note asking them to credit our tax accounts or to wipe out that outstanding parking ticket.

Hey, if it works for Phil...

-Dave Mazza

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