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August 23

We are More than Just Antifascists: A Reportback from Portland

A critical reflection on the mass antifascist actions in Portland on August 17th.

Since Trump’s election, the Alt-Right, fascists and neo-Nazis (as well as racists and misogynists of all stripes) have been bolder than ever. Around the country they have stabbed people, beat people up, and shot at them.

In Portland, of course, they have descended nearly every other month for the past two or three years with the intention of instigating a street brawl and provoking anarchists and antifascists, as well as to doxx and threaten people’s safety. And people up and down the west coast have responded. We have allowed ourselves to be provoked each and every time, showed up in the hundreds or thousands, and gotten our asses kicked. We’ve had some shining moments, to be sure, but at the end of most of these demonstrations, all the antifascists I know – and I assume many others – leave feeling demoralized, disempowered, and sometimes in the ER scared to death about our friends lives. Neither the fascists nor the antifascists have changed tactics in these demonstrations. While the police get better at crowd control, become more and more violent, and put more money and energy into investigations, we continue to let ourselves be provoked and show up to do the same damn thing as the month and year before.

The day before the demonstration on August 17th, a friend said to me, “We have to get these fuckers. The scope of their violence is so intense.”

Yes, the fascists are violent and they routinely attack POC, queers and random bystanders. They should be attacked, and I would certainly celebrate if they all killed themselves. But these Portland demonstrations no longer feel like they are actually about attacking anyone. I show up terrified, knowing today might be the day I see a friend get shot. Given their guns and the police response, I do not show up expecting us to do anything more than be a symbolic gesture. Antifascists can talk a big game about how “we are going to show them.” We can show up with bats and batons and pepper spray. And yet, at every demonstration, our goal becomes to not end up in the hospital and maybe get a couple good punches in.

On August 17th, we stood around for about an hour before the Alt-Right left the park and crossed the bridge, and then we walked aimlessly around the park because we had no other plan than the one we’ve always had. This is not an attack. It doesn’t show us our own strength, and it certainly doesn’t show them our strength.

At this point, “antifa” feels like a brand name, not an ideology. My politics are larger and deeper than the image embodied by that word. As anarchists, we are inherently antifascist. I am not interested in being defined as “antifa” because we are so much more than that. There are plenty of “antifa” in the antifascist demonstrations who are not anarchists, who do not seem to have politics outside of beating up fascists in the street.

At every demonstration, I’ve seen supposed antifascists using violently misogynistic and transphobic language, even making rape threats against the fascists. Those people are not on my team. If we were to encounter people like that outside of these demonstrations, they would be our enemies, not our friends. If making fascists bleed is the only thing have in common with each other, what are we fighting for? Where was the 200 person black bloc in Portland when 700 migrants were arrested two weeks before? Are those fascists not worth fighting because we can’t meet them in the street in a flashy muscle-on-muscle fight in front of the media?

I do not want to fight for or with people who think it’s acceptable to make rape threats, or who use disgustingly misogynistic language. But Joe Biggs announces he is coming to town, and we all team up like we are one big antifa family. And in Portland, the “antifa” feels like a dog that comes when its name is called and gets kicked.

When the fascists show up in Portland, how can we respond differently? PopMob will have their demonstration, which brings a lot of people in costumes and party attire, and that’s great. But the fascists thrive on us – the black bloc – showing up, too. So what if we didn’t show? I am not saying we should stay home. I am not saying we should not respond. But there is a lot of truth in the idea of “not giving them what they want.” Liberals use that phrase to mean we should stay home, but that is surrender, and we will not surrender.

There are so many other ways of showing up the day of a fascist demo that do not involve having a face-off with them at the waterfront. We are creative. We are anarchists. We have so many enemies throughout the city that can and must be attacked. An attack on one fascist is an attack on all of them, and we don’t need to stand at the waterfront flexing our muscles in front of their body armor and their guns to strike a blow against them. Think of what 200 people in bloc could accomplish if we were not surrounded by 700 cops, the FBI, and the national guard. Think of how many other opportunities there are. Think of the fascists temporary glee when we don’t show up at the waterfront, only to find out that while they were waiting for us, we have taken action – and won – on another front.

We need to refind our creativity. We need to remember how to make demonstrations joyful. We need to stop letting ourselves be provoked, and instead become the provocation.

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