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August 26, 2017

Gregory McKelvey wants to inspire you to change the world through activism.
Category: 2017 Event, News, Speaker Announcements

You say you want a revolution?  Gregory McKelvey should be your first call. (Photo © 2017 John Rudoff)

You say you want a revolution? Gregory McKelvey should be your first call. (Photo © 2017 John Rudoff)

It’s a cold day in Portland in early 2016 and Gregory McKelvey is six minutes into a 90 second speech.. and the crowd is rapt, shouting approval into his infrequent pauses for breath. The time tolerances are tight for guest speakers at this Bernie Sanders rally. But when you’ve got their attention and you’ve got something real to say – something the people you came here to represent are counting on you to say – you run with it.

This is McKelvey’s first taste of speaking in front of a large crowd and he’s hooked. And we’re all the better for it.

Even in this first go-round we see what will become one of the defining traits of the public face of his activism: his sense for when a moment is upon him and how best to use it to further his cause. McKelvey knows that the spotlights that swing toward him one moment can swing elsewhere the next and how to press the advantage while it’s there.

It might seem only natural that McKelvey is the leader and the media darling, granted something of an amalgam status of pop star and political cause spearhead. After all, he’s young, good-looking, armed with a disarming smile and stage presence born of a childhood spent acting. But if you’d known McKelvey in high school, protest organizer and recent law school grad is probably not what you’d have guessed for the future of the young man who graduated with a 1.8 GPA. But sometimes the spark to change comes in ways we wouldn’t expect … or wish. When his best friend Da’Marcus Berry-Hodge died, “I got my life together,” he tells TEDxMtHood, in a transformation that left even family and close friends amazed.

Reacting strongly and positively to adversity would become a hallmark. When he and so many others felt that the system had failed them with the results of the election of 2016, McKelvey did what he would become best known for: directing civil discourse in its most visceral form – feet on the streets of Portland. He founded Portland’s Resistance literally overnight to give voice to the opposition. The new movement hit the ground running, and hit the streets hard.

From his introduction to protest politics with Don’t Shoot Portland, to his extensive work with Black Lives Matter, to his current work with the organization he founded, Portland’s Resistance, the immediate agenda item may change, but the undercurrent never waivers: His heart is where it has always been, with the disenfranchised, lending his eloquent and loudspeaker-magnified voice to those without a voice.

Much of McKelvey’s work centers on privilege in general and specifically upon police matters. “I am terrified,” he says at that first Sanders rally, “of the people who are supposed to serve and protect me.” But this same impulse to lend a voice to the unheard extends far beyond, to such seemingly disparate matters as homelessness and gentrification, single-payer health care, climate change action, to name but a few.

Protest, among other things, is a key element to a larger game, a means of “gaining leverage in the streets … that gives us more leverage to enact actual policy,” McKelvey told the Portland Tribune in a recent article. He refuses to let protest be mired in the strictly immediate or short-term or to be defined solely by what it is against. “We’re not just a protest group; we’re a political action group,” he says, indicating a raft of progressive agenda items and a long-range plan.

McKelvey has a refreshing high-level focus on his own role in his movement. “There are tons of people working on this movement,” he told Vice recently, “but the media likes me right now, so we’re going to use that.” And that larger view, that ability to see the game that he is so intimately involved in as though he’s viewing from outside, may help to explain his success.

Perhaps it’s exactly because he was not always on this path that he understands it so well and his own role in it. And that, even more than his success, may be the most important reason that he’s the best person to inspire us to get involved. And why we should listen as he shows us how.

Post-election, McKelvey has come to accept the old maxim that ‘no press is bad press’ because “even if you and your cause get negative coverage, your message gets out there and someone who agrees with you might see it and get motivated,” he also told Vice.

Inspiration is at McKelvey’s core. When asked what he most looks forward to about taking the TEDxMtHood stage, McKelvey says simply, “Inspiring someone.” We’re betting he does just that. Gregory McKelvey is not one to waste a spotlight. You won’t want to miss how he shines in ours.

TEDxMtHood Staff Writer