Seraphie Allen ’15 is the senior policy advisor for Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland. Allen is a Lewis & Clark alum, a former resident advisor and Ray Warren Symposium co-chair as well as an avid frisbee and basketball player. Allen’s credits her time at LC for helping her understand other perspectives by allowing her to work with a diverse group of people.
“My time at Lewis & Clark was hugely influential in thinking and helping me to craft my own personal values, separate from my parents and my family, and also introduce me to so many really awesome people who really cared about the world,” Allen said.
After graduating, Allen worked for a year and a half as a substitute teacher and a teacher’s assistant. Allen became increasingly interested in governmental policy while creating a citizenship unit for her fifth-grade class.
“During that time, I started to feel really frustrated, clearly, with Trump’s rhetoric,” Allen said. “I had never done a lot of political work before, but I really wanted to get involved on a local level to feel like I could make a difference. I enjoyed the classroom and I had so much fun with the kids, but I felt limited in being able to have (an) impact.”
Allen then decided to get involved with a local mayoral campaign and researched each candidate to see which one most closely aligned with her values and goals.
“I was deciding between Jules Bailey, who was our county commissioner and was a Lewis & Clark alumni … or Ted Wheeler,” Allen said. “What I specifically remember (Wheeler) saying is that he really cared about mental health and addiction. That’s always been a passion of mine, and I’d done at LC a lot of volunteering with Operation Nightwatch, which is a way to connect (with) and meet people experiencing homelessness.”
Allen then attended a house party for Wheeler, where she met the then-candidate and discussed his campaign. This led to a year of fundraising and research in her free time and eventually a full-time job on Wheeler’s team. Allen has now been officially working for Wheeler for the past four years, which has been both difficult and rewarding for her.
“Working in a political office, especially a mayor’s office, is really hard,” Allen said. “People want a lot of things from you all of the time. It’s a lot of responsibility. When you’re there and you know the issues, you’re able to move up rather quickly. Now my job entails (overseeing) all of our policy development and implementation on homelessness and housing and LGBTQ issues, cannabis, education and children’s issues. One of the coolest things (about) getting to work in a political office is that you just get to talk to so many different kinds of people that inform how you push forward work.”
However, the recent push for social change in Portland has forced the current city government to change its focus.
“Different topics will take your precedent over a certain time,” Allen said. “Policing issues are really big right now, clearly … It is definitely an exciting time because there’s so much movement for change and it’s also really hard because people have very strong and intense opinions.”
Allen went on to discuss Portland’s time on the national stage and how the country being so divided has led to violence, which she said is difficult to heal from and move forward. At the same time, she believes the divide, while unfortunate, makes sense.
The increase in advocacy for social justice in Portland has created an internal struggle for Allen, as she has personal values that may sometimes contradict with how Wheeler wants to respond to certain circumstances.
“Personally, working in a political office, you have to support your candidate, but also you might have your own personal issues or concerns or passion,” Allen said. “It can be hard. Especially when you feel stuck between a rising social movement and your own local person you’re working for and then everyone’s opinions about everything … it can feel really personal.”
Allen finds it difficult to be a part of Wheeler’s team at the moment, because many people are very upset with his decisions, and as a representative of the mayor, a lot of resentment is directed towards her.
But even with this uncertainty, Allen is excited for the future in terms of local change and hopeful that the city will be able to continue improving for its citizens.
“Out of the protests, we’re already seeing a lot of really great movement … but also I’ve been so impressed by so many of the Black leaders who are like, it’s not just about police, it’s also about economic development and it’s about housing and access to wealth,” Allen said.
Allen concluded by talking about her hopes that Portland will be able to regain their trust in Wheeler’s governance if he wins a second term, and that they will be able to build back through showing progress on policing and other issues.