Light a Fire 2018: Emerging Leader

Portlander Olivia Katbi Smith Fights for Justice

"The community’s struggle is my struggle,” says the Democratic Socialist activist and IRCO staffer.

By Sam Pape October 17, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Loris Lora

Olivia Katbi Smith, 26, lives a double life. By day, she’s a fundraising development assistant at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, where she helps put school supplies and clothes in the hands of thousands of children from immigrant and refugee families every year.

By night (figuratively), she’s the cochair of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Portland chapter. Since its founding in 2016, the group has grown from 15 to 1,000-plus dues-paying members, involved with efforts from Burgerville unionization to the Tax the Rich campaign.

“It’s tough to balance wearing my polite, nonprofit employee hat with my angry, yelling-in-the-street, activist hat,” Smith confides. “But it is really helpful that I get to share both of those perspectives, to help further our work of fighting for justice on the nonprofit side and on the activist side.”

For the daughter of an immigrant—and someone with family living in Syria—getting involved with IRCO was a natural step. Her job there typically deals with nonmonetary donations: she recently partnered with the nonprofit Free Bikes 4 Kidz to get two wheelers for immigrant and refugee children. 

“Olivia is deeply passionate,” says Sahar Muranovic, a volunteer and training coordinator at IRCO. “She truly cares about our community.” That goes for her DSA work, too, as Smith makes clear: “The community’s struggle is my struggle.”

Do you know other nonprofits, organizations, or volunteers doing incredible work? Nominate them for our 2019 Light a Fire Awards—submissions are open now!

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