“I like doing most of my interviews downtown,” says Zave Payne ’25, on location at Pioneer Courthouse Square. “I think it’s important that I have people from all walks of life.”

“I like doing most of my interviews downtown,” says Zave Payne ’25, on location at Pioneer Courthouse Square. “I think it’s important that I have people from all walks of life.”

Zave Payne ’25 Plays Civics Quizmaster on the Streets of Portland

The political science major is an engaging and affable host of a video series called Hot Mic.

By Rebecca Jacobson | October 2, 2023

Reed students find all sorts of ways to immerse themselves in Portland: they volunteer at local schools, intern at local nonprofits, carry out research at local hospitals. But Zave Payne ’25 might be the only Reedie to host a roving civics quiz in the form of short, snappy videos.

Since April of this year, Zave has produced, hosted, and edited a video series called Hot Mic for Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week in which he asks passersby if they can, say, name the governor of Oregon, guess the mayor’s new salary, or identify Multnomah County on a state map. Though the videos sometimes touch on serious issues—in a July episode, interviewees reach near-unanimity on housing and homelessness as Portland’s greatest challenge—at the core they’re lighthearted, with clever sound effects and editing touches. As host, Zave is affable and engaging, and it’s clear the strangers he meets are having a good time, even if their civic knowledge is sometimes wanting.

“When I moved here, I really wanted to experience Portland,” says Zave, a political science major from the small city of Defiance, Ohio. He’d been civically engaged in high school: he led walkouts against gun violence, helped organize weekly protests after George Floyd’s murder, successfully advocated for greater police accountability, and spearheaded the city’s first Juneteenth and Pride events. His pace hasn’t slowed during his two years in Portland. In that time, he’s joined a leadership development program run by Black & Beyond the Binary Collective, a local advocacy organization focused on combating white supremacy and advancing Black liberation; interned with Next Up, an Oregon nonprofit aimed at increasing civic engagement among young people; and worked on numerous political campaigns.

Zave points to cross-pollination between his civic engagement and his coursework at Reed. During the 2022 midterms, while interning at a public affairs firm and doing branding and graphic design work for several local political campaigns, he was also enrolled in Elections: American Style, a political science course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor Dan Qi. “Identity politics was one of the focuses of the class,” Zave says, “and I was learning how identity politics play out in Portland at the same time.”

Hot Mic—which came about after a video he created for a political event impressed Willamette Week’s editor in chief—has been a source of joy for Zave. “I’ve been able to talk to so many people on the street, and that’s one of my favorite ways to learn about Portland,” he says. He also sees his videos as subtle pushback against notions that the city is on fire. By shooting so many videos downtown, for instance, Zave hopes viewers notice the bustle on the streets.

For his part, Zave is enthusiastic about his adopted city. He can see himself sticking around after Reed, perhaps pursuing graduate studies in urban planning and eventually a career in community development. “It’s a very neighborhood-based town, which I love,” he says. “I see myself here for the next few years, growing with the city.”

Tags: Life Beyond Reed, Students