Portland Activist Sets Her Sights on Writing

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March 9, 2021

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Olivia Pace is an activist. She’s an organizer, a childcare worker, a Portland State University graduate. Pace is a prison and police abolitionist, a wine-drinker, a Clueless-lover. She’s chronically ill with cystic fibrosis. She’s a biracial Black socialist feminist who has been integral to some of Portland’s biggest activist movements in the last few years. She’s a freelance writer and puts out her newsletter “Wash Day” each month. She has an infectious laugh and a glowing presence, even through a Zoom screen.

Born, raised, and currently living in Portland, Oregon, 24-year-old Pace has been working in childcare since she was 15. In February of 2020, she led the effort to unionize with co-workers at Growing Seeds Preschool, making it the only functioning private preschool union in the city. Pace was essential to the Disarm PSU movement, a seven-year effort to disarm campus police officers that received particular attention after PSU campus police shot and killed Jason Washington in 2018. 

When the campus force announced last August it would no longer carry firearms, it was a huge win for Pace. She immediately started screaming: relieved, celebrating, happy. “I made myself a giant pancake, I was so happy. I was listening to Hannah Montana, it was stupid. I was so happy.” 

Pace and fellow activists, many of whom are her best friends, gathered at North Portland’s Skidmore Bluffs with champagne, toasting till after dark. Campus police have not been disarmed yet – there have been some policy barriers – but she’s hopeful that it will happen soon. “At this point, disarming campus police is much more politically feasible and viable than it was a few years ago. What’s politically possible has kind of outgrown the demand to disarm.”

Olivia Pace’s cystic fibrosis has progressed, and her ability to be out in the streets protesting has diminished significantly. This was especially frustrating for her during the summer of 2020 when Portland was a hot spot for the Black Lives Matter uprising. She admits that taking a break from protest is probably good for her, and she’s adjusted quickly. 

“Being out in the streets is really mentally grueling and draining and psychologically hard. And harder in some ways than being ill…running from cops and getting tear-gassed,” she says. “It’s almost worse than being in the hospital in a lot of ways.” 

Pace has channeled a lot of her organizing time and energy into writing. “This is so fucking corny, but when I decided to start writing again, it felt like falling in love…That is literally how it felt.” She’s published her work through Medium, Dismantle Mag, and AYO Mag, among others.

In November 2020, Pace launched her newsletter “Wash Day: Black Socialist Feminist Reflections.” Pace writes about self-care and survival as a Black woman in the United States, and as someone who lives with a chronic illness. Her February issue centers on iconic Black feminist writer Audre Lorde. Inspired by Lorde’s philosophy she writes: “When Black women take care of ourselves, nourish ourselves, empower ourselves, we are counteracting systems which have aimed to destroy us…we are equipping ourselves with the tools we need to dismantle those systems through direct political action.”

When asked where she finds room for self-care, Pace said “I take a lot of fucking baths,” she smiled, “and I drink a lot of wine.” Sitting on a velvet chair, with a dreamy cloud covered fabric backdrop behind her, Pace said she finds joy in astrology, tarot, washing her hair, and, of course, writing. Pace has OCD, and explained how writing has eased some of those symptoms, “I literally just want everything to be right at any given time…and with writing, in order for me to do my best writing, I have to just allow things to be messy…Reminding myself to allow things to be messy is a form of self-care.” 

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