PORTLAND The mental images were horrific. The story
was headline news statewide. A young woman, murdered and then dismembered,
her body dumped in the Willamette River. A young male friend not a
"boyfriend" per se arrested and charged with the crime.
For most people with children of their own, one of their first thoughts was
"How must her parents feel?"
Michael Brown, a virtual lifelong unionist and longtime Oregon AFSCME
member-leader, can unfortunately answer that question. The victim,
18-year-old Cassondra Brown, was his daughter.
|Brown says he understands they may never know the truth
regarding "Cassie" on that fateful January night. "We don't know what
happened," he says quietly. "We may find out at the trial, or we may
Brown is a police officer for the Port of Portland. He has been with
AFSCME Local 1847, which represents Port of Portland employees,
Young Cassie Brown in a favorite T-shirt.
|for 23 years. He is past-president of the local several
times over, and has held virtually every local union office. A Portland
native, his parents were both involved with organized labor with the
ILWU. A brother is an ILWU member as well. A sister is a member of SEIU
Cassie Brown grew up in a union family.
"She was an up-and-coming unionist in her own right, she truly was," said
Brown. "She grew up going to strikes and walking picket lines, going
door-to-door distributing political literature, attending the Labor Day
picnics every year. That was a huge part of her life."
But Cassie Brown related to trade unionism more so than a typical "union
kid." In 1994, as a fifth grader, Cassie did a special video presentation on
labor union history in the U.S. as a class project. Michael Brown chuckles
as he recalls her teacher telling him the video was popular break-time
viewing in the teachers' lounge at the school. Many teachers, he said,
admitted they "learned a lot about labor history" from Cassie's video.
Brown was concerned Cassie might get into trouble the day she took "Raise
the Minimum Wage" buttons to distribute to school classmates. (She didn't.)
She helped fight many of the Bill Sizemore anti-union ballot measures in
Oregon. And she loved to simply debate people no matter their age on the
benefits of unions and union history.
Cassie Brown was also an environmentalist. She registered to vote with the
Pacific Green Party this past election cycle. "We gave in and got a 'fake'
Christmas tree last year," Michael Brown remembers with a smile. Cassie also
loved animals; that led her to become a vegetarian.
"She was independent and had her own ideas," said Michael Brown.
While Brown said news coverage of Cassie's death was fair and sympathetic,
he allows that one aspect of some reports bothered the family. Early stories
implied the event was related to domestic violence, which wasn't the case.
"The suspect is someone we've known for a long time," said Brown. "He and
Cassie dated casually over time, but they weren't 'boyfriend' and
'girlfriend' and they didn't live together.
"Moreover," Brown continued, "anyone who knew Cassie understood that she
would never have been a victim of 'domestic violence.' She simply wouldnt
have put up with it. She'd have been out of there right now. Cassie was the
victim of a violent crime, but certainly not a victim of domestic violence."
"We raised her to stand up for herself and speak her mind," added Joan
Brown, Michael's mother and Cassie's grandmother. "She never would have
stayed around being hit by somebody."
Michael and Joan Brown both believe that Cassie would have eventually run
for public office. For sure, says her father, she would have done something
where she could help other people. "That was her nature," he said.
A family friend is working on a web tribute to Cassie Brown, which will soon
be available at
www.CassieBrown.org. A memorial fund has also been established at Bank
of America; you can donate at any branch office. Michael Brown says his
family has been moved by the generous support of organized labor in the
weeks after Cassie's death.
Brown loved to do creative writing, especially poetry. In a bit of haunting
irony, in June 2002 she wrote her own eulogy as part of a class project. It
was read at her memorial service. Here is a paraphrased excerpt:
"There are those who lived longer, and those who lived better for the
world, but she made a difference that mattered, even on a small scale. She
was protector to her family, and to women who thought themselves weak. She
taught them, as best she could, to find confidence and inner power
decided she was going to adopt as many female children as she could support;
she bought up those girls to be strong women
She wrote books that didn't
reach mainstream bookstores, but the content mattered...She loved dogs.
"The world's not drastically different because of her, but there are signs
that she lived. The women she raised grew up to be powerful, and took those
values into the world with them. Dogs led happier lives, and her books
touched the lives of few, but loyal, readers."
Loving, Public Affairs Director
Oregon AFSCME Council 75
Oregon Afscme Website