On May Day, this year 2017, portland anarchists demonstrated the very foundations of why May Day was founded as a holiday for the radical left. A pure celebration of those that died not only in Haymarket Square, but on the gallows as well. In the spirit of anarchist martyrs everywhere Portland anarchists did not back down from police aggression but defended themselves. This is in contrast to other statements made by Wael Elasady in the Socialist Worker, who described the police as being the primary aggressors and escalators, while painting anarchists as irresponsible solely because they fought back.
These accounts fail to mention why the escalation from the black bloc happened.
During the very beginning of the march, police on bicycles rode their bikes on the sidewalks on both sides of the Black Bloc, making sure a presence remained and attempting to discourage any sort of rebellion. Individuals noticed this so they started taking space on the sidewalk to not allow cops the pleasure of intimidation. During this very minor shoving matches happened. Finally it escalated just before the Justice Center. The police tried to forcefully grab a member of the bloc and take them into custody for simply being on the sidewalk. The black bloc charged in, grabbed the individual, and a more intense shoving match started as flags and punches were thrown from both sides.
The police feel back slightly and remained on the tail. As we approached the federal building a couple windows were smashed by projectiles. The police tried to charge in but failed as hails of pepsi cans, rocks, and smoke bombs flew their way. They were chased out from the march and forced to retreat. This is a moment that has never happened in Portland. The police retreated on our terms, because of us.
As the march passed the Morrison bridge riot cops began taunting anarchists, so what happened in response? More projectiles.
After this, this is when the permit was revoked. Immediately tear gas and rubber bullets started hitting the back of the black bloc. This was the moment folks knew a distraction had to happen, so the bloc kept moving and took no mercy. As we fell back from the police line projectile after projectile was thrown. Barricade after barricade was built. The tactical reason for this can be summed up to what I heard someone shout, “We have to distract the pigs so the families can get out!” So that is what the bloc did.
As we swung around to Pioneer Place, some from the bloc created a burn pile out of wood. This tactic worked perfectly for its intended goal. The police had to logistically organize a response to the fire by waiting for the proper procedure to be approved by chain of command, as well as the necessary number of firefighters. This diversion worked for 15 minutes, more than enough time for individuals that need to leave, to leave.
The bloc continued up the street creating barricades, smashing windows, and eventually destroying a police car. After the fire barricade it was a riot, a glorious riot. Free from the constraints of a Left without teeth, completely focused on a critical mass that just will not appear without the right social conditions that are most definitely not in place in America.
The bloc continued along towards city hall. This is when the police officially had enough and charged the bloc from all sides, arresting 25 out of the 150 people.
Wael describes because of what unfolded that it created a set back for “our side.” I question the legitimacy of the claim of “our side” being weakened, as anarchists were anything but weakened. Anarchists not only fought back, but fought back with such intensity that we won, all our goals were realized. The police were scared, those who needed to get out safely did so as best as possible, and we went on the attack. It was an offensive push that succeeded.
All over the world anarchists are yet again inspired by Portland anarchists specifically. We showed yet again that you can fight back, and that you can win, even with smaller numbers.
The problem Wael and other socialists (I refer to them as socialists and not Marxist for a reason), is because they lost control and could not secure power. Wale is a member of the International Socialist Organization, and organization that is known amongst the Left as the least successful newspaper sellers. An organization that sees large college campuses as their primary organizing territory.
Wael finishes his report by claiming that people are not brave enough to critique the black bloc, as if somehow he is above the social pressures of the Left.
Wael finishes that we need to openly critique “activists” that operate undemocratically and without accountability to the greater Left. For an ISO member to claim this is hilarious as the ISO is know for opportunistic power grabs and reframing of events to place themselves in the position of leadership. Also, undemocratic to whom? I was personally never told I could not fight back. We stood for 3 hours as the rally happened, waiting for the march. Not a single organizer of the event made it clear to anyone of expectations, and even if so, why does a small cadre of 20 people get to dictate the behaviour of over a thousand people? Why do you get to be in charge of this alleged democracy while anarchists must remain at the bottom of the totem pole?
And lastly, anarchists were the bravest of the day, focusing on protecting those that needed it, and attacking those that deserved it. To paint what happened as unruly actions that were not considered is pure ideological positioning and not actually a critique. If Wael wants to actually engage in a critical examination, I pose this question, what would he have done if the same thing happened but there was no black bloc? What would you have done if you didn’t have a militant wing of the march ready and prepared for conflict?
Finally I wish to end the essay with a quote from Louis Lingg, one of the anarchist martyrs who’s defense of why he couldn’t have thrown the bomb in Haymarket Square was because he was busy making other bombs.
“I die happy on the gallows, so confident am I that the hundreds and thousands to whom I have spoken will remember my words. When you shall have hanged us, then they will do the bomb throwing! In this hope do I say to you, I despise you, I despise your order, your laws, your force propped authority. Hang me for it.”