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  • Portland State University students and community members show support for a divestment resolution, May 2016.

    Portland State University students and community members show support for a divestment resolution, May 2016. | Photo: Facebook

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Activists in Portland took their grievance to the city council demanding that taxpayers' money not go to harmful projects and profiteers.

Like Seattle and Davis, Calif., Portland, Oregon, decided to divest from Wells Fargo due to its ties to the Dakota Access pipeline. But unlike others, Portland went a bit further and divested from all corporations that have been linked to controversial investments.

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Portland's city council decided Wednesday to divest from companies such as Wells Fargo, also known for funding private prison company Geo Group, Inc., as well as corporations such as Caterpillar, Inc., — manufacturer of construction and mining equipment — whose bulldozers Israel has used to attack Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

In a bid to incentivize "social responsibility," the activists in Portland took their grievance to the city council demanding that taxpayers' money not go to harmful projects and profiteers. Portland already had a volunteer board in place, the Socially Responsible Investments Committee, that helped define the city's investment policies by flagging companies that conflict with the city's environmental policies or carry out human rights violations.

"This is a win," said Hyung Nam, a member of the committee. "The city is actually willing to lose money to their budget because they want to get out of these big corporate nightmares."

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By state law, the city is required to review its investment strategy every year but in 2016, it couldn't reach a consensus on the committee's recommendations. Commissioner Dan Saltzman said that he'd rather spend his time looking into city issues like the housing crisis rather than evaluating corporations that belong on the do-not-buy list. "I fully respect and appreciate what you're saying, but I think it's the wiser course to get out of the business altogether because I don't want to do this every year," said Saltzman.

Calling the move, a "passive" approach, Mayor Ted Wheeler told Oregon Public Broadcasting that divestment would mean less revenue, warning that the city might end up losing money for city projects like housing and bedding for the homeless. According to Portland Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman, the city would lose a revenue of US$4.5 million a year when the US$539 million that is currently invested in companies is moved to federal bonds or other areas.

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