Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sounds like OPAL gave the sock puppets hell this morning

Words have power. TriMet knows this, and spends millions of dollars every year limiting and obscuring the acceptable terms of debate around our public transit system. And yet today, when BRU members spoke to them in our own words, when TriMet didn't understand these words or control them they felt powerless and disrespected. To that, all we can say is yeah, we know what that feels like. Here's the translation of the Japanese testimony given by Keiko Andress:

"Goodmorning my name is Keiko Andress.

Today, I will be late for work so that I can give my testimony before Trimet’s Board of Directors in Japanese. I have given my testimony twice before in this room, in English, but I feel like the words I spoke did not reach you. Just like these words I am now speaking in Japanese are not reaching you.

We have all thought hard about what we can do to make our message surmount the language barrier between us to reach you. We have begun to realize no matter how much we raise our voices, the meaning of our words cannot reach you because the differences in our experiences are so great. There is no way someone who drives to work everyday can understand the problems faced by those who depend upon transit every day.

It seems that in order for our words to reach your side of the barrier, we need transit-dependent persons to cross over to your side of this barrier and represent us. After all, if you, the Tri-Met Board, are going to serve the interests of us the transit-riders, don’t you need to be able to empathize with our struggles and concerns?

Since I have started thinking that it is just as meaningless for us to continue to inform you of our concerns, as it is for me to continue speaking to you in Japanese, I can't help but think my colleagues are correct in saying structural changes need to be made to the Board itself.

Thanks for your time."


Would the TriMet Board have understood us even if we spoke to them in English today? Four years of experience says no. Here's Jessica Reyes' Spanish testimony in English:

"Good morning TriMet Board, my name is Jessica Reyes, I live in Oregon City and I’m a member of Bus Riders Unite.

I first want to say that my short testimony today isn’t about you as individual people. My testimony is about how this entire board works and makes decisions. Because I feel that the way this board works, the rules it uses, doesn’t respect my time as a bus rider, or my budget as a low-income person trying to work three jobs.

I attended the March TriMet Board Meeting on the edge of Oregon City. And I was late to my job because the board didn’t respect it’s own rules about how these meetings are supposed to run. Public testimony was supposed to start at 9am, and be limited to three minutes for each speaker. But TriMet invited a number of people to speak before members of the public like me were allowed to speak, and they were not held to this three-minute rule. This means I was not able to actually offer my testimony until after 10am, more than an hour after public testimony was supposed to start. And I was asked to make my already short comment even shorter. Because I felt strongly about what I wanted to say, and had already made the trip to the meeting, I stayed to share my thoughts and was late to work.

But many people have it worse than me. Not only can they not make it to meetings at 9am on a Wednesday because they can’t afford to miss or be late to work, they don’t want to spend money on expensive fares just to give testimony to a board that hasn’t proven they are listening. Or that they are even capable of understand the lives and experiences of people like me.

Again, this is not personal. I don’t know you, and I’m sure many of you are wonderful people. But you don’t represent riders, and you are not held accountable to us. I feel like this board robbed an hour from my paycheck that day, because they couldn’t even stick to their own rules. But the time and the location and the rules of these meetings aren’t the only problem. The voices of riders like me don’t just need to be listened to and understood, people like me should be on this board, making decisions about transit. But the way this board is currently put together by the Governor, and not held accountable to riders, or even having meaningful requirements of who gets to be on this board, the current system will never serve the needs of riders.

It’s time for a change. It’s time to make the selection of members of this board, and the rules about how the board operates, more accountable, and more representative of riders. This is what riders like me want, and this is what fairness and justice requires.

Thank you for your time."


Appearances can be deceiving. What might seem to TriMet as opportunities for meaningful public participation are most often meaningless and tokenizing. If the TriMet Board of Directors is so out of touch with it's own position of power versus the public that they are offended by 30 minutes of foreign language testimony, then how can they ever truly represent us? This is Associate Director Vivian Satterfield’s testimony translated from Mandarin Chinese:

“Good morning members of the Board. My name is Shi Yi Cen and I’m here with my friends from Bus Riders Unite. We are here speaking to you in our mother tongues, in foreign languages, in order to convey our own experiences. If you cannot understand, if you cannot comprehend what we are saying, it’s a representation of the way you do not understand the experiences of transit riders.

We are here to say one sentence: “We speak for ourselves”. We say this one sentence in our mother tongues, and I am here speaking to you in Mandarin Chinese, in order to convey experiences of transit riders, which you do not comprehend because you do not represent us. You listen, but you do not take our words to heart.

“We speak for ourselves”: a single sentence calling for reform of this Board of Directors.”

"Decisions are being made for us or about us, but not with us or by us. And this is not justice." Well said by Halima Abdullahi. A translation of the rest of her testimony given in Maay Maay is below:
"Good morning, my name is Halima Abdullahi.
I have already been here to testify to the TriMet board once before. I was going to ask again today for you to put yourselves in the shoes of the people here testifying. And walk in those shoes through all the seasons and storms and see what we have to go through because of the way TriMet is working right now.
But I’m not going to ask that, because wearing someone else’s shoes wont give that person power over the things that matter in their life. The TriMet Board doesn’t understand us. I’m not sure they are trying to understand us. I hope they are. But even if they are trying, I don’t think the TriMet Board can ever understand us. This is not because you are bad people, but because you don’t represent us - because you are not us. And the fairest way of making decisions about transit means that people like me are actually part of making those decisions, not just struggling to be understood by people like you.
Youth like me rely on transit for everything. Large, transit-dependant families like mine also rely on transit for everything. We make up a large number of TriMet’s riders. And yet, none of you are youth. None of you are a member of a transit-dependant family. Where is the youth voice when decisions are made? Where is the voice of transit-dependant families? Decisions are being made for us or about us, but not with us or by us. And this is not justice.
It seems TriMet doesn’t know that its first priority is the people who ride TriMet. Yet, the people who make up the majority of rides on TriMet, are not making decisions about TriMet. And that is why this board has to change. Until people like me are able to serve on this board and make decisions about things that most impact my life, TriMet will never serve people like me. No real improvement of TriMet is possible without a board that represents and is accountable to people like me. The TriMet Board needs to change. And I’m ready to fight for that change.
Thanks you for your time."

No comments: