Portland Protest: Big signs of volatility, inner-tensions

Taxpayers Association of Oregon


Saturday night was a big benchmark night since the Federal agents left and emerging signs of inner-conflict between competing groups within the protest movement.

At dark before the embattled Federal Courthouse, the bullhorn speaker spoke continuously of the importance of non-violence and how the nightly protest are not about the Courthouse building behind him.  A following speaker contradicted that message with a more aggressive tone and saying roughly, “Can anyone name me one important thing in history that has been achieved without violence?” A representative from a national Communist Party group demanded that change could only happen by completely overthrowing the existing system.

A most bewildering statement was made to the crowd when a speaker said “It has come to my attention that there has been a disturbance on the East side of town and it is making its way to us right now.” I had no idea on what to make of it all. We were instructed to hold our ground and to grab any of the free shields (large boarded shields that were freely strewn in the crowd) of when the “disturbance” would arrive. Sure enough, in short order you could hear a deafening sound of drum rolls emerging from down the street.  Approaching was a massive crowd of marchers who were just as big as the existing crowd – and easily took command.

One on hand, you had unity with much cheers and a huge combined drum dance party, but then you had disunity as the new crowd kept marching through to other streets and then came back and then had competing bullhorn speakers. For a period you had no idea who was in control or who to listen to or what was going to happen next. It was a moment that shows you how disorganized and volatile these protests can be.

Around midnight, one of the bullhorn speakers suggested they all start marching (others reported it was to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s house). Mostly everyone, from what seemed like 500 people, then began to zig-zag through downtown Portland stopping every few blocks to chant and cheer.

(photo: crowds begin marching throughout downtown Portland)

It was a spectacle to see as there were no cops anywhere. You had no idea where the crowd was going as it winded its way through different streets. Although downtown Portland was mostly a ghost town for the entire Saturday night (which is a topic by itself), you still had some traffic and cars getting stuck by protestors. I witnessed a near-accident as one car speed around an angry protestor. You could hear a police helicopter above as it followed the crowd to see where it would go.

(Photo: Front of boarded up Police Station)

People need to understand how volatile and unpredictable the evening was and what can happen at a protest. You had tension and conflict with crowds within the crowd. You had people calling for harm against cops and calling for destroying buildings. Then you had a massive crowd of people marching downtown, overtaking streets and veering different directions. Everyone is grateful and to the people’s merit that it went peaceful but the night captured the utterly difficulty local police have at controlling the crowd if things veered for the worse.  Police are expected to make sure no one gets hurt if things go wrong while not being seen at all.

At one point it in the night, a rare cop was seen in the balcony of a nearby building. Everyone directed their flashlights and lasers to his face. Many yelled “jump!” while another yelled “I’ll pay you a $1 to shoot your buddies”.

There was a mix of messages throughout the night ranging from usual co-bashing chants to people sharing personal stories of racism. A man shared a terrible personal racial incident from Coo Bay while a young woman shared about growing up in Scappoose and having her braids forcibly cut as a 13-year old girl. One woman said the upcoming disorganized school year was going to leave abandoned thousands of marginalized kids. She gave her email and offered to teach each and every one of them no matter how many so no kid would be left behind.

Then a public school teacher got up and spoke powerfully at the top of her voice. She said she lives in constant fear as a Black woman. She never knows a single day where she feels safe in her own school nor a single day she ever feels safe in her own home. She described living as a Black woman as being in a constant state of daily torment. She then directed her anger to the Federal Courthouse behind her and said “I want to burn this building to the ground!” She described police as “having no souls”. She was followed by another woman speaker who repeated that being a Black woman means being attacked every single day in different ways and never having a single day of peace.

It is difficult to report on these protests because they are a complicated mix of messages, moments and people. You have messages that threaten and dehumanize law enforcement. You have people sharing powerful personal stories or racism. You have signs of incredible tolerance like opening the bullhorn to any speakers followed by signs of incredible intolerance and hostilities to other points of view.  You have hyperbole and extremism. You see compassion. You see hate.

Race is among the most contentious and complex of issues and it bears our time to get the complete picture of what people are saying and experiencing at these protests. We need to acknowledge the good and helpful and expose the harmful.

The Taxpayer Association feels committed to add more reporting to provide Oregonians a more complete picture of what is happening at these rallies.


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