Ah, the community organizers:
Trader Joe’s wanted to build a new store in Portland, Oregon. Instead of heading to a tony neighborhood downtown or towards the suburbs, the popular West Coast grocer chose a struggling area of Northeast Portland.
The company selected two acres along Martin Luther King Blvd. that had been vacant for decades. It seemed like the perfect place to create jobs, improve customer options and beautify the neighborhood. City officials, the business community, and residents all seemed thrilled with the plan. Then some community organizers caught wind of it.
The fact that most members of the Portland African-American Leadership Forum didn’t live in the neighborhood was beside the point. “This is a people’s movement for African-Americans and other communities, for self-determination,” member Avel Gordly said in a press conference. Even the NAACP piled on, railing against the project as a “case study in gentrification.” (The area is about 25 percent African-American.)
After a few months of racially tinged accusations and angry demands, Trader Joe’s decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. “We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple,” a corporate statement said. “If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question.”
Hours after Trader Joe’s pulled out, PAALF leaders arrived at a previously scheduled press conference trying to process what just happened. The group re-issued demands that the now-cancelled development include affordable housing, mandated jobs based on race, and a small-business slush fund. Instead, the only demand being met is two fallow acres and a lot of anger from the people who actually live nearby.
“All of my neighbors were excited to have Trader Joe’s come here and replace a lot that has always been empty,” said Nghi Tran. “It’s good quality for poor men.” Like many residents, Tran pins the blame on PAALF. “They don’t come to the neighborhood cleanups,” he said. “They don’t live here anymore.”
“There are no winners today,” said Adam Milne, owner of an area restaurant. “Only missed tax revenue, lost jobs, less foot traffic, an empty lot and a boulevard still struggling to support its local small businesses.” The store was to be built by a local African American-owned construction company.
Instead of a new development bringing shoppers and jobs, they have an empty lot. That’s what the community organizers do. Bringing money to the neighborhood if of no use to them if they can’t control where it goes. “You can’t bring jobs here unless you let me wet my beak a little.”
If a development’s projected profitability is large enough, maybe the developers will pay protection. If it’s marginal, they won’t. And here’s the thing: in a struggling neighborhood, every potential developments is marginal! Places like northeast Portland are never going to get ahead while they let self-interested community organizers speak for them.