I grew up in east Portland, Oregon. I went to David Douglas Highschool. I’ve seen this city change over the past three decades as more immigrants and displaced people move to east Portland. I have also seen that this area of the city is largely ignored by those in power, and when it’s not it is almost certainly to target the most marginalized in the neighborhood for further displacement. I witnessed the community revolt against the white supremacist group, Volksfront, that saw the leader of that group out of our neighborhoods. Still, racism and fascism are a thing in east Portland. Just last year a neo-nazi tortured multiple people (nearly to death) and dumped them down the street. Beyond the ‘Love Wins’ and other empty rehtoric, Portland has a long way to go to fight against hate.
It was in this context that on April 29th, 2017 a group of white supremacists and literal neo-nazis congregated in a park about two blocks from where I live. Just days before these same groups had successfully driven a wedge in a diverse community parade to the point that the parade was cancelled. Still, the bigots felt a need to hold a rally in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Portland. Many of those in attendance had just a week before done a tremendous amount of violence to left wing counter demonstrators in Berkley.
This is no mistake. Two groups, Patriot Prayer and Street Preachers, are both known bigoted groups located in Portland and its suburbs. The Street Preachers have been targing transgender folks and latinx churches in the Portland area for the past year. This bigotry does have local roots.
Post 2016 election a lot on the left in the US talk of “resistance” and how love wins, but when push comes to shove and neo-nazis show up in your front yard what do you do? More so, when a number of these bigots have threatened to kill you personally in the past how do you deal with that? I know this is a question I try to answer often as this is an issue that black americans have faced for hundereds of years, and many muslims have faced in recent years. Still, I’m not sure if anything can prepare someone for large groups of people who want you exterminated marching on your home. This was my reality on a late April Saturday.
At 6AM I started doing neighborhood walks keeping an eye out for people intruding into our neighborhood. Fliers and chalk messages were posted up and down the streets declaring that hate is not welcome in our neighborhood, but things were calm. The rally was not supposed to start until 9AM.
Local members of the community attempted to organize a community festival in the park ath the same time as the rally as a show of solidarity against hate. I left my home at 8:30AM to join with these folks. I went and talked to my partner as I cried and told her goodbye, and made sure she knew what my wishes were if anything were to happen to me. This is the first time in my life I’ve felt the need to speak in such a way to a loved one.
After arriving in the park it did not take long for a number of Trump supporters and bigots to start arriving. They came in helmets, kneepads, kevlar vests, and armed with batons fasioned to look like flags. One man showed up throwing nazi salutes, called us the n-word and threatened us with a baseball bat before police intervened at took it away.
The Portland Police department, and Mayor Ted Wheeler, then gave protection to the group of far-right bigots as they marched and spread hate throughout our neighborhood. Police routinely looked the other way as these right wing folks punched and threatened counter protesters, but somehow only the counterprotesters kept getting arrested. I did not witness most of this part first hand as I wanted to stay in the park and make sure that my local neighborhood was defended if any lone wolf decided to come back and do damage.
After an hour or two. I got word that the march had ended about two miles away. I joked with others that they were going to have to march all the way back now to get to their cars, but they didn’t have to. The Portland Police and the Mayor organized free bus rides back to their cars for all of the right wing demonstrators (and none of the left wing counterprotesters). Just before the buses started arriving I was approached by a line of police in riot gear and told that I “need to make sure to keep this non-violent or I’ll face arrest …. I was sitting at a picnic table eating a sandwitch and had been playing games in the park for six hours by this point.
When the buses did arrive, many of the right-wing folx started attacking people on the street and especially harassing and assaulting left-wing counter protesters. In response the cops in riot gear formed a line … to defend the right-wingers. When one of the bigots walked past the police line and started throwing nazi salutes an officer came and gave him a hug saying “c’mon buddy lets keep you with your group”.
I then left the area and returned home. My partner and my housemate were both shaken. While leaving a McDonalds my housemate had run into the group of marching bigots who attempted to kill her, but she was able to get away.
I don’t know what lessons to take from this experience. I’m mad. I’m scared. I want to see my neighborhood better organized. The time for promoting “love” is over. Lives are on the line. My life is on the line. I will keep fighting with every breath I have.