A main takeaway from the week of protests organized by Portland Resistance and others here in Portland, Oregon was that people are truly frightened by what a Trump presidency will mean for life in America. Fear makes people do things they wouldn’t normally dream of, such as take to the streets of America’s most liberal city and destroy property—and Donald Trump offends and scares so many citizens that a protest of his presidency is likely to attract people of all stripes; the good-hearted and peaceful and those who just want to watch the system burn.
A reflection of America and life itself, these protests saw the best and a bit of the worst man is capable of—but the mainstream media’s assertion that these protests were violent and dangerous out of control “riots” is a falsehood. The group that Portland Resistance brought together was by and large a peaceful one that only wanted to assemble peaceably and make their voices heard. Students, lawyers and doctors; white, black and brown; the old and the young; veterans and hippies—all gathered in downtown Portland to let President-elect Trump and the world know: Portland isn’t the type of city to take the dangerous regression of our nation lying down.
As I joined the gathered crowd in Pioneer Park in the heart of downtown to hear protest organizers speak, I noticed a group of three college-aged girls wearing matching white homemade anti-Trump shirts and who had their hair in French braids. In spite of the heavy sense of dread that saturated the air, I couldn’t help but note how… well how cute they looked. This cuteness disappeared faster than Donald Trump’s tax returns as soon as the march started. The moment the march was under way, the three young woman began vehemently leading a chant (it may have been “This pussy grabs back!” as that was among the evening’s more popular refrains) with a passion so palpable and focused that I could see them shaking with intensity as tears pooled in their eyes while they marched and chanted. Tears in the eyes of marchers would become an unfortunately familiar sight over the next six nights.
Although much has been made of the “rioting”, for the most part the protesters were greeted with smiles, honks of support and high fives – although it was impossible to shake the feeling that there was an unnamed darkness creeping along the edges of the protest, which shut down bridges and highways repeatedly during the protests. The heart of the marches were all passion and permeated by the skunky sweet aroma of high-powered weed smoke (“This protest smells great,” I overheard one smiling young man tell his friend, “It smells like… democracy.” I couldn’t help but grin and think of Lt. Col. Kilgore), but on the outskirts of the march, which was over 4,000 people strong Friday night, there were those in masks – many with bats – who seemed to be looking to start trouble if given the opportunity.
At one bridge, I watched a man spring from his vehicle and stride with a great deal of purpose towards two protesters much smaller than he who had tentatively slowed down traffic. This red-faced gentleman began raining F-bombs down upon the two clearly quite young people and threatening to “fucking fuck them up” despite the fact he wasn’t being delayed. I absolutely feared the worst and headed towards them raising my press pass in hopes of calming this crimson-faced man’s bloodlust, but those fears were thankfully abated when a much larger protester saw what was going on and hurried over to assist his comrades, sending the angry man scuttling backwards towards his car like a hermit crab who’s just seen the sun and wants nothing more than to return to his hole. A possible crisis was averted, but I wondered for how long.
Then Saturday night the worst did seem to happen. Not too far from where I was on the Burnside Bridge, a protester was shot by a motorist after some heated words were exchanged. Immediately and into the next day people began to fear the worst – that Trump supporters were violently taking to the streets and seeking out protesters – and soon these fears spread on social media where people on both sides began debating the shooting. Trump supporters decried the protests and many took a “this is what you get” attitude. The left-leaners of course vehemently disagreed and the mainstream media sat back, licked its chops and told America of the out-of-control violence now plaguing America’s most progressive city.
The problem with this narrative is that the shooter was a 14-year-old African American child who was on the bridge that night by a simple, tragic twist of fate.
A person being shot by a 14-year-old kid he’d only met seconds earlier over a traffic dispute has everything to do with America’s gun obsession, which is of course propagated by the likes of Donald Trump, and very little to do with a political protest. The fact that this crime was used as proof of these protests turning into violent and out of control “riots” is indicative of how much old school media covets stoking the flames of conflict and violence.
Another facet of the protests that the general public latched onto once the mainstream media fed it them was the fact that around a third of the protesters arrested didn’t vote. “See!? These ungrateful little shits didn’t even vote!” one can imagine a Joe Sixpack type yelling incredulously at the evening news. And yes, there would be some hypocrisy inherent in that revelation – were we not speaking about anarchists here. Call me crazy, but somehow I doubt that if your stated goal is completely dismantling “the system” and bringing down the government that you’d spend a lot of time voting and participating in said system. Consider that of the thousands of protesters on the streets those nights, the vast majority did not go to the protest to “fuck shit up” as one masked gentleman told me when I asked what his bat was for. The clear majority of participants care deeply for this world and this country – hence the protesting. Not a single protester I spoke with said they didn’t vote, and nearly all of them bristled at the mere suggestion.
In fact, the protesters did a much better job policing themselves the next two nights, as most of those involved wanted nothing to do with the $1 million in damages Portland’s ritzy Pearl District suffered at the hands of some of the group. Seeing a Chase Bank’s window smashed brings me not even a modicum of sorrow or pity – but the damages suffered by some small businesses in the area was inexcusable, no matter how many machines you’re raging against, and it only hurts the cause. A day after the all the destruction Portland Resistance had a peaceful vigil in front of city hall, and when one of the anarchists’ representatives, clearly proud of the previous night’s carnage, began shouting with much vigor that no one was paying attention to Portland before things grew so far out of control. This was met with some cheers, but most of those in attendance grumbled their disapproval, and the leaders of Portland Resistance couldn’t have reiterated their desire to keep things peaceful. Those same leaders also started a GoFundMe page for the small businesses affected, and the effort has already raised an impressive $55,000.
There will always be those who don’t understand that protest and dissent is about as American as you can get – they will always see protesters as entitled hippies who don’t understand how the real world works. But I’d say Marvin, a young man a met at the march who suffers from MS, would have a lot to say about that. In the midst of Friday’s march through the streets, I noticed a man walking with the aid of crutches who clearly straining to keep up with the fast pace of the march – but absolutely doing so and all the while shouting slogans as loud as anyone in the group. I asked him why he was out here pushing himself so intensely and in a way that made me fear for his safety. Marvin looked at me with sweat pouring down his face and said proudly, “Because Donald Trump thinks I’m someone to be mocked, that I can’t do anything, that I’m worthless. I’m marching because he’s wrong!”
That is what these protests were about. That is what America is about. Not the things Donald Trump “stands” for. He and his administration should get used to seeing people like Marvin in the streets, as he and many, many others refuse to be subjugated quietly.
To see more work from Photographer Roscoe Myrick, visit his website.