A personal reflection from the #FamiliesBelongTogether march in Portland, Oregon.
I arrived late to the rally, amazing through the crowd until I could at least hear the speakers. Jo Ann Hardesty was giving a rousing speech, she repeated the demands of the OccupyICE movement but didn’t explicitly mention the camp. She called for action. The rally closed with an impassioned speech by Kayse Jama. He called for action. The taste of praxis grew heavy in the air.
The poignancy of children in cages had pierced the crowds liberal hearts, who despite their asinine misgivings about punching nazis, understood that their children could be next. Then some quick thinking comrades took up a call to march. faint at first, the call “march march march” quickly grew. I slid through the crowd to join them and lend my voice to the call. We successfully got a reasonable crowd of people to move into the street and start an un-permitted march. Some people watched from the sidewalk, in what was more muscle memory then decision. I waved to a woman to join us. I enjoyed watching the dawning realization of empowerment as she stepped off the sidewalk.
I told her “these are our streets now” and she laughed like we were sneaking a joint at school. I felt refreshed, refueled. Praxis brings joy to our hearts, it alleviates the existential terror of watching tyranny ascend. We filled the side street and marched to the waterfront. a couple comrades on bikes took up the role of traffic control, riding ahead and helping keep us safe from cars. We got to the waterfront and turned toward the OccupyICE camp. We marched in the large bike lane along a busy thoroughfare. This was a good strategy, lots of cars passing us showed support and it meant the police didn’t show up to disperse the march. It was a 3 mile march from the rally to the camp.
We passed a group of youth that looked to be taking pictures for a quinceañera, they smiled in that bemused teenager way. We wound through the waterfront blues festival, workers busy getting everything setup. Stagehands enjoyed the break. We paused near a construction site while the group tightened up. We chanted “No Hate, No Fear, Immigrants are Welcome Here” while we waited. I wondered what the construction workers thought of us, a bunch of gringos chanting and making a ruckus. After marching along a bike path we came back onto the streets. It was a straight shot now through a crop of fresh luxury condos, tucked away in this far away downtown corner.
As we approached the camp we took to the street again. Our chants had taken an edge on, creeping towards battle cries. We didn’t know what awaited us ahead. Would DHS try to stop us? Would we try to stop DHS? At the end, the comrades who had started the march went straight for the camp itself and so the bulk of the march followed suit. However, as the tail started to pile into the intersection the crowd flowed toward the ICE facility itself, bringing marchers into conflict with the DHS line of control.
We had the numbers to overrun, in that moment, and re-barricade the building. The crowd seemed confused about suddenly finding themselves in a situation where they have more power then police. As the police moved their cars into the street and got in formation the crowd just kind of gently moved back. the moment was gone, the spear tip of praxis had dissipated. The situation devolved into standard police line antics. Those with the rage took the rare opportunity to have a good yell at the police. Camp representatives were able to deescalate the situation.
It became clear that the camp was displeased with how this had gone down. They had spent a lot of energy coming to agreement about how to resolve their standoff with DHS and our actions had put this tenuous peace in jeopardy. While I know many at the camp were frustrated, what I saw was radicalization potential for quite a few liberals. They had felt their power, they had felt the tension of praxis, and they were introduced to non-hierarchical decision enforcement. They saw this can work, we can do this. They saw it is difficult and takes courage and patience.