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This election year feels toxic. The current rhetoric and anger of the presidential race seems to be permeating everything. How did we wind up with a reality TV star, who admits to grabbing at the vaginas of women he finds attractive, running for our highest office? Where did all the starry-eyed Berners go? Where are we going, and how did we get in this handbasket?

As former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’̓Neil once said, “all politics is local,” and if we want better politicians at the top, we need to start getting involved in politics at the local level. But jumping into politics can be intimidating — just understanding how our Eugene City Council operates can be confusing. 

So we present you with this brief guide to local politics, how to get involved and how to watchdog your government.

Don’t let this election get you down. Instead, let it be the spark to make positive change. — Camilla Mortensen

Who runs the city?

Public records keep the government transparent

Why care about the county commission?

School board powers and planning

Why don't you run for office?

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has allowed the public to request documents from any federal agency since 1967. In 1973, Oregon enacted its own Public Records and Public Meetings Laws, modeling it on the FOIA. These laws allow the media and the public to act as “watchdogs” over government, though Oregon’s law has weakened over the years.

The workings of a school district can appear mysterious to the uninitiated. School boards most often appear in the public eye when they make a controversial decision or take a position on something of a political nature, like a ballot measure or federal mandate.

In its most rudimentary function, a school board sets a school district’s budget, chooses its superintendent and sets policy, but local school board members say there’s a lot more to it than that.

With elections just around the corner, it’s time to examine how Eugene’s city government works, and what we’re electing these folks to do.

Eugene has a city manager form of government, meaning that the City Council and mayor decide legislative goals and ordinances, and then hire a city manager (Eugene’s is John Ruiz) to see those goals through and run the day-to-day bureaucracy of government. The city manager is one of only three direct employees to the council and mayor, and he is in charge of the city staff in all departments. Councilors and the mayor go through the city manager to work within departments. 

The five member Lane County Commission administers the approximately $450 million that federal, state and local taxpayers provide to Lane County, South Lane Commissioner Pete Sorenson tells EW

While a couple local positions were hard-fought races in the primary election in May — the Eugene mayor’s race and the Ward 1 City Council seat, for example — there were also a lot of candidates running unopposed here in Lane County. Eugene City Council Seats 1, 7 and 8 had no opposition, and neither did Ward 6 in Springfield. The South Eugene Lane County Commission seat was unopposed. 

Sometimes a candidate is unopposed because he or she is just that good, and constituents are happy. Other times it’s hard to say if it’s apathy in the community, lack of funds to run or simply because the average voter doesn’t know how to run. Many voters in the county don’t realize that under Oregon law, for both nonpartisan county and city elections, if a candidate gets 50 percent of the vote plus one — a majority — then that candidate essentially wins because only that name goes on the ballot in the November election. Write-ins are allowed, but basically, if you want to run for the City Council in November, you needed to have started planning and campaigning for the May primary.

In a dark corner of Cordley Hall on the edge of Oregon State University campus, an unsorted knot of dead ants floats preserved in a clear solution. For all anyone knows, the thumb-sized vial could hold an undiscovered species or a clue to some future entomological breakthrough.

As curator of OSU’s arthropod collection, Chris Marshall is in charge of almost three million dead bugs, as well as some spiders and mollusks.

Unless you solely rely on your dusty elementary school education to shape your worldview, or you live beneath a social-media rock, you ought to have a broadened understanding of colonization (just in time for Thanksgiving, y’all). European colonizers came, they saw and then stole the land we now recognize as the United States from its indigenous people. 

The University of Oregon has opened its gates to the world, and as you read this, freshmen with guitars and amps are swapping numbers, meeting up and starting their musical journeys. It’s hard to say what the music scene around campus will look like by graduation, but right now, there are still plenty of students and recent graduates kicking around the scene. Here are a few bands not to miss when they inevitably play around the campus area this year. 

Once upon a time in the way back when, the role of higher education was not to prepare you for the treadmill by clipping you into a human coupon but, rather, to help you seek your better self through a spirit of open inquiry into the civilization in which fate had somehow plunked you. Sure, it’s an ideal, and that’s the point. College is supposed to be formative, not formulaic — revelatory, not rote. It’s supposed to make you a better person instead of a better cog.

The University of Oregon hosts a number of traditional campus critters — crows, squirrels and freshmen, to name a few. 

But hidden away in neuroscientist Terry Takahashi’s lab is a parliament of 10 barn owls that helps Takahashi and his team of researchers understand the complexity of hearing in both birds and mammals. The owls have even led the scientist’s team to discoveries that could improve the lives of human beings.

“La Source” is part of a series of paintings Wiley did called The World Stage: Haiti — the New York-based artist has also done World Stage series in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Lagos and Dakar, France, China and Israel.

In the United States we are taught at a young age to desire impractical shiny things under the premise that more luxury equals a life lived successfully.  

But if our desire for an upper-class aesthetic is a social construct, what part of the goods we consume is real?

Artist Anya Kivarkis ponders this question of the space between consumption and reality by recreating jewelry as sculpture. Since completing her M.F.A. in 2004 at the State University of New York (SUNY), Kivarkis — who is head of the University of Oregon’s jewelry and metalsmithing program in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts — has been cranking out more elaborate pieces in ever larger shows. 

Eugene has an artistic reputation. At least, that’s what Aunia Kahn found when she was researching where to relocate her St. Louis gallery. Kahn had always wanted to live on the West Coast, she says, and after months of research she decided Eugene would be the rightful home of the Alexi Era Gallery.

“After being in the Midwest for an extended period of time, I felt that there was no way to expand myself without being in a little bit more of a progressive area,” Kahn says. “Eugene was an area that wasn’t overpopulated, it wasn’t oversaturated and it’s up-and-coming, and it seemed very loving and accepting. That’s why I chose Eugene.” 

Artist DeeDee Cheriel tells me a story about giving up cigarettes.

“I was incredibly grumpy, just more like an animal than a human,” Cheriel says. 

Around this time she recalls watching Grizzly Man, the 2005 Werner Herzog documentary about a man who tried to live with bears and, well, let’s just say the bears won. 

“I was very moved and touched by that story, but at the same time I had just quit smoking,” she says. “I just repeatedly painted this bear over and over again; it was a representation of me at the moment.”

Hope flooded me when I heard that the University of Oregon selected Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book, or rather letter to his black teenage son, for its 2016-17 “Common Reading” for incoming freshman. Between the World and Me is a crushing, beautiful piece of work, prompting me to examine some uncomfortable truths about the hidden-in-plain-sight privileges I have enjoyed because I’m a white woman — even that sentence is problematic because, as Coates writes, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.” 

Nathan Anderson is looking back at me through the visitor’s window at the Lane County Jail. He’s wearing inmate scrubs and has old, shiny scars up his left forearm. He holds a note up to the glass. 

“PTSD, depression, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder,” the note reads. 

I hold up my response to the glass: “When you were on the streets of Eugene, what were your daily symptoms?”

He writes back: “Out on the street, depends on how people treats me. Mostly I feel depressed. Keeping my mind on how bad I want death. Sometimes I feel anxious when I had a good day. Sometimes I see bad things that give me sadness and/or PTSD attacks.”

Eugene tech torchbearer Cale Bruckner had Middle Earth in mind four years ago when he dreamed up the term “Silicon Shire,” because of course he did. And he was correct if he thought it would strike the precise subliminal chords to produce charming pastoral visions of prosperity, while shoving Silicon Valley pitfalls out of the mental picture.

Bruckner himself got his start at Eugene’s Palo Alto Software before graduating from the University of Oregon in ’96. He launched the Silicon Shire online tech directory in 2012 to promote local tech companies and capture graduating talent from UO, Oregon State University and Lane Community College and keep it here.

At the time, California-based businesses were snatching the brightest tech-bulbs out of the lower Willamette Valley before the ink on their diplomas dried, Bruckner says. He wanted local up-and-comers to see what they were missing in and around Eugene before making up their minds.

Made of almost 200 illuminated glass panels lined with 120 specialized lights, the “Radiance Dome” is approximately 40 feet across and 20 feet tall. It’s crystal clear when the lights are off, but when the lights flicker on, it glows in swirling psychedelic patterns.

Yona Appletree and Wayne Skipper, co-founders of Eugene art-tech fusion company Light at Play, just came back from famed alt-culture gathering Burning Man, where they displayed the dome. Their work has appeared around the country, from Nevada to Washington, D.C., and soon it may appear in front of local cannabis shops.

According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Communication, up to 40 percent of parents are taught how to use computers by their children.

Whether you think kids are tech zombies or you think computer coding should be taught as a second language, tech is here. And kids love it.

Video games have infiltrated schools for decades — the widely adored Oregon Trail game launched in 1971 — but as technology advances, game developers and researchers, including ones here in Eugene, see an opportunity to combine play and learning through educational gaming, or gamification. 

It’s 1938 in Eugene, and Spencer Butte is in danger. If Eugeneans can’t raise $7,000, Spencer Butte and its iconic trees will be on the chopping block for the logging industry. 

Peeling through archived newspaper articles, Heather Kliever, curator of education and registrar at Lane County Historical Society, reads aloud descriptions of a daunting fate for the prominent Eugene landmark. 

The Eugene community succeeded in saving Spencer Butte, she says, with help from the Eugene Business and Professional Women’s Club and chairman of the Eugene city park commission, F.M. Wilkins, a local businessman who was the driving force and voice for the cause.

In the winter of 1938, after a series of town meetings, news stories and donations, the park fund reached its halfway point in eight days, according to Kliever. To make up the rest of the money needed to purchase the land, the city proposed and later voted through a tax levy.

Since inaugurating the monthly SPIN dance roundup in 2014, we’re pleased as punch that it’s taken off, gathering enough momentum to warrant two columns per month. Hopefully you’re clipping it out and tacking it to your fridge or sharing it online: We want this to be an inclusive, fun way to keep up with what’s happening in the world of local dance. 

And if you’re an artist or presenter, we sincerely hope that this regular coverage brings some shiny new participants and patrons right to your door. 

In this issue we’ll shine a spotlight on dancer and teacher Bonnie Simoa. We’ll see what’s new with the West African Cultural Arts Institute and we’ll groove with Coalessence Dance. We’re also taking a longer look at the state of dance in our little burg, asking questions about where dance in Eugene has been, and considering how to protect and encourage our community’s artistic future. 

Across the wood floorboards at WOW Hall, there’s a frenzy of writhing limbs, bare feet and butts. In fact, someone farted square in my face while stretching. The crowd is intimate, exchanging kisses on the cheek, sharing bear hugs, grinning widely. Clearly, this is a special gathering. 

This is Coalessence Dance, a bi-weekly “ecstatic” dance gathering centered on building community through motion.

All that! Dance Company

Ballet, contemporary jazz, tap, hip hop, ballroom

allthatdancecompany.com 541-688-1523


Ballet Fantastique


balletfantastique.org 541-342-4611


Ballet North West Academy

Ballet, tap, modern, jazz and Broadway dance

bnwa.net 541-343-3914


Celebration Belly Dance and Yoga

Bollywood, zumba, samba, capoeira, African, 40-plus