PDX Protest, Day 84 — A Song of ICE and Fire
The two big actions of the last two days were as different in style as they were in outcome.
Wednesday’s was the latest in the series of direct action protests. All of these since the feds left downtown have been on some level related. The fliers are the giveaway. The exact same graphic design. Same font. Same style. Meet at 8, move at 9. Explicitly identifies itself as a direct action event. “No cops, no prisons, total abolition.” No host organization listed. And, until Wednesday, always declaring that “Black lives matter.” (Whoops.)
I don’t believe it’s the same people organizing all of these. I think it’s probably the same person making all the fliers. I think there’s some behind-the-scenes coordination between loosely-defined orgs, in order to not step on each other’s events, to obscure those who are organizing, and to give the appearance of a unified front, regardless of any infighting that might actually be occurring.
The photo in Wednesday’s flier showed a bunch of people holding up signs that said “MELT ICE.” People met at Elizabeth Caruthers park in the bougetopia of South Waterfront and marched to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices at SW Bancroft and Macadam.
ICE is a federal agency, and so the march arrived to find the building unboarded but packed with Federal Protective Service officers — some in standard police black/blue, some in camo/green. I wasn’t really sure if we were going to end up seeing any BORTAC agents, since this building is not technically downtown and ICE is within the Department of Homeland Security, but as far as I know, no one but FPS and PPB were spotted all night.
I was also unsure if we’d see teargas deployed. There’s so much damn money in South Waterfront. Gleaming condo towers that outshine even the Pearl. The question was whether the feds would respect the local geography of wealth the way that PPB does.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t. They gassed the shit out of rich white people in condos.
Said people were… not pleased. It’s not the first time there have been protests around this building. Two years ago, Occupy ICE had an encampment down here for something like a month. The neighbors haven’t forgotten, and some familiar aggressors were seen, including someone in a condo who threw things on the protesters including a tomato, and a business owner from across the street who came out for night two on Thursday with a taser, snapping it menacingly and lunging at someone who threw a water bottle at him. No one was injured. Everyone was unhappy.
Another business unlikely to be pleased was Little Big Burger, who had one of their picnic tables thrown onto a mattress fire in the street.
First, it’s goddamn impressive that they managed to ignite a mattress. Those things are held to high fire-safety standards, and they do not light easily.
Second, it’s probably really fuckin’ dumb to jump on, lie on, or kickflip over a burning mattress. Or am I just getting old?
Mattress, picnic table, Luxury Homes magazines… it was quite a bonfire for being a non-downtown event. It took a while for me to catch on. Melt ICE. Lots of fire. It was a theme. This fire was planned. They likely even knew ahead of time that the picnic table was there and included it in their plans. It was a high-concept protest, if a bit one-note. And I wondered if there had been similar themes on previous nights that I had just missed.
The bonfire happened in between pushes, and I wonder if the idea hadn’t been to use the fire to inject some destructive energy into the crowd and lead them back to ICE to really fuck some shit up. Either it didn’t work, the feds didn’t let them, or that was never the plan. Another window was broken and the crowd again got pushed away from the building.
The feds never pushed any farther than the street surrounding the ICE building, but PPB eventually showed up to declare an unlawful assembly and push the crowd north. Not much attrition at first, but by the third push the numbers were thinning quite a lot.
The night ended with 30 people peacefully sitting on the sidewalk outside. They left the building alone and were themselves left alone. They self-dispersed over the next hour or so.
Thursday, on the other side of town, was the first prominent action I’ve seen attributed to an organization since… geez, I’m not even sure when. Black Youth Movement — a handful of Black 16–18 year olds who broke off from Rose City Justice during that whole mess — hosted a march from Kenton Park to Portland Police Association in support of abolishing the police.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The flier didn’t label itself as direct action, but RCJ was decidedly reformist. And the truth, as revealed by post-event interviews, was fascinating. A position I’ve not yet heard in Portland.
BYM is both abolitionist and reformist.
They seek to reform the governmental structures of community safety through the abolition of the police. They aim to be an established, recognized organization that gets shit done. They look to present consistent messaging from this organizational foundation, rather than the amorphous, evolving what-exactly-do-you-guys-want? chaos of the direct-action front. They have a clear list of demands, separated into four domains. They want to be noticed, they are razor-focused on Black lives, they are ACAB, and they are determined to be taken seriously.
It’s clear they’ve brought some RCJ flair with them. The speeches were powerful and moving, and people left energized and inspired. The march meandered through neighborhoods, with speeches being given out the back of a pickup. Even more speeches were given in front of the PPA. They were not there to antagonize the cops. They were there to make noise. They were there so be heard. And they’ll be on the streets every Thursday.
It’s an exciting new force in the streets, for sure. I’m very curious how the revolutionists like Youth Liberation Front will react. On the one hand, they’re abolitionists. They chant “All Cops are Bastards” and “Fuck 12.” But on the other hand, they have speeches and leaders and seek to effect change through political reform and civic engagement, which is diametrically opposed to the decentralized, leaderless, anarcho-socialist revolution that YLF desires.
I suspect that the revolutionists will see BYM as not going far enough — or worse, as traitors — and the lack of police response to the march will only fuel that. But BYM’s fierce focus on Black lives makes the optics of opposing them gross unless they find some internal rot to expose as with RCJ.
There’s still big questions. How will BYM handle it if people at their rallies start spraying graffiti or lighting fires or tearing at plywood? How will this reformist ACAB organization treat police if they do show themselves? How will they handle people throwing water bottles? Will they “peace police?” How would YLF handle that? Would they really be so bold as to accuse this passionate collection of Black youth as being co-opters? How would these fiery Black youth respond to that? How are they going to handle increasing attacks from “chuds” who don’t differentiate any BLM protester from any other? Where is Portland Protest Bureau gonna react to that?
This story is far from over. There’s a number of small right-wing gatherings scheduled for this weekend, including a bunch of out-of-towners bringing their media-fed conceptions of domestic terrorists. The fair weather might keep heads cooler, but baseline demeanors are smoldering pretty damn hard right now. It wouldn’t take much at all to make shit ignite.