Portland Tenants United founder Margot Black is resigning her leadership post with the organization after a black activist accused the group of "white supremacy."
In a statement issued today, Black said she needed to step aside for the good of the group because the charges of racism had become a distraction.
"I have always come to the work with positive intentions but in reality the impacts of some of my actions have had very negative impacts on valued members of our community and created harm," said Black.
In two years, Black transformed the city's renters' rights movement into a powerful and polarizing force in city politics. Portland Tenants United, which she founded, gained traction with the election of City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, and gained a tangible policy win last year with the passage of an ordinance requiring landlords to pay moving costs for some evicted tenants.
The group has also used divisive tactics—including picketing the homes of landlords and throwing verbal bombs in the midst of polite Portland. Last year, PTU walked away from an alliance of housing advocates once it became clear a robust set of tenant protections would not pass the state Senate.
That move and other fights have won enemies for Black, predictably from landlords but also from potential allies.
But it was accusations from Cameron Whitten, the black activist who was invited to join the group's leadership team and attended just one meeting last summer, that have precipitated her resignation.
He blasted the group in a Jan. 3 post on the website Medium that accused Black of discriminating against activists of color. He'd raised the criticisms once before.
The post mentioned no acts of violence. But Whitten described a series of slights and insults. Whitten described another unnamed PTU organizer leading the group in singing the Woody Guthrie song "This Land Is Our Land" over the objections of a Native American racial-equity trainer who felt the song was offensive.
In the post, Whitten says Black accused him of extorting the group for his paid services as a racial-justice trainer—a charge he denies.
Whitten says he became uncomfortable with PTU's racial attitudes after the way the group discussed the Community Alliance of Tenants executive director Katrina Holland, whom he does not explicitly name.
In his Medium post, Whitten described the conversation as "a circular firing squad about a black woman activist they'd been having personality and political conflicts with."
Whitten, who is not currently affiliated with any activist groups, called Black's resignation insufficient and says that he wanted further "accountability" from Black and PTU.
Two nights ago, Holland in a Facebook post called for unity.
"Through it all we HAVE TO remember the big picture," Holland wrote.
The movement needs our collective power. The movement desperately requires a SHIFT in power from landlord domination and unfettered control to mutual benefit that keeps our communities healthy and stable. “ystemic change is an ARDUOUS process that requires patience and consistency. To be effective, we need a plurality of tactics. We need diverse voices, and most importantly – we need intentional coordination. Have things been perfect? No way. Has it been rough sometimes? Yes it has. Will it continue to be rough for a time? No doubt. That’s very clear. But forward movement is key to victory, y’all. Healthy forward movement is key to the victory we want to see. The only journeys worth taking are the ones in which we encounter challenges and obstacles that help us to be our best servants to one another and to our community. We got a crapload of work to do. Let’s keep walkin’.