While covering events (see here and here) in Portland, Ore., National Review writer Luther Abel sat down with Joanna — a college-educated, stay-at-home mom and now Trump voter — who feels it is no longer safe or healthy to live there. They discussed the change that has happened in the city politically, the ineffective governance, and the continued degradation of the city she and her family love.
Luther Abel: What brought you to Portland and why did you stay?
Joanna: I grew up in Salem, Ore., just an hour south of here, and went to College at Western Oregon University. I met my husband and moved to Portland and earned my graduate degree at Portland State University. From the moment we moved here, we loved it. I mean, Salem was such a sleepy town, and there was no culture. Everything closed early; then you come to Portland and it’s so vibrant. I really believe there is no better city in the U.S. than Portland in the summer. Where we live now, you can walk in any direction, and within a mile or less, find some little pocket neighborhood with independent shops, restaurants, and brew pubs. You can bike everywhere. We purposely chose our house, in this location, so we would have proximity to downtown, to the bus line and to the Street Car. Before everything became politized, our life here was something special.
LA: What’s happening in Portland now?
Joanna: Portland has become an absolute out of control mess of progressive politics. Woke progressivism has accelerated and is amplified everywhere. And it was tolerable for a long time because Portland had so much else to offer. But that’s not the case anymore. Something significant has changed, though it’s hard to blame it on just one thing. The cost of living keeps rising. There are homeless tents everywhere. The ongoing lockdowns have been devastating. The ongoing protests, destruction, and violence have stripped the city of its beautiful downtown. And it’s reached a point where you feel you have to pick a side. In the past, even six months or a year ago, it wasn’t easy, but it was tolerable because you could just keep things to yourself if you disagreed. But right now, by not being forthcoming with either promoting Black Lives Matter, or being openly sympathetic to rioters, it’s viewed as if you don’t care about black lives. And don’t even think about questioning the motives of the Black Lives Matter movement. Full disclosure, I’m a Republican and a Trump supporter. Looking back, 2016 was the year things started to change for me. The city has never gotten over the election of Donald Trump, and I’ve often described it as turning point for Portland. It feels like the city was knocked upside down. Being a Republican was not a problem per se, prior to 2016.
LA: Was it okay to be an outspoken Republican or only a quiet Republican?
Joanna: I think a little bit of both. I remember talking about McCain or Romney and that was fine. I was just outnumbered, but it wasn’t as if people had animus towards them. But in 2016, especially when Trump became the nominee, I had a lot of social groups, whether it was other mothers, neighbors, or people at the park. My kids were really young then so I sought out a lot of these groups and it just became very apparent, very early through comments, such as my neighbor saying, “If Trump wins, we’re going to move to India” or just horrible comments about Trump or conservatism in general. It was a difficult time for me. Eventually it got to the point where I had to just come right out and express that I was actually going to vote for Trump. You see, people here just naturally assume everyone is liberal. And I didn’t start out as a Trump supporter, but fairly quickly I came to support him because of the way I felt the Republican Party tried to oust him. That’s when I knew the “swamp” was real and plagued both parties.
And so things really turned for the worse in 2016. I started noticing, throughout the neighborhood, a massive movement. Resistance to everything without an understanding of the issues themselves, the underlying data, what was really happening, it just felt so surface oriented, emotionally driven, and a repeat of media talking points. Yard signs popped up everywhere and are still on proud display. I don’t even feel I can have a conversation with the vast majority of my friends and close family right now. I did recently have a conversation about race and when asked about the violence and destruction downtown, the sentiment expressed was that protests and movements that turn violent are necessary — at times — for real change to occur. Roughly speaking, I don’t disagree with that logic to a certain extent, but I always feel strongly that I’m not going to condemn one thing if I don’t want to apply the same principle to myself. And there could be a time when I feel liberty and freedom is at such risk that there might be protests and movements that resort to violence or destruction. Not that I condone that, but I could understand why it would finally get to that point. In this case, I think that if people really cared about black lives, they would start to look at what areas we could address legislatively and locally to improve things. Whether it’s access to education, whether it’s a look at the nuclear family. I could go down the list, but nobody out there wants to have these conversations. The only solution I’m hearing is to defund the police, and I can’t think of a worse solution to the problem.
LA: What would you say your occupation is?
Joanna: I’ve been a stay at home mom for years. My husband traveled for work 75 percent of the time, until the lockdowns from COVID. So I’ve been very involved with my children’s education. I moved them from the public elementary school to a local Catholic school in the neighborhood, for many of the reasons I was just describing.
LA: What exactly made you switch?
Joanna: I was involved with the PTA program at the local public school when my daughter attended kindergarten and first grade and my son was in preschool. During the PTA meetings, there was constant debate and struggles with how best to spend our limited budget dollars. And we knew based on budget cuts to Portland Public Schools, that we were going to face teacher shortages, larger class sizes, and a reduction of certain elective classes like art and music. And in the midst of that, I was always trying to say, “Why don’t we find ways to use the money to benefit all students? let’s do things that are academically focused.” I always used the SMART reading program as a perfect example of an academic program that impacts all students at all levels across all grades. Academic integrity, to me, was what the school should be focused on; but, there was always a very vocal minority among the parents who were very adamant about “equity awareness” issues — things that would help support the minority student population. Compared to a lot of the other schools [we have] a higher percentage of African-American students there; and at the middle-school level, they really wanted to focus on a particular elective, a highly regarded African drumming class from a talented musician who was well respected in the community, but it was very expensive and it took a lot of dollars away to selectively impact very few. It wasn’t academic related. Every time I tried to object or provide redirection, it was viewed as insensitive or I wasn’t aware of the problem. This escalated to the point where they offered white ally trainings so that white parents could understand and learn their white privilege.
LA: I suppose that training expense came out of the budget too?
Joanna: Oh yeah. The final straw was February of 2017. It was around then that my husband told me, “We need to find another solution.” I quickly realized there is no school choice because they did away with in-district transfers. Even if you want to go into a charter school or a private school, and you have the means, there’s long wait lists. So effectively, there’s zero school choice. It was a horrible feeling. I thought to myself, “Every parent should have the right to decide what education is best for their children.” I disagreed with a lot of what the public school was integrating into the curriculum, and yet I had no options.
Initially, the primary reason we were looking to leave Portland was financial, but it’s completely flip flopped. Now it’s more because of ideological reasons. I just came to this realization that I cannot raise my children in a city that is so progressive, so one-sided that no matter what I do, no matter how I raise them — to think independently and to make their own decisions — that they are going to, by osmosis and by peer pressure and by teachers, by moms of friends, just absorb progressive ideology and probably be progressive themselves. It is almost unrealistic that they would be able to fight or fend that off — or have the capacity or strength to overcome it and be different.
I don’t want my children to grow up where they can’t speak their mind if they disagree with something, without feeling like they have to toe the accepted narrative. That’s not what this country is known for. We’ve always been able to dissent, and do it in a somewhat peaceful manner.
LA: If Portland can no longer be home, where are you setting up next?
Joanna: I think we’re moving to a red state with lower taxes that has their fiscal house in order, where I don’t have to worry what’s going to happen whether Trump wins or loses. I’m fearful that if Trump wins reelection, then Portland is going to burn. And I don’t say that hyperbolically. I think that these rioters have been given such a pass, that if Trump’s elected, there’s going to be this justification that they can do what they want. They could burn the city and the people here are going to be so upset, so, so angry that they’re going to support it.
If he loses, then it’s validation to everybody that the manner with which they’ve tried to promote change; meaning the screaming, yelling, whining, putting up horrendous signs in yards, rioting, looting, everything that they have done will have been validated that this is actually okay. So I don’t win either way. And I can’t raise my kids in this sort of environment. We went to Florida recently and ended up driving through some areas with Trump flags. My daughter pointed them out everywhere we went to make sure I saw them. It was such a good feeling being somewhere with more political balance, and this isn’t even to say you have to be a Trump supporter, but just to be somewhere where you could promote the president and not run the risk of getting a rock thrown through your window or your house damaged. I wish I were kidding.