I ran for Mayor of Portland, Oregon in 2020 and lost. Not by a lot, just by a little. I didn’t do it because I hate our current mayor. I did it because I love Portland and believe we urgently need to go in a different direction. Plenty of voters agreed with me and plenty didn’t, but that’s politics.
To this day, I get hateful, mean-spirited, and gender-based threats and comments directed at me because of my decision to run for office. Last week, someone replied to a work-related email that I was included in and said some really hurtful things about me — not just to me, but to my colleagues. It’s painful for all of us. They accused me of heinous crimes and used gendered language I won’t repeat that was frankly quite triggering to me and to my colleagues. Then yesterday, a retired Portland Police Officer replied to a tweet I made denouncing sexism in the NBA with, “STFU Sara. No one cares what you think.” And just today, a local newspaper printed completely baseless speculation about me (with no byline) claiming I’m “trying to find a back door into City Hall” and didn’t even call me first for comment to see if they were right.
My colleagues and friends ask me, “What should I do when someone reaches out to tell me that Sarah Iannarone is a genocidal maniac who wants to burn Portland to the ground?” Frankly, I don’t have a good answer for them. Apart from it being hurtful and obviously untrue, it’s important that the general public understand where that kind of message originates. The same channels currently whipping up faux outrage about “critical race theory” are the ones who tried to convince Portlanders that I was a secret communist who burns down police stations. The same interests who want to fund highway expansions and parking garages instead of transit service and compassionate public safety alternatives want you to believe that I’m trying to expropriate your personal vehicle and force you to ride an electric scooter to work. Very powerful purveyors of the status quo in Portland spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing to convince people that I would rather tweet in red nail polish than serve my community when my whole life is a testament to community service. And yes, I do have a Twitter account and am proud that I help a lot of people by using it.
I can’t convince someone who believes these things to rethink an antiquated worldview driven by biased animosity and fear of change. We all know change is coming as our society grapples with its racist past and that scares people who’ve never considered their place in that history. So I won’t try to address them. Instead, I want to speak directly to all the young people out there who want to make the world a better place, whether by running for office, being an advocate, or joining demonstrations for civil rights.
There are three things I have learned about being a woman in this world that I want to teach to every young girl who might someday want to stand up for herself and her community, especially young white women who want to show up for racial justice.
- “Well behaved women seldom make history,” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich says. Women are constantly told that our behavior is unacceptable because we live in a world that gives everyone permission to tear us down — even each other. Oftentimes the same behavior that makes a man a “bold leader” makes a woman a “cold bitch.” People who critique every move a woman makes would rather that we just STFU and don’t try to change the world.
- Bernice King said it best, on her own Twitter account last week: not everyone will like you and that’s okay. The people who don’t like you might be loud, but they’ll never outnumber the people who are indifferent toward you and they’ll never be as important to you as the people who love you. Make it a conscious choice (or in some cases, a daily practice) to focus on building a community that supports you and to ignore the haters. I understand some people have perfectly legitimate reasons not to like me: I’ve been opinionated for decades and like all humans, I’ve made mistakes and even hurt people, for which I’m sorry. But even hating me doesn’t give you the right to abuse me.
- Being a white woman willing to take on white supremacy means opening yourself up to the vitriol of people who are not willing to do this work. Being a woman, it’s easier for people to lambast me for believing we can tackle structural racism than it would be if I were a man. But as James Baldwin said, “White people know very well one thing… They know they would not like to be Black here.” For all the flack people throw at me, it isn’t even a fraction of a percentage of the hatred Black people get for standing up for civil rights and demanding an end to white supremacy. I try to keep that perspective when people choose me as their target. Better me than the Black and Indigenous people whose lives are threatened by extrajudicial and state-sanctioned violence and killings.
I doubt writing this will change much in the eyes of people who have decided there’s something they just don’t like about me and who’ve chosen to accept the lies about me and believe that their opinions justify attacking me: they likely live in a media echo chamber which a statement like this will never penetrate. But I do hold people in my life to a high standard of media literacy and expect them to think critically about how they choose to refer to me — a woman with ambition, a Portlander with a vision, a mother who wants to work hard to make the world the best it can be… and a person who has gone through the wringer of the right-wing media, and who apparently news outlets are allowed to speculate about without contacting me first.
I’m going to continue to advocate, loudly and publicly, for a more equitable and resilient version of this bountiful region in this beautiful state I call home. Heck, maybe I’ll even run for office again someday, though it probably won’t be for Portland Mayor… and it’s just as likely that I won’t ever have the stomach to run again because, frankly, I’ve come to enjoy taking days off from defending myself against McCarthyism and sexist vitriol.
The world around us is changing whether people like it or not. There’s a media machine dedicated to preventing it by smearing the people who work hard to make a better world happen. They would have media consumers believe I want to see Portland burn just as they would have you believe that Black Lives Matter demonstrators are the reason downtown businesses are closing instead of a global pandemic. I’m not a bomb-throwing anarchist; I’m a policy nerd who gets my groceries by bike and runs errands on transit. I’m an entrepreneur, a community builder, and a mom who likes to cook, sew, and dig in my garden. I’m a resident of the greater Portland that exists far beyond myopic narratives of a beleaguered downtown. I’m a cheerleader for the better Portland of the future. There is hard work to be done to build a more just society and I want every young person with ambition to know that we are going to win. So feel free to keep trolling and sending me hate mail, but I’m not stopping and I’m not going anywhere.