Filed under: Analysis, Anti-fascist, Northwest
A personal and reflective account on the recent antifascist mass mobilization in Portland, Oregon.
8:30 A.M.: I’m sitting at my living room table trying to eat a piece of toast. Not the best breakfast to fight fascism, but my nerves are shot, and it’s all I have the energy to make. Today is going to be long, and I’m going to need the energy, but I just don’t feel like eating.
Anxiety does that to you. I didn’t sleep much, but I’m awake, really awake. Most people don’t work on Saturdays, but being someone that works in the service industry, I do. I should be there right now, at work, but I called in sick. I fibbed a little bit, gave my manager the classic “food poisoning” story, but the only thing I’m sick of is having to go out into public to confront fascism. And yet, here I am, getting ready to do just that. The word is that today could be another another Charlottesville. I believe it. I’m worried that by the end of the day, one or more of my friends will be dead or hospitalized. Suddenly nauseous, I grab the plate, walk to the trash can, throw the toast away.
11:00 A.M.: I’ve arrived to the Pop Mob (popular mobilization) meet up site, City Hall. There are numerous contingents of people from various organizations. The usual suspects are here: IWW, DSA, labor unions, various assortments of socialists and anarchists, but liberals seem to be in shorter supply than normal. Folks in black bloc mob about within the crowd. It’s big. There’s a lot of us. I take comfort in these numbers and the mentality of the crowd, after all, it’s mostly leftists, not liberals, and I know that we’re all on the same page: defend our community.
We begin to march, and soon enough we’re making our way down Salmon Street, a hundred or so militant antifascists at our front. We’ve clogged the street for two blocks. It’s definitely not Boston, but I’m beginning to think we have the numbers to make this happen, to end this before it begins. Up ahead I can see the proto-fascist (and explicitly) fascist Patriot Prayer rally. They’re just across the street, lined up behind numerous State fascists (cops), barricades, and barriers.
Their crowd is a sea of authoritarian and racist imagery, some of it obvious, some of it more subtle. There’s a few confederate flags and a yellow “anti-communist action” flag resembling a Third Reich battle flag, in the middle of this flag is a helicopter, a shout out to fascist Chilean dictator installed by the CIA, Pinochet.
Somewhere in the crowd, Patriot Prayer head goon Tiny Toese is doing his best Bane impression and wearing a shirt that reads “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” Proud Boys are all in their finest cosplay, Fred Perry polos and MAGA hats float atop the sea of red, white, and blue. Commodity fetishism at its more vulgar. But besides this visual input, a thought presses in from the corner of my mind: we outnumber them four or maybe even five to one. We’ve out mobilized them. We can do this, we can win. Maybe we already have. The pressure in my chest subsides some.
What does winning look like? That depends on who you ask. No platform is the goal, but I’m not sure that’s achievable today, after all, they’ve already gathered and are knee deep in their toxic feedback loop of Trumpist bullshit. If they were simply made to stand around bored and left to pass out from heat exhaustion in the sun, safely confined behind their barriers, both living and metal, I’d take that as a victory. After all, it’s not a rally they want, it’s blood. They come to Portland for the confrontation and no other reason. Disallowing them this inevitability, or having that confrontation go poorly for them. That would be a win for us. They want to march, but they don’t have the numbers, and we all know it, pigs included. Defend each other, defend ourselves. That’s the goal. That’s how we win.
— Mike Bivins (@itsmikebivins) August 5, 2018
Frustrated, they march back and forth within the confines of their “rally.” Maybe this is an attempt to exhaust or separate us? I’m not sure, but it’s not working. Wherever they move, we mobilize quickly, shutting down all possible corridors for them to march. Police try to help them in their endeavor, forcing ranks between us as we move through the streets, but there are simply too many of us. Multiple sound systems follow us as we go, one atop a rented U-Haul with a banner that reads “RACISTS CANT DANCE.” I’m inclined to agree, and this begins to feel more like a block party than a street battle. Pedestrians and passers-by are confused but not alarmed, even when they happen upon black bloc militants in the triple digits. This is their city, those militants are their neighbors, and they know it.
2:00 P.M.: My adrenaline has been up and down all day, and with nowhere to go it buries itself in my stomach, mixing with my anxiety in a most unpleasant way. I fight down the urge to throw up. I’m starting to wish I had eaten that piece of toast. Up at every indication of dispersal, every indication that Patriot Prayer is going to charge us, down with every moment between, every time my body forces me to find a bathroom. I know I’m not alone in that last thought. Although not discreet, there really should be bathrooms at every antifascist demonstration. I mean, c’mon, we don’t want to pee our pants like Tiny does every time. And we have to stay hydrated! Hydration is most of our muscle strength.
Columbia Street is thoroughly clogged for a block in either direction and the confrontation with Patriot Prayer does not seem imminent whatsoever. My adrenaline dies down, and I joke with friends. Some people dance to the sound systems, some people take advantage of a port-a-potty nearby, some people –
My adrenaline surges. Fuck, what the hell? My mind tries to make sense of it. Fireworks? No, the smoke is coming up from the middle of our mobilization. Then, quickly, more:
Boom! Boom! Boom!
I make sense of things. Flash-bangs. What the fuck? Where was the dispersal order? Where was any indication that this was about to happen? Fucking flash-bangs. Concussion grenades. State fascists love them, and as I’ll find out later, the pigs fucking smiled and joked with one another as they shot them. I’ll also find out later that the first grenade struck one of our team in the head, embedding itself within their helmet. If not for the helmet, they would have surely died, as things stand now, they have a surgical straw in their skull.
CW: very graphic.
My comrade was shot in the back of the head by @PortlandPolice today. He was hit with the very first flash bang the cops shot. Make no mistake this was an act of aggression and there will be hell to pay @tedwheeler #defendpdx #AllOutPDX pic.twitter.com/oSHqhpyzfC
— Dimestore Guevara (@wherestherevolt) August 5, 2018
People are running, and immediately, the response from antifascists is intense. Projectiles fly through the air at the riot cops, nearby objects are being dragged into the street to form makeshift barricades. The cops charge us, indiscriminately beating down anyone in their path, antifascists, journalists, whoever. The dispersal orders are being issued now on repeat. I’ll find out later that the cops have fabricated false justification for this “near” lethal aggression, the projectiles that didn’t strike them until after they fired concussion grenades at us. Knowing how these things go, we move back a block, thinking they’re just putting distance between us and Patriot Prayer, but it’s not distance they want, it’s violence, and after a block, they keep pushing. Flash-bangs, tear gas, pepper spray, batons. All weapons are levied against us as we guard our retreat. A man in a suit and tie is walking towards me, blood leaking from a wound on his head, anger twisting his face. Whether a passerby or an antifascist, I don’t know, and I don’t care, he’s someone in my community and the police have just attacked him. I ask him if he’s okay, if he needs help, a medic. He doesn’t, he’s okay. He’s pissed. He’s every one of us. Bloodied, pissed as fuck, but sick of this shit and ready to handle it.
— doug brown (@dougbrown8) August 4, 2018
The barrage doesn’t stop. Business as usual comes to a halt as people in Portland watch “their” police department fire concussion grenades at us for seven blocks, all the way back to City Hall. Reports start coming in of Patriot Prayer marching at 4th and Market – no wait, 3rd and Market.
“It dawns on us that something has changed forever. Something important. The state has always been the enemy of the community, and the cops the armed enforcers of it, but this is new. This isn’t even blatant favoritism, this is absolute and premeditated coordination with the fascists.”
It becomes clear now, the Portland Police Bureau has just used their entire arsenal of militarized weaponry to attack a coalition of labor unions, community members, and antifascists to allow what amounts to a standing army of out of state fascists to march through the fucking streets of downtown, beating down anyone in their path. The pigs have done all the dirty work for them, hell, they did everything but lay down a red fucking carpet.
In this, they are not just complicit with fascism, but have facilitated its every need! It dawns on us that something has changed forever. Something important. The state has always been the enemy of the community, and the cops the armed enforcers of it, but this is new. This isn’t even blatant favoritism, this is absolute and premeditated coordination with the fascists. Concussion grenades explode all around us, and roving gangs of violent bigots are free to wander the streets and assault anyone with total impunity. Don’t believe me? Look at Tiny’s fucking arrest record.
And that’s exactly what happens now. Our mobilization, dispersed into every corner of downtown, is reforming and making its way back to the waterfront. On the way, skirmishes happen as opportunistic Proud Boys and other fascists attack the most vulnerable people available to them. One such skirmish breaks out a block in front of me, and as I run towards it, I see Proud Boys beating someone on the ground, others get there before me and send the fascists packing. The Proud Boys cover their retreat with bear mace as they run off back to the waterfront, and the wind picks up just in time to send it my way. Soon, myself and everyone around me can’t stop coughing. A slurry of incomprehensible curse words issues from my mouth for about the umpteenth time today. Fucking bastards.
“How do we deal with a police force willing to attack us (and potentially kill us) on behalf of a fascist street gang?”
3:00 P.M.: The next hour passes slowly, as we stand in front of the waterfront, watching the fascists get bused off, back to Washington, Colorado, Arkansas, California, or wherever the fuck they came from to invade our city. I wonder to myself if they get packed lunches and juice boxes for the ride home, after all, they’ve had a hard day of suppressing freedom and autonomy. Many of them leave, but others stay. Tiny and his crew continue to assault people for the rest of the evening in downtown Portland, probably disappointed with the amount of violence they were able to inflict today. They’re free to do so, the pigs don’t stop them, don’t even pretend to stop them.
Sometime Later: Today was not Charlottesville, and for that, I’m glad. My friends are injured, but not dead, and I am already thinking about the next one of these fucking “rallies.” When does this end? How do we deal with a police force willing to attack us (and potentially kill us) on behalf of a fascist street gang? Is this still a three way fight or have we entered into new territory? One where fascists act not with the tacit approval of the cops but with explicit coordination between the two? What will true and absolute state and fascist collaboration look like and are we already seeing it? How do we recognize it? How do we stop it? We have to answer these questions with urgency and with creativity.
Today, no one died, but my anxiety will not dissipate, and the trauma that my community lived through today and every other day that fascists flood our town will not soon disappear. There will be more days like today, and there will be more Charlottesvilles. Charlottesvilles without end if we don’t stop this. If we truly intend to win, and I fucking do, we have to find new ways to oppose the ever more intertwining pillars of state and fascist violence. No one is going to save us, we have to save ourselves.
Solidarity with Charlottesville and DC antiracists, Portland loves you.
– a very anxious anarchist