It was Easter weekend and the sun was shining, so Brandon Wick, co-organizer of the Camas Progressives political group, wasn’t going to count his eggs before they hatched.
Sure, his political group had been gaining members over the past few months and had a good track record when it came to people showing up for events, rallies and demonstrations. But the rally in question was taking place the Saturday before Easter Sunday and the sun had finally broken through the clouds, so Wick wasn’t 100 percent certain that his group’s Tax Day rally would win out over things like family gatherings, yard work and just plain fun-in-the sun.
“We may get 10, maybe 15 people,” Wick said Friday afternoon, one day before the Camas Progressives’ planned Tax Day demonstration in east Vancouver — where local activists would call on President Donald Trump to meet his campaign promise and make his taxes available to the public.
But Wick was in for a pleasant surprise — instead of the 10 or so activists he expected, about two dozen people turned out for the demonstration at the 192nd Avenue and Mill Plain Boulevard intersection, and held their “Show Your Taxes” signs held high.
“It’s a good turnout,” Wick said. “Better than I expected.”
Some people at the rally — like David McDevitt, a political candidate with aspirations of unseating U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican, in the 2018 general election — are well steeped in the political arena, but most of the folks who turned out for the Camas Progressives’ April 15 Tax Day rally, described themselves as political newcomers. Several said Trump’s unexpected victory in November had pushed them out of their comfort zones.
“I was not active before — at all,” said longtime Camas resident Adriana Vela. “But after the election, there was this shock and realization that the American people are asleep at the wheel.”
Instead of letting her shock and dismay overwhelm her, Vela decided to take action. She discovered the Camas Progressives group, went to a couple of meetings and, when asked to lead the group with Wick, jumped at the chance.
“I wanted to lead by example,” Vela said. “I’ve been told by people, ‘You lost, get over it,’ but this isn’t about my ‘team’ losing an election, it’s about the future of our society … and I am very concerned about the policies that (Trump) is trying to enact right now — policies that will hurt women, minorities, the elderly.”
Meeting with like-minded people, said Vela, has helped her cope with the initial shock she felt after the November election.
“I heard someone say they were no longer going to ‘accept the things they cannot change,’ but, instead, change the things they cannot accept,” Vela said. “That’s how I feel.”
Wick, who moved from North Portland to Camas last year with his wife, Summer, and their 5-year-old daughter, agreed that, like Vela, he could not sit back after the November election and be OK with federal policies that could negatively affect his country and local community.
“I was watching the election with my wife and just felt shell-shocked,” Wick said, recalling Trump’s surprise victory. “I knew that my apathy toward politics was over.”
In the months since the November election, Wick has tried to keep up with the daily news coming out of the federal administration as well as familiarize himself with local and regional politicians like U.S. Rep. Herrera Beutler, who represents Washington’s Third Congressional District, which includes Camas-Washougal residents.
“It’s becoming clear that the majority of Americans don’t approve of this president,” Wick said. “And people want to get involved, they just don’t know how.”
The Camas Progressives group wants to attract those types of people, Wick said, and help them find a level of political activism that works best for their lives. The group takes its cues from the national Indivisible Project, a nonprofit formed by two former congressional staffers a few days after the November election to guide progressive activists on the best, tried-and-true tactics for making lasting political change.
Wick said the Camas Progressives group is not about shaming Republicans or people who support Trump. Instead, he said, the group’s members want to accentuate what they consider positives — Rep. Herrera Beutler’s recent vote to not dismantle the Affordable Care Act, for instance — and exert pressure on politicians when they make a move the group considers a move in the wrong direction.
As an example of the latter, Wick pointed to Herrera Beutler’s lack of in-person town halls.
“She hasn’t done one in person for maybe six or seven months,” Wick said. “She is avoiding them.”
Recently, Wick and Vela were able to “meet” with the congresswoman via a videoconference call. They asked Herrera Beutler very specific questions about her views on education and health care, but although the congresswoman seemed “like a good person who was listening,” Wick said, she wasn’t easy to pin down on any one issue.
“I think she is a very polished politician and she can be evasive,” Wick said. “But I do think we can find common ground … and we’re going to need that.”
Vela was more direct: “I was very disappointed by (Herrera Beutler). I asked her if she would be voting on a Trump-Devos education budget and she said she believed in people having a choice. I said, ‘It’s great if they can afford a (school) choice, but what if they can’t? That’s not a choice.’ Then I asked her a yes-or-no question — would she demand ethical transparency at all levels of government — and she said she couldn’t comment. It was very disappointing.”
With monthly meetups and several weekend events in the works, the Camas Progressives show no sign of slowing down. If anything, the group seems to be gaining momentum, making connections with other progressive movements in Southwest Washington, attracting political newcomers and, soon, training others who want to become more involved with local, regional, statewide and national politics — including progressives who may want to run for political office someday.
Because progressives in Southwest Washington and throughout the nation are “largely on the defense right now,” Wick said, preventing burnout is important, and his group tries to find ways to stay positive and promote self-care among the members.
“For me, I feel better when I’m connecting with others and taking action,” Wick said. “Without that, it’s easy to feel powerless and stressed out.”
For others who want to connect with progressives in the Camas-Washougal community, Wick encourages them to give the Camas Progressives group a chance.
“I think people were shocked by what happened with this past election. I know I was,” Wick said. “But we have the opportunity to start bringing things back … and to, hopefully, bring back a government that is truly reflective of the people.”
The group will take part in several events in the Vancouver-Portland area over the next few weeks, including a Science March on Saturday, April 22 in Portland; a Climate March on Saturday, April 29 in Vancouver; and a town hall “with or without Jaime Herrera Beutler” from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, April 20, in the Foster Auditorium at Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver. The Clark County Progressives Coalition, a group that the Camas Progressives work with on regional events, will host a table at the Democracy Speaks event from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, April 23, in the Columbia Room at the Vancouver Community Library, 901 “C” St., Vancouver.
To learn more about the Camas Progressives group, visit www.meetup.com/Camas-Progressives or look on Facebook under “Camas Progressives.”