This week involved the final presentation of my thesis to the ENVS 160, the Intro course to the major. I compressed the presentation even further than I had for Festival of Scholars, cramming the essential parts of the thesis into 10 minutes. Overall, I’d say I succeeded, though I think that I probably present a more convincing and nuanced argument on paper than verbally presenting. That fact that my presentation was juxtaposed with Drew’s much more positive interpretation of municipal investment in light rail interestingly emphasized the diversity of methods and importance of context within Environmental Studies, though I am worried that it may have left people with a reductionist message about Portland failing and Strasbourg succeeding—one of the 160 students approached me afterward to say that I bet I wished that Portland had Strasbourg’s tram system.
Over, my thesis is essentially done, with the only things left being more or less revisions of this subsite (mostly focused on turning the unwieldy methods/regression section into something more approachable), administrative verification of school records, and final copy edits of the paper. Coursework seems to abhor a vacuum, though, and I’ve hardly had idle time to kill. I did a bunch of work for my final paper for City and Society—an analysis of a local organization working on urban issues and its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, using the course material/theories. I chose to volunteer with and examine the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), a tenants union working to educate renters of their rights, organize communities/buildings, and lobby for legislative/political reform. It’s been an interesting capstone of the capstone, providing a way to see how the critique of the land community logic that I advance in my thesis is materially advanced by urban nonprofits.
I phone banked for CAT for several hours, calling people on CAT’s contact list to get them to call their legislators in support of HB 2004, a statewide bill to ban no-cause evictions and allow local governments to enact rent stabilization measures. I also researched CAT’s campaigns over the past few years through a variety of social media and news sources. While I’m very sympathetic to CAT’s aims and it has appeared to be successful in forcing some material reforms in Portland governance, I can’t exactly resist the academic urge to critique. I actually found myself thinking of Steinberg’s Who Rules The Earth? quite frequently when thinking through how to interpret CAT. Its work is commendable, but it works within a very fragmented nonprofit network and it has a strikingly idealistic sense of the proper realm of action. In terms of its political reforms, CAT is too small to act as an alternative power institution itself, so its methods for shaping rules around housing provision are ad hoc in nature. CAT will come together with OPAL, APANO, the Oregon Opportunity Network, the Urban League, and Living Cully on a recurring basis for the purpose of winning a campaign, setting up a logo, website, name, and identity for that campaign—all of which falls away following victory, even when that “victory” consists merely of getting their discourse accepted as part of the official planning language. They have thus far been unable to realize (or progress towards) their ultimate goal of creating new, social modes of land ownership.