Rhys Scholes

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Rhys Scholes

Rhys Scholes is a Portland, Oregon activist and local government official.

He is the Communications Policy Director for Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler.

Scholes moved to Portland the day after he graduated from college in Memphis, Tenn.

He has been an organizer, a writer, a policy adviser and a campaign manager for organizations that include SEIU, OSPIRG, Oregon Rainbow Coalition, Oregon Democratic Party, Legal Aid and at least ten campaigns. He was executive director of Citizens for Oregon’s Future and president of the Oregon Alliance for Progressive Policy. He first worked for Multnomah County in 1993.

Over the years, Scholes has worked on energy and utility issues, pay equity and living wages, city/county consolidation, school/community connections, community building and taxation. He served on the Flying Squadron in the 1987 state employee’s strike and represented Multnomah County at the 1999 Seattle protest against the World Trade Organization.

Currently Scholes researches and reports on intergovernmental issues and manages communication and bill-tracking systems.

He lives in Southeast Portland with his wife Barbara, a children’s librarian, and his son Owen.[1]

Socialist background

Scholes' mother voted for Norman Thomas for president three times. [Thomas was the six-time Socialist Party USA presidential candidate.]

He went to high school in Decatur, Georgia, and was involved in the anti-Vietnam movement. The Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialists Alliance were organizing primarily around Emory University. As a high school student, Scholes went to Socialist Workers Party events and subscribed to The Militant, the Socialist Workers Party newspaper. He started reading Trotskyist takes on the Vietnam War and economics in his last year in high school, 1971.[2]

Portland New American Movement

In August of 1976, as part of an outreach drive, the leaders of the Eugene chapter of New American Movement, which predated the Portland chapter, organized a potluck picnic in Laurelhurst Park in Portland for people to learn about NAM. It was publicized in the Scribe, Portland’s underground newspaper.

A study group ran for about a year and, at the end of it, Richard Healey came through town, and Rhys Scholes and Katherine Pritchard and Beverly Stein said, “Well, we don’t know if we really want to start a chapter of NAM, but let’s put out a call and just see if people come.” A whole bunch of people came, and so we did it. Scholes: There were maybe twenty people to begin with, and Beverly Stein was the key leader.

The Portland chapter of the New American Movement formed in 1977, four years after NAM held its inaugural meeting. It was a lively and nationally-renowned NAM chapter, and when the merger between NAM and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee took place, a majority of its members remained active in the new organization, (Democratic Socialists of America) and, through it, successfully engaged in regional and national politics.

Five people — Rhys Scholes, Marcia Barrentine, Nancy Becker, Scott Bailey, and Beverly Stein — were central to the chapter’s life throughout its existence. They also worked together beyond the life of the organization.[3]

In 1980 Rhys Scholes, Portland, was a delegate to the December 12-14 Chicago, National Council meeting of the New American Movement[4].

New American Movement 10th convention

Rhys Scholes, 1975

In 1981 Rhys Scholes and Marcia Barrentine, Portland NAM led a workshop entitled Experiences with Personal Life at the 10th Convention of the New American Movement. The convention was held in a union headquarters in Chicago and ran from July 29 - August 2, 1981.[5]

NAM meetings

NAM meetings took place on the third floor of Centenary-Wilbur, which was a church.

According to Scholes:[6]

I have an agenda from one of our meetings here, and I note that we spent ten minutes on a potluck evaluation. [all laugh] I’m really intrigued about whether we discussed the attendance or the food. [all laugh] In terms of practice, though, we went back and forth between similar models—a Philadelphia Movement for a New Society, a Quaker model of selfevaluation that had influenced us, and a more Marxist criticism, selfcriticism.

Maoist influence

According to Scholes, Portland NAM was very influenced by Maoist thought;[7]

Part of it was that one Mao Tse-tung essay on theory and practice. I think we were really influenced by Maoist thought on theory and practice.

Anti Nuclear/Energy activism

The New American Movement Energy Task Force proved to be one groups most successful projects, and it grew out of the Trojan Decommissioning Alliance, which tried to close down the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant. [8]

There was a lot of overlapping leadership between the two, TDA and NAM. But the New American Movement was thinking about energy issues in a deeper way, and so the civil disobedience actions we organized at the Trojan [Nuclear Plant] were really a cadrefying experience. People went to jail together.
And we developed our strategy in discussions with NAM energy leaders from around the country—notably, Paul Garver in the Pittsburgh chapter, who was really influential with the national Energy Task Force.

That helped us think about how to broaden our class contacts and to develop a project starting from our base in the counter-culture anti-nuclear movement but then expanding into utility bill issues. We organized a group called the Ratepayers Union, and with the Trojan Decommissioning Alliance, by this time we had a long list of allies.

Communist allies

Scholes and his comrades worked with The Grange and the Farmers Union, old time left-wing groups, and Communist Party USA members like Martina Curl.[9]

A lot of the people who we worked with had been involved in Communist Party front organizations in the 1930s and were now pretty elderly and retired. At our trial in St. Helens, the first civil disobedience trial, Martina Curl testified about how this was the second time in her life that she had been in jail; the first time was when she was picketing on the docks in the late 1930s trying to block shipments of war munitions to Japan. And she compared the nuclear power movement with support for Imperial Japan, and why capitalism didn’t really have the interest of the working class at heart. So it brought together the Old Left and New Left.

Covert socialism

It worked to NAM's advantage, that the word socialist wasnt in their name. According to Scholes;[10]

It was a weird thing, the fact that “socialist” wasn’t in the name, but not necessarily in a bad way. I remember in 1980, I was representing Portland NAM on the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition to stop big oil, which we were real enthusiastic about. I was sitting at a table with guys from the Carpenters’ Union and the Machinists’ Union, and we’re talking about the coalition, and the New American Movement is right in there and they were really glad to have us.

But the Democratic Socialists Organizing Committee was also there, and the labor folks were a little concerned that those people were too radical. I knew that they [DSOC] were a lot less radical than NAM, but the funny thing is that we were more popular because we didn’t have the word “socialism” in our name. (all laugh) I believe that that actually helped us a lot in our organizing. People got to know us not through a stereotype, but as “the New American Movement,” which really had a generic ring to it.

"Liberal" Portland

According to Scholes, Portland NAM helped to change the culture of their host city;

In a lot of ways, we were winning. There was a liberal trend in Portland that was triumphing over the previous kind of machine politics. We weren’t really supportive of that, but it created a room for us to be further out, and created our sense of possibility. We saw things changing. We believed that if this much is possible, we can just push it forward. And we definitely saw a lot of the old orthodoxy falling away.
Building into about 1980, we had a collective momentum, and the merger prolonged it because it created a critical mass of two groups. Or in the case of the Red Rose School, the work totally flowed into the project, and the project kept going for a long time. But I think if you trace the activists, you’d find a dispersal, largely to other kinds of progressive causes and to other sorts of things.

Democratic Socialists of America founding conference

Rhys Scholes, (NAM) spoke at the day one "Unity Session" of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee/New American Movement Unity Conference in Detroit March 21/22 1982, that resulted in the formation of Democratic Socialists of America[11].

Portland DSA

1982 Portland Democratic Socialists of America Steering Committee members , Beverly Stein, Bill Thomas, Nancy Becker, Judi Watts, Pat Hayes, Rhys Scholes, Natasha Beck, Fred Heutte, Gretchen Kafoury[12]

DSA member

In 1983, Rhys Scholes was a member of Democratic Socialists of America.

Left unity attempts

Rhys Scholes, Marcia Barrentine, Nancy Becker, Scott Bailey, and Beverly Stein were all involved in the Alliance for Social Change, which was a failed effort at left unity, and that was followed by the Oregon Alliance for Progressive Policy, which was a second failed attempt at left unity.[13]

SEIU work

By 1987 Scholes was working for Service Employees International Union, Local 503.[14]

I was working seventy or eighty hours a week. There wasn’t any time to do anything other than work for the union.

Policy analyst

In 2001 Rhys Scholes was a senior policy analyst, for Multnomah Interim County Chair Bill Farver.[15]

Citizens for Oregon's Future

In 2004, Rhys Scholes, was executive director of Citizens for Oregon's Future.[16]

"Civic Agenda"

Circa 2010, civic leaders from Multnomah County and the cities of Fairview, Gresham and Troutdale will host “Civic Agenda,” "giving you the local scoop in 15-minute segments just before their council meetings".

“We hope that the residents and tax payers who support County services will have a better understanding of what they’re paying for and the services available to them,” says Rhys Scholes, who represents Multnomah County on “Civic Agenda.” He works in the office of County Commission Chair Ted Wheeler as Communications Policy Director.[17]

School bond work

Just 587 votes: That's how many more Portland Public Schools needed to squeak by with a win for the $548 million school modernization bond measure in May 2011.

Instead, voters narrowly rejected the measure by a margin of 50.24 percent to 49.76 percent. Bond supporters largely blamed the economy in addition to their own faulty public process, which most agreed lacked genuine support from the community.

PPS leaders, parents and supporters are quietly gearing up again, six months later, to pick up the pieces and look to what’s next.

By december 2011, however, Superintendent Carole Smith and board members wanted to learn from their mistakes, which they heard about during the summer through dozens of “listening sessions” with a wide range of both supporters and foes. A common refrain: more public involvement on the front end, please.

“I want to ensure the district does a really good public process,” said Scott Bailey, a Northeast Portland schools activist who worked to push the May bond. “To me, that’s the one ingredient that was missing and within their control.”

To spearhead those efforts, PPS tapped Rhys Scholes, a longtime campaign and schools activist, to lead the district’s community engagement process. The district borrowied Scholes from his tax and legislative work at Multnomah County for the rest of the school year, through an intergovernmental agreement.

This time around, the plan was to start with a public process to update the district’s long-range facilities plan, which has been on the books since 2002 and last updated in 2007.[18]

Still a socialist?

Rhys Scholes told a 2008 interviewer;[19]

I think about it a lot, and I hold lots of those values. And I would probably say that I’m still a socialist. But I think that there’s a lot that’s going on in politics today that’s socialistic. The discussion on national healthcare is now once again moving in a more socialistic direction. The movement for single payer healthcare is growing again..

Portland DSA

In 2013, Rhys Scholes was contact for the Portland Democratic Socialists of America Organizing Committee. [20]