For our Amish readers out there, this past weekend saw two significant protests in Portland: one protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump, which took place on Friday, and a march taking place Saturday in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.
I attended both, and I gotta say, they couldn’t have been more different.
Let’s start with Friday. I got there, more curious than anything else. I saw some signs in solidarity with Standing Rock. I saw anarchists, anti-fascists, pro-labor unionists, and many signs declaring their disdain for our newly-elected president, a significant number using Nazi symbolism.
The anarchists started burning flags, drawing cheers, shortly after I got there, and I watched kids who couldn’t have been more than 15 laughing and taking selfies with the burning flags in the background. I’m all for the First Amendment – it’s what allows me to write for this paper – but I gotta say, watching kids burn flags for Likes on Facebook was one of the more surreal things I’ve seen. Seriously, guys? Oh, for the days when smoking pot under a bridge was considered edgy.
Once the speeches got underway, however, I found myself growing more enthusiastic. There was some really good stuff in there! Mostly about how, like, The Man is, um, bad and stuff? Like, really bad. Mostly Donald Trump, but definitely City Hall, too. And the police. And landlords. And transplants. And my old roommate, Steve. Steve, if you’re reading this, you still owe me $20 for October’s utilities.
As the sun went down and the march got underway, the energy remained pretty high. People were laughing, joking, chanting, and generally having a great time. You got the sense that it was the first chance a lot of the people in attendance had gotten to protest. A marching band joined up with us, for crying out loud. I’m pretty sure they play at the PSU Farmer’s Market. They did a killer rendition of “Caress Me Down.” Daps were most righteously exchanged.
It definitely got less fun when I watched a dude get maced. It DEFINITELY got less fun when I got assaulted by a police officer. When our crowd got to Waterfront Park, we found a line of bike cops stretched across the park, riot police across the street. There were gaps in the line, so a small group of people moved there, myself included. We got through successfully, and whistled and shouted and clapped, attempting to direct the main body of protesters toward the gap in the line.
It was at this time that the police announced that Waterfront Park was closed. I moved back toward the line, found an officer in my face, moved to step around him, and found myself in a puddle. An officer had grabbed me by the backpack and thrown me onto the ground, forcefully enough for my glasses and hat to go flying. I crawled in the mud for a minute, searching for my glasses and feeling exactly like Velma, until a fellow protester got them for me. I looked at the police and said, “I really don’t appreciate being thrown on the ground.” The officer nearest to me smiled and replied, “You should have done what you were told.”
Now, I’ve got to say… had I been a criminal, intent on causing untold chaos and misery upon this fair city, I would have been duly relieved and impressed with the efficacy with which the officer neutralized me. Kudos, Officer Deebagg!
The part I guess I’m having a hard time with is that I’m not a criminal. I’m a citizen. In a park. That I pay for with my taxes. And I was assaulted. By a man on the city’s payroll. Which I also pay for with my taxes.
Anyways… rant over.
Saturday’s march, a sister of the Women’s March on Washington, was a distinctly different affair. For one thing, it was huge. We’re talking 100,000 people huge.
The atmosphere was also significantly more festive; on Friday, there was a lot of anger, a lot of defiance, a lot of yelling. The Women’s March was definitely high volume, but the noise came from laughter, from singing, and from cheering. I gotta say, hearing tens of thousands of people cheer in a wave stretching halfway across southwest downtown was one of the most moving, intense, and human experiences I’ve ever had. The knowledge that this march was taking place alongside millions of other women and men across the world was surreal, it was positive, it was overwhelming, and was something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.
It was also much more orderly. It’s unclear, however, whether that was due to the organizers, or to the fact that a police permit for the march was obtained. The police were almost nowhere to be seen, and tear gas was noticeably absent. I saw no fighting, no aggression, essentially nothing but camaraderie, solidarity and support. Also, lots of vaginas on picket signs. Lots.
Some would argue the difference in the two lay in the purpose, and that’s hard to refute. Support, solidarity, and unity in the face of fear and hatred will always be more powerful and effective than divisive, angry catcalling. As many a sign said at the Women’s March, love trumps hate.
I’m sure the police would argue that the reason Saturday’s protest felt so much more effective was because it had a permit, whereas Friday’s did not. There is definitely some truth to that. Every place the Friday protesters tried to cross the river was technically breaking the law, because that could obstruct public roads and service vehicles.
Does that mean you shouldn’t protest without a permit? That’s hard to say. There has not been a social movement in the 20th century that did not involve protest, and a great many of these protests did not take place with the blessing of city hall.
It says in the First Amendment, and I quote, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…” and I am a firm advocate for the exercise of our Constitutional rights.
I don’t have any answers here. I’m sad, I’m upset, I’m frustrated, and I’m feeling, quite frankly, powerless in the face of a new administration hell-bent on fear, hatred and division.