In Portland, Extinction is Boring

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Black Cat reports from the streets of Portland, Oregon on recent Extinction Rebellion demonstrations.

On June 21st, the Extinction Rebellion came to Portland. And, unfortunately, that is way less exciting than it sounds.

Extinction Rebellion started in London, and it’s stated purpose is to use strictly non-violent protest to force governments around the world to declare a climate emergency over global warming. There are two issues with this.

Firstly, ‘climate emergency’ is not a legally or materially meaningful thing, and so getting a jurisdiction to declare one (something that they have had some success at doing) is essentially pointless.

Second, the leadership of Extinction Rebellion has noticed that the protest movements that accomplished their goals have had a lot of arrests – and so, they’ve concluded that the key to having a successful protest movement is getting as many people arrested as possible. As such, they actively ​try to get people who come to their protests arrested. This is, of course, a bizarre confusion of correlation and causation. Extinction Rebellion’s reasoning seems to be that more arrests means more media attention. Media attention, alone, accomplishes nothing. The media is useful because it can give you information on which to act. Successful protest movements generally have high numbers of arrests because people are acting in ways that challenge existing power structures and that break existing laws.

The rally this Friday, at Schrunk Plaza and in the adjoining street in front of city hall, did little to dispel such apprehensions. The rally was attended by somewhere between 100 and 300 persons, and began with a series of speeches, stretching from noon till one. The speeches were long on call-and-response chanting, and short on actionable ways to hold the powerful to account. A group called The Sunrise Movement apparently occupied Ted Wheeler’s office during these speeches, and then left peacefully and without any apparent arrests.

At the end of this one hour period, there was an “unplanned” march into the street between city hall and Schrunk Plaza. Despite the organizer’s claims of this being unplanned, they had a lime-green firetruck already in the street there, covered in their symbols. Further, they started setting up various tents and carts there – a medical tent, a media engagement tent, and a cart distributing free food. The organizers climbed up on the firetruck and used a megaphone and various musical instruments to hype up the crowd. Despite generally good organization of the protest, they were unable to ascertain that I was not one of them, and did not stop me when I climbed up on top of their truck to get a good angle for video of the crowd. Such video, and other assorted records of the event, can be found ​here​.

About 15 minutes after taking the street, a gaggle of six cops appeared on a corner of the street. They did not intervene – they simply watched.

Circulating through the crowd, I asked various people – official and unofficial – when they thought that the arrests would start, and how long this would go on. Everyone confidently insisted that this could on for days, and that the cops would have to chase them out. By 4 pm, there were less than 100 people left, the rest having drifted off. By 5:30, the crowd had completely dispersed. No one was arrested, making the protest a failure by both their measures and everyone else’s.


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