Akasha Lawrence Spence, D-Portland, served most of 2020 in the Oregon House of Representatives after being appointed to fill the seat vacated by former House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, who stepped down to run for Secretary of State. Lawrence Spence did not run for Williamson’s seat after filling out the remainder of her term, but said she would be interested in filling the seat being vacated by longtime state Senator Ginny Burdick.
However, Lawrence Spence is not your “typical” Oregon legislator, and comes at all of her political work with this vigor that only a true community activist can bring to the Oregon State Legislature. “I don’t view myself as a politician, I view myself as a public servant,” she said.
Economic Justice in Oregon
You see, Akasha Lawrence Spence views all of her efforts as ways to support economic justice, which pulls together many incredibly important issues to all Oregonians. The main tenets of her platform include supporting healthcare, housing, small businesses, climate action, civic engagement, and infrastructure development.
”Everything I do, every issue I am looking at, filters through an economic justice lens,” she explained. “Folks need their very basic needs met, and to know that we have a social safety net, and it gives people the freedom to live fully actualized lives. When people are in survival mode, it’s one in which you can’t think past your daily circumstances. That, to me, is not the highest and best use of our humanness.” She feels that all Oregon communities should have the opportunity to contribute to society and live their fully actualized lives as such, should she be elected to the Senate.
To give some background, Akasha Lawrence Spence was the first person born in the U.S. in her family. She describes her mother as always being very service oriented in her endeavors and always working to help people. Her mother was asked into the U.S. Armed Forces as an immigrant nurse over 40 years ago and actually went to Operation Iraqi Freedom when Akasha was in high school. “Doing anything in my community where I can provide a service was [and is] just a part of that legacy and how I was raised,” she explained.
Her mother also taught her about money, and Lawerence Spence learned at a very young age about how financial security can help you live your values, and then quickly correlated how much more communities with resources could not only advocate for themselves, but also hold people accountable, thus creating decision making power.
“I quickly tied financial security and representation together, and saw that communities that had resources could advocate for themselves in the public sector. They could make their voices heard and also hold the public services accountable. It’s not just about money, it’s about decision making power,” she said.
Aside from her community activism and political endeavors, Lawrence Spence, 32, currently runs Fifth Element, a conscientious real estate developer fortifying small businesses through property ownership. Fifth Element Foundation is a 501C3 that actually prepares small businesses for property ownership through education and wraparound professional support services…also very much in line with economic justice.
Social Equity and Cannabis Tax Revenue
Perhaps one of the most important points that Lawrence Spence advocates for in the State of Oregon is in regards to social equity, and specifically social equity in terms of cannabis tax revenue.
“We can see the generational impact from cannabis criminalization and the War on Drugs on Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities clearly. There is no dispute as to the institutionalized harm that those policies have caused these specific communities of color. How is an entire community who has been experiencing this since the 1970s supposed to climb out of this situation without reparative measures?”
“In the state of Oregon, Black people are incarcerated at a rate of 480 times higher than the statewide average. Latinx and Indigenous people are incarcerated at a rate of 34 times higher than the statewide average. These are institutional policies that are criminalizing people for using something (cannabis) that has equal, equivalent levels of usage across all the races.”
“When we look at these data points, and then we compare them to the fact that cannabis is now a billion dollar industry in our state, and our state is now seeing tax rev upwards of $300M a biennium…I don’t’ see how folks can’t see the connection as to where that money should be going. This Equity Investment Act is saying now to the state, we are behind. Everyone else who has passed cannabis, has an equity program. We don’t have one at all. And with federal legalization looming, we have to figure this out before it’s too late.”
You can learn more about Akasha Lawrence Spence and how to support her here.