Michael Munk’s Portland Red Guide

My parents are hippies.  My dad talks exactly like Richard Cheech and my mom doesn’t know how to wear make-up. They met at Reed College in The Sixties (heard of those?) and have lived here in Portland, Oregon ever since. It’s only been thirty-five years, but a lot has changed. Driving around the city with them is like getting a guided tour the past.  “Oh that’s where we lived next door to the Hare Krishnas,” my mom will say, pointing at a row of newly-developed condos.  

For sure, the neighborhoods have shifted, ethnically and economically; there are more people now, from more places. North Portland, which has had some serious rep issues in the past, as a place where people of color (gasp! in Portland?) live, and also one of the last to be bought out by Californians, has gentrified itself into the yuppie-friendly “Historical Mississippi” in which I now reside. Southeast, the exclusive turf of radical Reedies in my parents’ day, is now inhabited only by young people who are too square to move to North Portland, though I believe it still holds the world title for Most Prayer Flags per capita.

But, frankly, this kind of petty history bores me. The NY Times may be obsessed with Portland’s shifting demographics (read this, or this, if you can stand it), but I’d rather read about Portland’s real past.  Which is why I was so pysched (and this was before I worked for Ooligan Press, mind you), when my dad handed me a copy of Michael Munk’s Portland Red Guide, a truly radical look at how Portland has changed, and grown.


The Red Guide appealed to me because I’d rather read about Marxists and Wobblies than editorials about the new light rail (but what does it mean?), and I’d rather get a comprehensive understanding of Portland’s place in the Civil Rights Movement than sit around patting myself on the back for making mundane observations about my role in gentrification. I may have grown up here, but Michael Munk digs up the kind of dirt that reminds all of us what Portland can be about — more than a small city with a low cost of living and a robust music scene, a place that has more to offer than perfect Americanos and eco-friendly toys that teach visual tracking. It’s a place with a history of social dissent, renegade radicals, and political visionaries. 

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. I often wonder what John Reed would think of Portland today. Tired of its conservative, patrician ways, he left the Portland of his day for Russia. If he was disappointed with Portland, I can imagine how he felt about the Bolsheviks. And so it goes…

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