A complicated past lies behind Portland’s violent protests[Comment at Unz.com]
By Leah Sottile November 13 at 8:30 PM
PORTLAND, ORE. — Oregon’s largest city is often depicted as a progressive haven: a bastion of hippies and hipsters, feminists and vegans, bike commuters, urban farmers, backyard-chicken owners and coffee snobs. Decades after Portland’s peace protests earned it the nickname “Little Beirut,” its deep blue reputation has been cemented far beyond the Northwest via the exaggerated — and sometimes spot-on — stereotypes of the sketch comedy show “Portlandia.”
But in recent days, as protests erupted in several U.S. cities following Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, Portland’s mostly peaceful demonstrations were tainted by uncharacteristic violence. On Thursday, a march turned into a seething riot as baseball-bat-wielding anarchists took aim at plate-glass windows, windshields and electrical power boxes. Early Saturday, one protester was shot in the leg. Overnight Saturday, protesters filled downtown streets despite discouragement from city officials and demonstration organizers, and 71 people were arrested, most on charges of disorderly conduct. They were mostly male, with an average age of 25. …
But Portland’s kumbaya image isn’t wholly reflective of its past — or its complicated present. Tension is high over soaring rents and gentrification that are forcing out creative types and low-income residents. And the roots of racial inequality and white supremacy simmer under the clean exterior of a growing city where just 6 percent of the population is black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
When Oregon was admitted into the Union in 1859, it was founded as a white utopia, the only state with black exclusion laws written into its Constitution — language that voters didn’t take action to remove until 2000. The Ku Klux Klan found a stronghold in Oregon well through the 1920s, and a code of ethics for local real estate agents prohibited housing sales to nonwhites. Housing discrimination was finally outlawed in 1957.
The contentious presidential race and the election of Trump, whose campaign has energized white supremacists, seems to have provided an opportunity for Oregon’s racial tensions to surface. A local high school was roiled last week after a commenter on the 2017 class’s Facebook page suggested that students create a “Ku Klux Klub.” On Election Day, dozens of students at a high school in a town north of Salem gathered with pro-Trump signs, displayed a Confederate flag and shouted comments including “Pack your bags, you’re leaving tomorrow” to Hispanic students, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
“Oregon is very rural and racist, even though we perpetuate progressiveness,” Teressa Raiford, a Black Lives Matter protester and organizer of Don’t Shoot Portland, said Thursday night.
Raiford said she saw the chaotic turn to the protest as a symbol of it being co-opted by people she says weren’t there for the right reasons.“To me it’s just a very unfair advantage,” she said. “It’s another way of promoting their own privilege.”
One self-identified anarchist, 20-year-old Armeanio Lewis — not his real name, he says — defended the Thursday violence. “It’s not against marginalized communities,” he said Friday. “It’s a declaration that they’re safe. We’ll protect them.” He described the unrest “an unleashment of rage” at what he calls violence advocated by Trump. …
But despite organizers’ focus on the future, some in the crowd arrived with teeth gnashing and ready to march — almost as if the previous night’s violence had inspired them to lash out at the city’s problems. A group of young people with black scarves over their faces carried full-length mirrors. “That’s for when the riot police come,” one said. “We’ll show them their faces.”
As Ackerman began to direct the crowd to come back together, cheers of “Let us march” drowned her out, and the crowd divided. By 8 p.m., the heal-in had transformed into a full-blown anti-Trump protest, with the crowds cheering “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U-S-A!” …
If the afternoon march captured the do-gooder spirit of “Portlandia,” the mood of the previous day’s protests was starting to boil, for a sixth night. Portland’s Resistance held a candlelight vigil in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where people gathered again to hear Gregory McKelvey, Lewis and others speak. Organizers were clear: They would not distance themselves from the behavior of anarchists — those who they say had been blamed by Portland police and media for damage to the city. …
McKelvey, for a third time this week, quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame any group for the actions of individuals,” McKelvey told the crowd. “I’m sick of singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Donald Trump is going to be president, and we need to overcome.”