Nicholas Caleb Changed the Conversation in Portland

Just one day before the deadline to file as a candidate with the city of Portland, only two short months ago, Nicholas Caleb abruptly threw himself into the race for city council against that body’s longest sitting incumbent, Dan Saltzman. Saltzman may have won reelection tonight. Nicholas Caleb’s campaign may be over for now. But what he and his campaign accomplished in such an incredibly short amount of time is not only to be highly commended, but very realistically sets the stage for a successful run in 2016 that is sure to bring a much needed, fresh wave of grassroots socialist politics and organizing to the the city of Portland.

So what did Nicholas Caleb and his campaign accomplish? He lost the election. But we are neither presumptuous nor cliche in suggesting that there is a real victory in this defeat. The obvious indicator is that as of midnight on election night Caleb had won 18% of the vote. It may seem like a small amount at first thought, but for a first time candidate who’s campaign only lasted for two months, and only had a few thousand dollars in donations to work with, up against a 5 term incumbent, it is monumental.

Kshama Sawant recently shocked the nation by becoming the first openly socialist candidate in decades to win an election in the U.S., winning a seat on Seattle’s city council. That victory sent shock waves through Seattle that guaranteed a $15 minimum wage would be a reality there. The first time Sawant ran for office she only won 9% of the vote. But she ran again. Seattle saw that she was serious, that she wasn’t in it for one and out. She came back to fight again, and she won the second time around.

In only 2 months of campaigning Nicholas Caleb, in his first ever run for political office and as an openly socialist candidate, won 18% of the vote, double what Kshama Sawant accomplished in her first electoral race. That speaks volumes to the resonant chord that Caleb has struck with the city of Portland.

But other than an impressive first time electoral turn out, and other than setting up a strong and truly promising campaign for 2016, what did the Caleb for Council campaign accomplish? Quite a lot actually. Tonight’s defeat of Measure 26-156, the Portland Public Water District initiative, an attempted takeover of our public water system by a board of unelected corporate representatives, is owed in large part to the work that Caleb himself has done to write, initiate, and drive forward the People’s Water Trust, which is a truly democratic, grassroots, bioregional attempt to contain the rampant corruption within the city council run Portland Water Bureau, and preserve our vital water commons here in Portland.

In addition to his work with People’s Water Trust, the success thus far of the 15 Now PDX campaign, which is rapidly becoming a real and sustaining force within the Portland labor movement, is owed in large part to the Caleb for Council campaign. It is in no way hyperbolic to say that 15 Now PDX would not currently exist if Nicholas Caleb hadn’t held a press conference in front of Portland City Hall on March 10, surrounded by 15 Now signs to announce his candidacy for city council. The media attention and public awareness alone that his campaign has brought to 15 Now in this city in such a short amount of time has been tremendous and is an exciting success story in and of itself. For the first time in decades the Portland City Council has been talking about the need to raise the minimum wage. That would not be happening right now if it wasn’t for the Caleb for Council campaign and it’s call for 15 Now in Portland.

As an endorsing organization for the Caleb for Council campaign, 15 Now PDX would like to thank Nicholas Caleb and all those who worked on his campaign for changing the conversation here in Portland in a very real and substantial way. We would like to take this opportunity to call on and encourage Nicholas Caleb to continue the fight, to follow in the footsteps of Kshama Sawant. Run again in 2016. Continue to fight for $15 and carry the mantle of a grassroots, community oriented, socialist alternative in our city. Portland will be a place for it.

To all those who worked hard on and put hours, days, weeks, and months of your time into the Caleb for Council campaign, do not be discouraged. The conversation that your work started is still happening throughout the city. The People’s Water Trust needs people to gather signatures. 15 Now PDX needs organizers and dedicated volunteers. Today May 21 2014, the work you have started continues, and we encourage you not to give up, but to find a place in one of the movements that have started because of and benefited from the Caleb campaign. Join the fight for our water commons. Join the movement for a homeless bill of rights. Join the Fight 15 here in Portland. We need you, and the city of Portland needs you.




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  1. […] Nicholas Caleb — the Wagetarian candidate who lost his bid for City Council, but succeeded in igniting the fight for a $15 minimum wage in Portland — used two bad words in his speech today, in front of City […]