This Week's Curator: Damon Motz-Storey of Foster-Powell and the Portland Gay Men's Chorus
Damon Motz-Storey grew up Quaker in Denver, studied math, music, and education at Haverford College in Philadelphia, and then moved to Portland in 2016 to take a job with Physicians for Social Responsibility, which works to reframe climate change, environmental pollution, and militarism as human health issues. Damon lives in an environmental and social justice community house in Foster-Powell with 12 really cool humans, the majority of whom are queer and people of color. He sings Bass 2 in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus and attends Multnomah Friends Meeting, a Quaker congregation in SE Portland.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What are the ups and downs of it?
Foster-Powell is an amazing place. In this triangle, you can stroll through the food carts of the Portland Mercado, pick up an incredible banh mi at An Xuyen bakery, and survey an all-vegan selection of donuts at Doe Donuts. The abundance of. Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish, and Russian language materials at our Holgate branch of the Multnomah County Library offers a peek at the vibrant diversity of this neighborhood. The transit corridors of Powell Boulevard, Foster Road, and 82nd Avenue make it easy to get here but also have a high pollution impact on me and my neighbors. I worry about the threats of gentrification and corporatization of this beloved neighborhood full of small businesses and slightly more affordable-than-average Portland rent prices.
What are your favorite East Portland things to do and places to go?
There are so many small businesses doing awesome things here--steaming bowls of lovingly crafted Vietnamese pho and Chinese hotpot, $2 movies at the Academy Theater on Stark St., and down-to-earth bike shops that know so much more than YouTube will ever teach you. When guests come to town, I take them to Mt. Tabor Park and Rocky Butte to see the sights and historic reservoirs. When the weather’s warm, I like mountain biking on Powell Butte and picking blackberries on the Springwater Corridor. When the weekend comes, it’s time to take out the makeup and wigs for drag shows at Crush Bar and Night Light Lounge.
What do you think people don’t know about East Portland that they should know?
The narratives about Portland being the whitest big city in America are true, along with the deeply troubling racism (both past and present) of many of our city’s institutions. But we need to be careful not to forget or erase the incredible communities of people of color and immigrants here that are working hard to make Portland a more just, healthy, and sustainable place. East Portland is, in many ways, ground zero for the most innovative grassroots organizing for change in our city. Along one short stretch of SE 82nd Avenue, you can see the offices of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, OPAL Environmental Justice, and the under-construction Rose CDC affordable housing and community center space at SE Division St across from Portland Community College.
What do you think would be most helpful for people in East Portland?
We desperately need more affordable housing and improved transit infrastructure. Too many people in East Portland are waiting 2 hours and braving the cold to get to places on the bus. Wages are not keeping up with the cost of living here, so anything we can do to add living-wage jobs and affordable housing will make East Portland an even better place for people to pursue their dreams.
How do you think your Portland matches up with the Portland you’ve seen in media?
Foster-Powell borders and sometimes resembles the hipster playgrounds of inner SE Portland, but largely has avoided becoming the succulent-infused minimalist trend-follower that other parts of the city are portrayed as. My Portland also has a dirty secret: air pollution from dirty diesel trucks and equipment that ranks among the worst in the country despite our green reputation. As China refuses to take our recycling and as respiratory and neurological diseases increase in street pollution hotspots, we need to reckon with the fact that we’ve got work to do to live up to our green image.
What keeps you up at night worrying?
The interconnectedness of so many of our social and environmental issues: we only have 12 years to take action to avoid the most catastrophic climate change scenarios, and the people who are most impacted by climate change are the folks that are already experiencing discrimination and marginalization in our city. Homeless Portlanders can’t avoid being in the hot, smoky air from summer forest fires, and we’re long past due on providing more care and resources for helping people on the street get on their feet.
What gives you hope?
That there are so many passionate, dedicated advocates for deep, systemic improvements to our social and environmental infrastructure. The victories Portland has seen recently at the ballot, for example: passing an affordable housing bond and the Portland Clean Energy Initiative by wide margins and rejecting an anti-immigrant hate measure that would have increased racial profiling. We have won before and we can win again by coming together from every sector to build and mobilize for healthy communities and neighborhoods.
Why did you agree to participate in this project?
I want to share more stories of SE Portland beyond what gets featured all the time in the alt-weeklies and Oregonian/Tribune. For example, SW Harvey Milk street gets a lot of due credit for its gay and lesbian scene and history, but how many folks are familiar with the diverse and vibrant East Portland drag scene? What examples are there in East Portland for high-density community living to make cost of living more reasonable? What public health issues exist in East Portland that deserve more attention and creative problem-solving?
You can find Damon on Twitter at @DamonMotzStorey, on Instagram at @coolmotzstoreybro, and organizing around town and the state with Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (@OregonPSR, www.oregonpsr.org).