PDX Protest, Days 57-60 — Building Blocs and Breaking Points

I’ll admit, I haven’t been keeping the closest tabs these past bunch of days. Was on a sort of vacation, trying to spot a comet, escape the heat, and, well, take a break. Failed, in parts, at all of it.

I might have seen the comet, on the 23rd, the first night I was out. One star in roughly the right place looked like it had a blurry stream going in the right direction, but when I looked elsewhere in the sky the LSD painted a web like neuronal connections between the stars, so I might have been imagining it. Especially given all the light pollution to the north.

The 24th was cloudy as hell, and it never burned off like it was supposed to. Really comfortable where temperature was concerned, but absolute garbage for stargazing. So I spent the day scouting and the night following the protest.

The feds have been trying their hand at the whole fence thing, to rather mixed results. It’s a different sort of fence than all the chain-link that has come before. It’s thicker. Sturdier. Much smaller cells, so you can’t open it with bolt cutters, and eight feet tall, making it unclimbable without immense upper body strength or assistance, at which point you’d be unable to climb back out. Protesters, however, had no trouble dismantling it and barricading the courthouse doors with it. And so the feds welded it together. And so protesters tied ropes to it and hauled it down whole. And so the feds weighted the back of it with concrete barriers. And so protesters brought angle grinders. And so feds put concrete barriers in front of the fence. Which essentially makes the fence only six feet tall and very climbable. Additionally, protesters have discovered that the fence cells are small enough that they can be filled with expanding spray foam, forming a defense against pepper balls and mace.

The rental agreement which was obtained by OPB shows the intent to maintain the fence for three to six months, at a cost of over $200,000. It’s hard to believe that purchasing the fence would have been more expensive, but what do I know about fence rental? Regardless, with the damage being done to it, I imagine this is the last rental this fence ever goes out on, and I’m skeptical that it’ll survive even one month. Portland knows how to fuck up a fence.

I heard a car slow to a stop and back up a little outside my van. Parking in an unfamiliar place like this is always a guessing game. After eight years in Portland, I have a pretty good idea what various neighbors will put up with and what the cops will do about it. Outside of that, it’s all a big question mark. I don’t know the culture, don’t know the cops, don’t know the patterns, so I’m always a little on edge.

Beyond thereflective sunshading in the windows, I saw an old man looking back and forth between my license plate and something in his hand.

It was tempting to just wait it out and see if the cops showed up and what they’d say, especially considering the rum I’d been drinking, but I didn’t like the list of potential outcomes when I considered that encounter, especially considering the rum I’d been drinking. Perhaps it was for the best, cuz I’d accidentally left my lights on and would have had a dead battery to deal with in the morning.

The whole swath of farmland I was on felt risky now that there might be a cop looking for my plate, so I popped to the other side of Woodland and up Highway 503 into the eponymous woods a bit too far, backtracked into cell reception, and found a pullout on a side road, figuring it less likely that a random patrol car would spot me there than on the main highway.

Sunshades back in place, I caught up on the dispersal, which was, as expected, absolutely inordinate amounts of teargas and impact munitions.

The sky had cleared by the next morning, and comet-sighting prospects looked good. I waited out the day in a shady little picnic area where a huge wooden placard told of some Finnish immigrants from the early 1900s who had built a community hall on this site. It had hosted a lending library, language classes, polka dances, theatrical performances, and more.

The placard told of how the immigrants brought many customs with them, such as their cuisine and saunas, but abandoned their “old country beliefs” (Paganism?), allegedly seeing it as more important to integrate with local culture, the study of whose “customs, partisan politics, and theological insights” was facilitated by this very hall.

“Life to them was involvement.”

Comet viewing was again a bust, even with more LSD. The light pollution must have been coming from Longview and not Columbia City. So I sat on a sandy ridge and watched the waves of the Columbia for a couple hours, entranced by the multiphasic undulations of wind colliding with current, finishing off the rum and feeling like a stereotype, until some hooting, hollering, and revving of large engines coming an access point to the north sketched me out. My drunken stumble south through loose sand easily hid any psychedelic intoxication from the nobody that I encountered along the way back to my van, where, out of lack of anything better to do, I plunged back into Twitter and spent the rest of the night struggling to catch up.

The crowd was the biggest yet. Well into the thousands. Two large causes were out of town support due to the national coverage and the emergence of several themed blocs.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a black bloc (as I was seven weeks ago when I embarrassingly discovered that it has nothing to do with skin color), a black block is a group of protestors homogeneously dressed in black from head to toe, including face mask. The idea is to obscure identity and make it difficult to prosecute anyone because everybody looks basically the same.

In keeping with this, each themed bloc had its own unique uniform, which in addition to obscuring personal identity served to counter the narrative that the protests were all just a bunch of violent anarchists breaking things.

The first of these blocs was the yellow-shirted Wall of Moms, playing on the mom meme with signs like “I am so disappointed in you…” and chants like “Feds stay clear, moms are here!” while linked arm-in-arm in a line between the shield wall and the bulk of the crowd.

I think the original idea was that a line of clearly identified moms up against the new fence would make the feds less inclined toward violence and make protesters less likely to agitate the feds through fence fuckery. Neither worked. There weren’t enough moms to cover the whole fence, and the feds didn’t hesitate to tear gas moms. With CS gas being an abortificant, I only hope that the pregnant mom was far enough along that it only resulted in a premature baby and not a miscarriage.

Far from deterred, the moms were joined the next night by Dad Pod: a bloc of dads in orange shirts, the name itself a dad joke on “dad bod”. Most of the leaf blower action has come from the dads, and they have gotten very good at keeping the gas contained to the courtyard where the feds are while teens swoop in to grab the canisters and throw them back, with shieldbearers protecting both from impact munitions.

In addition to these very function-driven blocks, Saturday brought a Wall of Vets wearing white, standing at parade rest and fulfilling their sworn duty to protect the Constitution against threats both foreign and domestic; Teacher Bloc in red (Anteacha?); Med Bloc in scrubs; Lawyer Bloc in suits; Chef Bloc in chef’s outfits; Asian Bloc, occasionally facing frankly racist accusations of being Andy Ngo; the Frontline Drumline, providing entertainment and rhythmic backing for chants; and, on at least one night, a handful of Boogaloo Bois in their trademark Hawaiian shirts and body armor.

This last caused a lot of concern amongst protesters and press. In conversations with friends since, I’ve discovered that folks may not be as familiar with the Boogaloo Bois as I’d thought, so it bears going into, cuz they’re kinda misunderstood.

It’s… a weird story.

The Boogaloo refers to an armed, violent uprising that ultimately leads to the collapse the United States. Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo. (I’m not kidding.) Adherents of the Boogaloo movement encourage committing acts of violence to trigger the Boogaloo through a back-and-forth snowball of retaliatory violence.

The movement started on 4chan as a reaction to state oppression, and it quickly grew and spawned a number of facebook groups, where sound-alike memes like Big Igloo and Big Luau (complete with “pig roast”) sprung up to get around content moderation.

The Boogaloo Bois, whose Hawaiian shirts reference the Big Luau, promote a race-neutral take on Boogaloo. To them, the fight is purely anti-government, and as such, they claim to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. They’re far-right but not alt-right. Libertarian as hell and staunchly pro-gun. They love to open-carry and, above all, desire freedom. An oppressive police state is the last thing they want.

And indeed, this is what the Boogs in downtown Portland expressed. They even went so far as to say they were there to protect the protesters and their first-amendment rights.

The catch is that there are more groups interested in Boogaloo than just the Bois, and all of them saw the George Floyd protests as the perfect catalyst.

If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you probably notice how similar the Boogaloo movement sounds to the accelerationist neonazis that got me doing this in the first place. That’s no coincidence; Boogaloo is an inherently accelerationist movement. But accelerationism comes in many shades.

The goal of accelerationism, no matter its shade, is the same: to hasten the collapse of society as we know it in order to replace it with something better. What differs is motive and technique. Not all are violent. There are flavors of accelerationism that would see technology pushed beyond what capitalism can withstand. There’s a flavor that would push consumption beyond what capitalism could keep up with. But of course, there are the violent shades too. The AC nazis would see racial tensions pushed to the point of a race-war Boogaloo in order to replace the ashes with a white ethnostate. The Bois themselves would see police/protester tensions pushed in order to replace the ashes with a libertarian utopia. And honestly I’m starting to see the Youth Liberation Front as left-wing accelerationists who would see those same police/protester tensions pushed in order to replace the ashes with anarcho-socialism or something. Hell, even Marx was an accelerationist, who would have seen proletariat/bourgeoisie tensions pushed in order to hasten what he saw as the inevitable overthrow by the working class.

So it’s all very muddy, you see.

Ultimately, if a Boogaloo Boi is true to the tenets of that name, than the biggest danger he poses to protesters is collateral damage, up to and including crossfire casualties. But the Portland Boogs took off at the first round of tear gas, so I don’t honestly know that they’re hard enough to do the whole violence thing anyway. And it makes me wonder if most of the violent rhetoric in these online spaces, whether Boog or nazi, is just a bunch of puffed-up chests. It’s easy to act tough when the stakes are low.

Even so, I can’t help but feel we’re still on track for something akin to Boogaloo. With the seeming inevitability of federal violence and the surge in protesters, we’ve got a whole lot of people out there from all walks of life getting traumatized and radicalized by flashbangs, tear gas, and impact munitions, and leftists are buying guns at alarming rates. Even if most of those in support of violent overthrow are full of hot air, I don’t think it would take much provocation to start a whole lot of trouble. And not the good kind of trouble.

It feels like that threshold is weakening every night. There’s a report of someone getting shot in the vicinity of the downtown protests on I think it was Sunday. I don’t know if it was protest related. But reports of shots fired into the air at protests are growing. There’s also a video that was taken in Eugene over the weekend of a protester and a counterprotester pointing handguns at each other point-blank. It’s too grainy for me to tell if either has their finger inside the trigger guard, but it’s super worrying either way. One of the fundamental rules of gun safety is never to point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy. Which means that this weekend in Eugene, we had someone from the left and from the right willing to destroy each other. This does not bode well.

It was five AM and the sky was lightening. The booze had worn off. Forecast for the day said 98, and real shade is hard to come by in farmland. There was no way I’d be able to sleep in that heat. I popped an Adderall and studied a map. Wanted to give the comet one more try. Needed to get past Longview. Maybe cut west, follow the Columbia some more. Never done that from the Washington side. Could climb into the coastal mountains. Find some public land. Get some sleep. Timing should work out well enough with the Adderall. And maybe the elevation would clear the air for stargazing. Then come back– Is that a ferry? Huh. Cathlamet. Puget Island. Six bucks. Shit, that sounds fun. Yeah, ok.

I pocketed my phone and hopped up on the roof of the van to ride out the acid comedown and watch the sun rise while swallows hunted insects and geese– what were geese still doing here? I wondered if they still flew south for the winter. To like California or something.

A pickup passed by occasionally, its driver giving me a dirty look. Whatever, I’d be gone in an hour. Probably the last time I’d be able to sit up here like this. There won’t be any room left after the solar panel gets installed.

The sun broke, and it was time to go. The freeway was quiet. Rural Sundays. Swung by Wal-Mart for a gallon of water. Grabbed some wine while I was there. The cashier eyed me funny. “COVID,” I said. “Better not to make two trips, you know?”

My little van struggled with the mountain climb, but we got there. Found a logging road with an absolutely stunning view of the Columbia delta. The old-growth breeze was sweet and refreshing. Sleep came easy. I woke just in time for a spectacular sunset. And no fucking comet.

Fuck it. I give up.

Wannabe gonzo from the passenger cabin of an ’85 Toyota Van. We're all swine here. (He/her/they) (@captsodapocket)