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Protests are great but now let's turn that into action

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Protests around the region show that people are fired up about issues, but voting is not enough

Our region has never seen a spate of political protests to compare to these past few weeks.

But the question arises: After marching, then what?

At the same time that tens of thousands — possibly 100,000 — Oregonians were gathering their resources for the Jan. 21 Women's March in Portland, the Oregon School Boards Association issued a statement saying that the May 2015 election saw the lowest number of candidates for Oregon school board seats in a decade and that nearly three out of four candidates for school boards statewide ran unopposed.

The very best thing that could come out of the many protests in January and February — is an outpouring of volunteerism at every level.

Look at these unprecedented numbers: The city of Portland has never seen a march quite like the Jan. 21 event, which snaked through the downtown core for hours and resulted in zero arrests for unlawful behavior. Marchers ranged from little kids to people in their 70s and everyone in between.

Three members of Oregon's congressional delegation held a press conference on Friday, Jan. 27, to protest the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be U.S. Secretary of Education. Meaning no disrespect to Sen. Jeff Merkley, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, but usually when they gather on a cold January morning to talk politics, the members of the media on hand outnumber the citizens who show up.

Not this time: An estimated 300 people braved the weather to stand outside 1 World Trade Center in Portland to protest the nomination of a Michigan billionaire who has championed charter, private and religious schools, at the expense of public schools in her state.

The Times spoke to two retirees, bundled up against the frigid wind blowing off the Willamette River. He is a retired community college administrator; she's a retired elementary school nurse. They live in Wilsonville. They came to downtown Portland for the Women's March, and again for the Betsy DeVos press conference. Why? Because they couldn't stay home and "do nothing," they said.

That kind of passion is awe-inspiring and only growing. So, again, we hope it pays off in volunteerism.

Sen. Merkley's town hall Jan. 28 drew 600 people to Tigard High School. School officials and the senator's aides had planned for 200 — and having covered dozens of these town halls, 200 would have been optimistic most years. But not this year. A line formed outside the high school to get in.

Impressive? Merkley also held a town hall that day at Franklin High School in Portland that drew 3,700 people!

Take those numbers and think about what they would mean if a small percentage of participants volunteer for a commission or a task force. If they ran for office. Not interested in Congress or the Legislature? How about a school board? Or a water district, or a fire protection district, or a land conservation committee? Don't want to run for office? There never has been, and never will be, a school district or a town or a county with "too many volunteers."

We could say that every person who protests this month needs to register as a voter and needs to vote. But that seems like low-hanging fruit.

Protesting is great. It's part of the American spirit.

Volunteering and serving are even better.