With the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) nonprofit organization emblazoning the side of a downtown Portland building with Alicia Silverstone’s naked tush exclaiming the hazards of wearing wool, we decided it was time to investigate one of the popular elements of Stumptown – why is Portland so liberal?

What’s the deal with the PETA ad?

PETA’s billboard advertisement features actress Alicia Silverstone’s naked backside with the catchphrase “I’d rather go naked than wear wool” in support of PETA’s “Wool Free Winter” campaign. Similar ads featuring actor Joaquin Phoenix are currently in Boston, Mass.

The staff here at Stumped in Stumptown supports the humane treatment of animals, but we must admit a little confusion toward this campaign. Skipping over the nudity issue (heck, we have an annual naked bike ride dedicated to all things dangly), we’re confused about the anti-wool sentiment. Isn’t wool simply shaved off living animals who are unharmed?

Turns out, One Green Planet explains that there are a few sheepish factors at work:

  • Wild sheep shed their extra wool naturally. Sheep in captivity have been bred to produce more meat and, thus, more wool which means they need to be sheered to prevent heatstroke.
  • A practice called “mulesing” is the removal of skin from a sheep’s hindquarters to prevent flies from laying eggs in the skin, typically performed without painkillers.
  • Anti-wool advocates claim that wool is a by-product of the meat industry and report a great deal of animal cruelty toward animals who produce wool including sheep, rabbits, and goats.

We’re still investigating this whole issue, so many among the staff haven’t formed solid opinions on the matter. If you know more or aren’t too sheepish to share your own outlook on wool, please feel free to do so in the comments!

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Why is Portland so liberal?

The State of Oregon and Portland, in particular, have leaned left (i.e. Democratic) since the 1954 election upset of incumbent Republican Senator Guy Gordon by Democrat Richard Neuberger. Since 1988, Oregonians have consistently favored Democrats for most major elections, including the U.S. presidency and state governorship.

Portland’s liberal views have been reinforced over the years through its widening reputation as a city where alternative people express themselves. Given that those who buck the trend are often younger, and young folk tend to lean liberal, the general view of Portland is one of being very left-wing.

However, Portland’s politics aren’t quite as simple as just being a progressive city where people recycle everything. In 1988, a gang of racist skinheads killed an Ethiopian immigrant named Mulugeta Seraw by bludgeoning him to death with a baseball bat, earning the town the nickname “Skinhead City.” Throughout the 1990s, rival gangs of racist skinheads and anti-racist skinheads literally took to the streets to battle each other, further reinforcing the nickname.

Since the early 2000s, Portland began cultivating a reputation as being a friendly and quirky city, helped along by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s popular comedy show, “Portlandia.” Racist right-wing groups continue to carry a strong presence in Portland and the surrounding areas often holding protests, marches, and other activities generating controversy.

CNN interviewed Randy Blazak, a professor of criminology at the University of Oregon, who explained why alt-right members try to raise their profiles in typically left-leaning cities like Portland, “There’s this mantle of free speech that they’re hanging their hats on – under the first amendment, they have a right to express themselves, but it’s used in a very provocative way to bring out the opposition and essentially martyr themselves in street battles between the left and the right to show themselves as almost the victims of the oppressive left-wing regime.”

How do you see Portland?

As with any city, state, or country, the place is defined by its people. How do you see Portland and why? Is it a liberal bastion? Is it a battlefield for opposing views? Feel free to share your insights in the comments.