What Now? 3.0 - A Reflection by Thomas Cassidy

What Now? 3.0 is an event that began in response to the 2016 presidential election. Natalie Sept who, like many others, was disappointed by the voter outcome and active participation in said election. She started this event with the intent of promoting people (now particularly youth) to become more involved in their communities and their democracy. The original event was held at Revolution Hall and hosted well over 2000 people from all around the Portland area. The event contained workshops, tabling organizations and a keynote event with amazing speakers from around Portland. The event was planned in eight days by Natalie as well as an amazing group of 20 people who worked tirelessly to plan this event. The event has changed quite a bit since then.

This years planning committee consists of Natalie Sept, and Sara Guest, the only two adults involved in planning, Carmen Vintro, Gabby Cosey, Karina Alcantara, Victoria (Tori) Siegel, Taji Chesimet, Fowzia Ibrahim, Jada Commodore and Thomas Cassidy who are all youth from various high schools around Portland.

On December 1st relatively early for a Saturday morning, the youth planning committee for this year’s event arrived at Wilson High School and began to set up for the event. The morning began with a plenary session created and presented by, Gabby, Jada, and Taji. This lovely group of people discussed the diaspora of African culture in America as well as violence and discrimination affecting black people. Our U.S. Senator Ron Wyden showed up during the plenary to see the kind of action and change youth are making. After the plenary session, the workshop portion began. There were four workshop slots with two workshop options per slot. Some of the workshops included Confronting Whiteness in Environmentalism, Queer is Color, Toxic Masculinity, Indigenous Rights, and Refugees & Immigration.

After the workshops there was time for organizations to table and give opportunity for youth. At the end of the night the keynote speakers had their chance to show their versions of activism. Our presenters were amazingly talented when it comes to art and activism. The night ended with clean-up and laughter and the planning committee went out for dinner and discussed their thoughts on the event.

At this point it has been just over a month since the 2018 rendition of What Now?. This means I as well as the other planning members have had a month to reflect on the negatives and positives surrounding the event. The planning took place nearly every Saturday morning at about noon for the better part of six months. Each one of us planners had different things going on in our lives during the planning. It has often been difficult to give up our Saturday for work, but working with some of the most amazing people in the Portland area makes it easy. Showing up for the months of planning compared to the 8 days of the original event have allowed for some serious bonding and friendship building. However there were downsides to the amount of time we had. We had the opportunity to develop very strong content for the event. Working this long however didn’t give us the sense of urgency we needed.

Securing a venue was one of the most stressful and difficult aspects of this planning for the adults especially. The original venue for this year’s event was supposed to be Benson High School. There were a few reasons why that fell through. The reason Benson would have been a good venue was because of the accessibility. Benson is right in the middle of Portland and many bus lines pass by. Wilson though was our last resort. The school is on the opposite side of town from Benson but we had to make do with what we had. Another speed bump we encountered during planning was related to the venue change. Because we didn’t have a venue secured in time we were forced to push the date back by two weeks. The date change was also because there were events related to ours that may have interfered with our target audience. Even though our numbers were comparatively low to previous years, the people who came were extremely interactive and provided many new ideas to the conversation. The event went exceedingly well and seemed to be a huge success.

Looking to the future the mission of What Now? will remain. The fate of the event itself is uncertain however. Empowering youth to be involved in our democracy is going to be a staple of my work and the work of many others. One of the most powerful tools of change is the right to vote. This is a privilege that not all people in the world have. Using this right to build positive change on all levels of society is going to be the future of What Now? The legacy will live on in all the people who planned and attended.

During the event I wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly and that everybody had the tools they needed to work their magic. I would run from the cafeteria to the check-in table in my socks to make sure that the people there were not overwhelmed and if they were, I helped. I assisted anybody and everybody with any task they needed done including switching slides for presentations and setting up chairs and tables for workshops.

When I wasn’t scrambling around, I was with Tori either working on our Toxic Masculinity workshop of presenting it. The workshop was on how toxic masculinity and gender norms affect men and women as well as non-binary people. I believe that the workshop shed light on ways to break down the system of gender expectations. What I got out of the workshop was many suggestions from the audience on how to break these down and make a change on all different levels of society. All in all I believe that What Now? 3.0 was a huge success. It allowed for the democratic dialog of change to continue in the up and coming generation.

If you would like to learn more about toxic masculinity:

Toxic Masculinity Presentation

If you would like to learn more about What Now?:

https://whatnoworegon.org/