The Anarchist Jurisdiction
Yesterday (9/26/20), a Peacekeepers team traveled to Portland to observe and report on the rally planned by the “Proud Boys”. What we saw wasn’t what we expected. Like many people, we expected (and feared) to see a violent clash between violent white nationalist gangs and anti-fascists. That didn’t happen. What happened instead was far more important. For context, the gangs (Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, Three Percenters, and others) had claimed they were coming to get “justice” for a violent nationalist gang member killed in Portland last month, and to support the current occupant of the White House. They told people they would arrive in the thousands, and that their intention was to battle “Antifa” in the streets. The location they chose for their rally was Delta Park, in a historically Black neighborhood of Portland. It’s unclear at this time whether local nationalist gang leader Jared Robison attended, but he signaled that he intended to do so on his social media presence. They came heavily armed, ready to commit violence. Nearby, a Wal-Mart supercenter was closed and completely barricaded. The Peacekeeper team tried to find a place to get a cup of coffee, and everything for miles around the nationalist gang rally was closed. We finally found a grocery store with an internal coffee shop, and the ONLY thing anybody in that store was talking about was fear of what the nationalists were going to do. We were approached several times by people who recognized our affiliation with the BLM movement. These people fearfully asked us what we thought was going to happen, and what they should do to stay safe.
Fortunately, the “thousands” of gang members did not materialize. By the best estimates, they only managed to rally around two hundred people to go stand in the middle of the soccer field they occupied in north Portland. They raised a giant American flag flanked by two small, black and yellow “proud boy” flags in a stark and unmistakable head nod to Nazi symbolism. They stood out in a field and shouted at themselves for several hours, getting drunk on cheap beer and their own hate. The Peacekeepers met several members of the press who were harassed and assaulted for simply trying to walk into the small crowd and document it.
Meanwhile, a few miles away, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement met at several parks as well. It’s difficult to say how many were in attendance at the three parks. Hundreds, at the least, and many hundreds more than what the gangs managed. At one point, a caravan of BLM supporters drove from Peninsula Park to Irving Park, and the motorcade stretched for over a mile. The BLM events had free food and drink (water and juice, not alcohol). There was music. Live music and popular music both. A drum line moved through the crowd several times. People danced. People exchanged ideas. We witnessed passionate and thoughtful debates conducted in good faith and with respect for dissent. Black leaders spoke about the mission of the movement. White allies were challenged to do better, and to do more. Many people came wearing protective equipment like helmets and goggles, but there were obviously no AR-15s or other firearms being displayed. The BLM supporters came prepared to *resist* violence, not to perpetrate it. At the same time that Black Lives Matter demonstrators were dancing and celebrating in Irving Park, kids nearby were playing a pretty intense game of pickup basketball. In the field where people gathered to listen to music, a soccer game was also being played. On the other side of the park, people were playing tennis! The neighborhood around Irving Park was open and thriving. People came out of their homes to show their support for the vehicle caravan as it approached the park. Families with children walked through and past the park without fear.
The violence everybody feared was inevitable yesterday did not come to fruition, but let’s be extremely clear about why not. The nationalist gangs came to Portland for a fight. Their plan was the same one they use here in Central Oregon. They show up where they are not wanted and they try to provoke people who believe in justice and decency into engaging them in violence. It’s absolutely no different than when Jared Robison sends goons like Kyle Zollman into crowds of peaceful protesters to provoke violence so that his heavily armed gang has an excuse to respond. But just as we’ve done in Central Oregon, the people of Portland decided yesterday to simply refuse to engage the racists. The decent people of Portland just let the fascists stand out in their soccer field and wave their rifles at each other. The violence was avoided because the fascists were successfully isolated out in a park far from anybody they could hurt.
When Trump supporting white nationalist gangs announced they were coming to town...everything nearby stopped. Businesses closed and people braced themselves in fear of the drunken rampage that the gangs almost always bring with them.
In contrast, the neighborhood where Black Lives Matter demonstrated welcomed the movement with open arms. People have enough trust in BLM that they brought their kids to play tennis in the same park as a demonstration.
Portland is doing just fine. It’s a beautiful and thriving city.
Donald Trump has called Portland an “anarchist jurisdiction”. Maybe it is, if “anarchy” means music, free food, and an open exchange of meaningful dialog. Maybe it is, if “anarchy” means peacefully resisting fascist gangs dead set on finding excuses to commit violence.
Maybe Portland is an “anarchist jurisdiction”, if “anarchy” means community.