Real Change has much to celebrate. Now approaching our twenty-fifth year, we are an influential and beloved community institution that provides opportunity and hope to 300 homeless and low-income people each month. We are an essential source of independent community news and a powerful lever for change in the Seattle area.
With success comes responsibility to help others achieve as well. This year, Real Change is extending fiscal sponsorship to INSP North America. This new project, under the leadership of 43-year-old Portland street paper veteran Israel Bayer, will provide resources and technical assistance to papers like Real Change and Street Roots across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The project is part of the International Network of Street Papers, the global street paper organization that has 100 members across 35 countries. The INSP, founded in 1994, offers a news service that translates and shares articles from around the world, brings the world’s street papers together each year for an annual conference and provides a valued hub to share expertise and resources.
Israel Bayer is staking his future on the project’s success.
Last year, Israel was honored with Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Arc of Justice award for his role in helping pass Portland’s $258 million housing bond. He has also been nominated for an honorary degree by Portland State University.
“For a guy with an 11th grade education,” he told me, “it’s a pretty big honor to even be nominated.”
A high school dropout who struggled with dyslexia, Israel spent his late-teens and early twenties following the music band The Grateful Dead and working in convenience stores. “I traveled a lot, and this was a skill that could get you a job nearly anywhere.”
It was during those long night shifts that Israel discovered a love for journalism. “I was reading everything from Mad Magazine to The New Yorker, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I want to tell people’s stories.’”
“I was reading everything from Mad Magazine to The New Yorker, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I want to tell people’s stories.’”
Later, when Israel applied for a social work job at a Portland homeless shelter — without a degree or any human services experience — the convenience store background made the difference.
“I said, ‘Look if I can run a graveyard shift at a convenience store, I can be a great social worker.’ So that wound up being my ticket into both that and journalism.”
I first met Israel in 1999, when he crashed on Real Change’s floor during the WTO protests. He was arrested and spent four days in jail. Israel spent that time absorbing teach-ins organized by a wide variety of activists. “I was a young, twenty-something kid, and it just radically changed my life.”
Israel’s WTO experience would become his first column at Portland’s Street Roots, where he would hone his journalism and activist chops over much of the next two decades.
Israel left Street Roots for around 18 months in 2006 to come work at Real Change. “The writing and the activism came naturally,” he recalled, “but I knew nothing about running a business or nonprofit. I spent that time absorbing everything I could.”
In 2007, Israel returned to Portland as Executive Director of Street Roots. “They said they could pay me for three months, and I was thrilled to take it.” Over the next 10 years, Israel and long-time Street Roots Executive Editor Joanne Zuhl took the publication from two staff and a budget of $70,000 a year to weekly publication with 11 staff and a budget of $900,000.
More importantly, the Street Roots team established themselves as essential and respected players in the Portland community. New Executive Director Kaia Sand was deeply involved in passing a metro-wide housing bond of nearly a half-billion dollars.
Israel is no stranger to bootstrapping his way through a start-up, and that comfort with uncertainty comes in handy as INSP-NA gets underway.
“We’re building this plane while we’re flying it, and I know that sometimes we’re going to be skimming the treetops. That’s OK.” The project just received its first donation through the Oregon Community Foundation.
We’re proud to be working members of the INSP, and proud to do our part to get this important new project off the ground. For more information, contact Israel Bayer at [email protected].
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Read the full Feb. 6 - 12 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.