This Punk Named Bim Is Running for Mayor of Portland
What started as a joke has blossomed into a full-on campaign aimed towards preserving the city's artists and creative class.
All photos courtesy of Bim Ditson
A photo of a guy with a mohawk and leather jacket sprawled out on top of 15 cases of PBR showed up on my Facebook feed the other day, but that wasn't what was weird. It was the caption, which read: Bim Ditson for Mayor of Portland.
I know Bim Ditson as the scraggy, tree-tall drummer of And And And—a wailing garage group that's been a Portland mainstay for over eight years. I also know him as the founder of Rigsketball—a basketball tournament that pits different local bands against each other in abandoned parking lots across the city, or wherever Bim can back up his beat up cargo van with the hoop attached to its rear. I know the 25-year-old has sold his handmade chainmaille jewelry at Portland's Saturday Market for over 15 years, and that his parents let him pick his own name once he could speak. I also know how Portland this all sounds, but still, running for mayor just seemed a little too far out of his weirdo wheelhouse.
"You might think the campaign is a joke," wrote Tony Prato, a local music booking agent who started the Bim Ditson for Mayor of Portland Facebook group back in October. "But guess what? People like jokes, and they'll engage with jokes. Now let's get serious."
The joke part: Tony started the Facebook group because he and Bim are friends and he kind of wanted to fuck with him, and so he filled it out with photos that portrayed Bim's charmingly offbeat world. One of him holding a beer in front of his handmade sky glider, a screenshot of a text conversation they had where Bim appointed Charlie Humara (of the experimental Portland project, Grapefruit), God Loon Loon (an obscure podcast reference) and "some books I never finished" as his mayoral staff.
But, Bim says for the 48 hours after the group was created, he was inundated with calls and texts. "Everyone was reaching out with ideas and support—everything you could imagine, basically. It was clear from the start that it was something important. It was something to stand up and look in the eye.
So he figured, why not? He already had a cause. He wanted to make sure his friends and the rest of the creative class in Portland weren't pushed out by developers—some of whom already had close ties in city government. "Every one of my friends is having trouble paying rent. The city has been too easy to work with development companies that then sit on the land and crush neighborhoods until they can put up the condos they want," he explained. He went along with the joke, and the joke became a reality. Because if there's one person who has a chance at turning the young, drunk, musician slackers of Portland into true American—voters!—maybe it's Bim Ditson, the chainmaille-making, basketball hoop-rigging, show booking, popular drummer guy.
I called Bim a few hours before his campaign launch party—where he had to get 100 signatures or come up with $50 to get on the ballot—to see exactly how he figured he'd change Portland, or get it back to normal, or keep it weird, whatever.
Noisey: You're running for mayor. How did this happen?
Bim Diston: Well, it sort of spurred from seeing the changes in the city. There's a lot of growth happening, but it's not really being fair to the communities that made Portland an attractive place, and I'm not seeing a lot happening from the city government to protect the cultural identity of Portland.
What's key in protecting that identity?
I would say the big, sweeping idea is that we need autonomy, because we're not like most cities in Oregon. There are a lot of processes that are not allowed in Portland because the state may not think it's the best idea as a whole, but we need different things for our citizens.
What are your personal ties to the city?
As soon as I turned 18, I moved to Portland. I started a band right away. I instantly fell in love with the music community, and just the fact that it was a place that was big enough that you could do real stuff, and small enough that you could know people on a real level. People were doing stuff because they loved it, and that's what got me into Portland—doing something you care about just because you care about it. Then, I started the Rigsketball tournament, which is really just that in a nutshell. Just me wanting to do something fun that's never been done before. It's helped me realize what Portlanders are all about. We're really good at having fun and not feeling bad about having fun, which is something I think is really special to this city.
Why are you the right guy for the job?
Because I don't have to answer to anybody except my community, and I don't have any ties to development companies, or any ambition to be a career politician, so I don't have a reason to sell our city out. I've always been the type of person to have the drive to backup a mentality of creativity and passion over tradition and status quo. That would be my thesis on how to do this. For me, it's always about asking "Why not do it in this way?" And usually people will say, "Because it hasn't been done that way," and that's the worst possible answer.
Can you talk about how city developers have negatively affected the music scene in Portland?
I think a lot of people who would like to develop the city for their profits see the artistic and music communities as a threat to that. A lot of places have shut down or are very clearly not going to get their lease again because where they were once the only place that people came to on that street, they are now the sore thumb in comparison to the new stuff. We didn't realize we were fighting a battle until most of our holdouts were gone. It seems to me if it's not their concerted effort to force our community to the edges, it's a hell of a coincidence.
Is this battle you talk about between old and new Portland?
I wouldn't even put it as us versus them. I know a lot of people who get it, and they're from all different backgrounds and dress all kinds of ways. Portlanders by and large want the best for the city, it's just a matter of getting people in place who will listen to that. When people come to Portland, they're pretty much forced to get it quickly, because we're awesome and we'll say hi, and we're nice, and we'll explain why we like this band or whatever else. The people who don't get it are the people who are sitting in City Hall, who are not exposed to Portlanders.
Tell me about the launch party for your campaign. How did it go?
Well, we're had a couple of hours where people just hung out and filled in comment cards. It's just the first place to meet our campaign, talk with us, and see what we're about. Then Sam Coomes [of Quasi] played—he's one of my musical heroes and I'm really excited that he was down to play. He's one of those lifelong Portland musician people that is just so important. After that was Wooden Indian Burial Ground, which will was amazing as well. They're good buds and a super fun band. That's part of it—we didn't want it to be too serious, we just wanted it to be fun. Like, if I'm throwing a party, I'd definitely going to have a couple of awesome bands play.
What is your campaign slogan?
"It's your Portland."
The next morning, I saw another photo of Bim, the one above—which was taken right after he got 104 signatures.
Nikki Volpicelli is on Twitter.