Weekly Featured Profile – Rhys Scholes

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Rhys Scholes

Rhys Scholes is a Portland, Oregon activist and local government official.He is the Communications Policy Director for Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler.

Scholes went to high school in Decatur, Georgia and was involved in the anti-Vietnam movement. The Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialists Alliance were organizing primarily around Emory University. As a high school student, Scholes went to Socialist Workers Party events and subscribed to The Militant, the Socialist Workers Party newspaper. He started reading Trotskyist takes on the Vietnam War and economics in his last year in high school, 1971.

Later in the 1970s, Scholes was an active leader of the Oregon New American Movement, which was formed by former members of the Communist Party USA and Students for a Democratic Society.

When the Portland chapter of the New American Movement merged with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form Democratic Socialists of America, in 1982, a majority of its members remained active in the new organization and, through it, successfully engaged in regional and national politics.

Five Oregonians — Rhys Scholes, Marcia Barrentine, Nancy Becker, Scott Bailey and Beverly Stein were central to the chapter’s life throughout its existence. They also worked together beyond the life of the organization.

According to Scholes, Portland NAM was very influenced by Maoist thought:

Part of it was that one Mao Tse-tung essay on theory and practice. I think we were really influenced by Maoist thought on theory and practice.

It worked to NAM’s advantage that the word socialist wasn’t in their name. According to Scholes:

It was a weird thing, the fact that “socialist” wasn’t in the name, but not necessarily in a bad way. I remember in 1980, I was representing Portland NAM on the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition to stop big oil, which we were real enthusiastic about. I was sitting at a table with guys from the Carpenters’ Union and the Machinists’ Union, and we’re talking about the coalition, and the New American Movement is right in there and they were really glad to have us.

But the Democratic Socialists Organizing Committee was also there, and the labor folks were a little concerned that those people were too radical. I knew that they [DSOC] were a lot less radical than NAM, but the funny thing is that we were more popular because we didn’t have the word “socialism” in our name. (all laugh) I believe that that actually helped us a lot in our organizing. People got to know us not through a stereotype, but as “the New American Movement,” which really had a generic ring to it.

According to Scholes, Portland NAM helped to change the culture of their host city:

In a lot of ways, we were winning. There was a liberal trend in Portland that was triumphing over the previous kind of machine politics. We weren’t really supportive of that, but it created a room for us to be further out, and created our sense of possibility. We saw things changing. We believed that if this much is possible, we can just push it forward. And we definitely saw a lot of the old orthodoxy falling away.

Building into about 1980, we had a collective momentum, and the merger prolonged it because it created a critical mass of two groups. Or in the case of the Red Rose School, the work totally flowed into the project, and the project kept going for a long time. But I think if you trace the activists, you’d find a dispersal, largely to other kinds of progressive causes and to other sorts of things.

By 2001, Rhys Scholes was a senior policy analyst for Multnomah Interim County Chair Bill Farver.

In 2004, Rhys Scholes was executive director of Citizens for Oregon’s Future.

Rhys Scholes told a 2008 interviewer:

I think about it a lot, and I hold lots of those values. And I would probably say that I’m still a socialist. But I think that there’s a lot that’s going on in politics today that’s socialistic. The discussion on national healthcare is now once again moving in a more socialistic direction. The movement for single payer healthcare is growing again.


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