Organizers to talk next steps after dismantling of Clackamas County equity office at upcoming Lake Oswego event

Leaders within local diversity organizations see a gaping void left by the dismantling of the Clackamas County Equity and Inclusion Office.

With that in mind, they’re hoping to work more collaboratively to counteract the impacts of the elimination of the office and ramp up their own efforts to foster more inclusivity. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners voted to kill the county’s equity and inclusion office and reassign its staff members in January.

The local diversity groups — Respond to Racism, the Clackamas County Equity Coalition and Showing Up for Racial Justice — will begin this process with an event titled Envisioning After Dismantling — The Past, President and Future of DEI in Clackamas County at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at the Lake Oswego United Church of Christ. Beyond the three organizing groups, the event will also include booths where attendees can learn about other grassroots organizations with similar aims.

“This dismantling sends a message that this county isn’t that welcoming, so we have to counteract that by getting together as very grassroots organizations, get organized and build community,” said Nancy Slavin, an organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice.

Clackamas County administrator Gary Schmidt, with the support of commissioners, released a plan last year to restructure programming in the county including eliminating the Equity and Inclusion Office. Pamplin Media Group reported earlier this month that former office employees who were moved to other departments will have altered job titles that remove references to equity and inclusion.

Slavin said that even though the employees who worked in the equity office were retained, the lack of a centralized space for this work means people will be less aware of county happenings and may be more reticent to engage with the local government.

“They have a lot of power and they are choosing to use their power from the place of their own understanding without talking to most of us who have been working around and with former members of the office of equity and inclusion. I’m so concerned that people who are being impacted by inequities will not come forward, not tell their stories and will feel this isn’t a safe county for them,” Slavin said.

“It makes me really sad when commissioners have said they think the work we are doing around DEI is divisive. It’s the opposite of that.”

Respond to Racism leader Bruce Poinsette said talks about closer collaboration amongst DEI groups in the county came about following the announcement of the office’s dissolution. He said these groups are currently too siloed and now seeking to build collective power.

“I put this decision in the same category as fights around critical race theory, gender-neutral bathrooms. These are different fronts of attacks on marginalized communities and underserved communities,” Poinsette said. “It’s an uphill fight to raise awareness. We hope this is an opportunity to bring a lot of people who do this work together.”

The event will include discussion about some of the resources the equity office provided and the process that led to the dissolution of the office, as well as a discussion on the future of DEI in the county.


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