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A Tale of Two Demonstrations

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

Event organizers estimated that 5,000 people gathered on Portland's North Park Blocks yesterday morning for the Families Belong Together Rally in opposition to the Trump regime's immigration policy.

Various news organizations put the number more generally in the thousands. I can testify that a boatload of people showed up to stand up and be counted on a lovely June morning in the Rose City.

The event began with an activist fair at 10 a.m. that included activities for children. The playground and two park blocks were packed when I arrived at 10:30. There was a lengthy queue at the sole toilet facility, so I bopped up to Powell's to make illicit, non-customer use of the restroom before the rally proper began at 11.

Senator Ron Wyden was speaking when I returned. The issue of immigration has a special resonance for Wyden because his parents were Jewish refugees who came to this country fleeing Nazi Germany. He was passionate as he declared, "there is zero chance that we are going to stop speaking out against these injustices and zero chance that that we will stop pushing back against the callous treatment of families in America!" (Thousands gather for 'Families Belong Together' rally in downtown Portland, KATU and AP, June 30, 2018)

The morning rally provided a stark contrast with an afternoon demonstration by the right-wing, pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer and their allies from the Proud Boys, an all-male, "Western chauvinist" bunch designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The prayerful patriots led by founder Joey Gibson rolled into town with the ostensible aim to promote freedom of speech from the far right, nether regions of the realm, for which they came armed with an array of weaponry ranging from utility knives, clubs, and pepper spray to wooden and PVC flagpoles. Gibson is a resident of Vancouver, Washington, and candidate for the US Senate (Jason Wilson, How a gun-carrying, far-right activist plots a run at the US Senate, The Guardian, June 3, 2018). This kind of thing is what he does.

It would not exactly take the second coming of Nostradamus to prognosticate that the Patriot Prayer assembly would precipitate a counter-convention by their doppelganger antifa because, well, they are antifa and brawling with the likes of Partriot Prayer and the Proud Boys is their raison d'être. It appears not to have occurred to the antifa brain trust that they are playing into the hands of their adversaries, who use the issue of free speech as a pretext to stage events almost sure to provoke reaction that will give provide them with occasion to whine about suppression and denial of their rights.

OregonLive (Edgar Campuzano, Portland Police revoke permit, declare riot as protesters clash downtown) estimated some 150 fascist demonstrators convened at Terry Schrunk Plaza near City Hall, with about twice that number of counter-demonstrators. The groups exchanged slurs, each calling the other "nazis," separated by barricades and police officers given the unenviable task of maintaining order.

When the Patriot Prayer gang began a permitted march, the antifascist contingent lobbed eggs, half-empty water bottles, and firecrackers at them, whereupon a full-fledged riot broke out as prayin' patriots set upon their antagonists with flagpoles, trash can lids, and their fists. Antifascist idealists fought back, hurling gravel and firecrackers at the foe and whaling away with their own fists.

Each side accused the authorities of disarming their blockheads, leaving them at the mercy of the other group of blockheads who were allowed to keep their weapons. Willamette Week reporter Katie Shepherd, whose account is decidedly more sympathetic to the counter-demonstrators, reported that a group of Portland police officers gathered beforehand at a nearby Starbucks expressed their frustration about

dealing with repeated Patriot Prayer protests where both sides declare a desire to fight in the streets. One officer said the police should restrict the protesters to one area and "just let them fight." (Portland Police Declare a Riot After Right-Wing Marchers Begin Beating Antifascists with Flag Poles)

Accounts at The Guardian (Jason Wilson, Riot in Portland as far-right marchers clash with anti-fascists ) and OregonLive offered a slightly different, to my mind more balanced perspective.

One heartening takeaway from the day is the fact that the turnout for Families Belong Together dwarfed the combined numbers from both sides in the afternoon fracas, whose members have more in common with street gangs than with committed political activists.

No single demonstration as an isolated one-off is going to change the political dynamic. I have to hope and believe they can have a cumulative effect. That is why we keep at it, taking a modest stand in whatever way is open to us, whether it be contributing to the body count at a demonstration, contacting our local, state, and congressional representatives, voting, spreading the word via social media, or ranting on a blog whose readership may on the good days soar into the low two figures. We keep at it because that is what we can do.

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