Even With a Biden Win, Portland’s Protesters Vow to Keep Smashing Stuff
“WHOEVER THEY VOTE FOR, WE ARE UNGOVERNABLE,” reads one of the flyers for the event taking place the day after the presidential election, organized in part by the PNW Youth Liberation Front. The idea that activists in Portland, at least the kind we see breaking windows and spitting in cops’ faces, are in the bag for the Democrats is a product of binary thinking. Sure, they hate the president, but anyone willing to be disabused of the notion that they prefer liberalism can check out their tweet at 11:30 p.m. on election night—”Fuck Trump, Fuck Biden, death to America! We want something better than this trash, and we’re going to take it.”
The first step to “taking it” begins in Portland’s North Park Blocks at 2 p.m., though at start time it’s not more than people in street clothes carrying stockpots of soup and cases of water out of minivans and setting up folding tables featuring flyers like, “Are You An Anarchist? (the answer may surprise you!).”
By 3:30, a guy on the mic is talking about best practices when you are arrested, especially the importance of filming every encounter with the police.
“What you’re doing is you’re creating a clear record that you invoked your right to remain silent and asked to see a lawyer,” he says. “You’re reminding the good cops to be good cops—and I say good cops carefully. That’s not to say that the good cops won’t try to ruin your life and your friend’s life and your family’s life and your children’s lives, because they will, that’s their job…they will follow the law when they’re in the process of trying to ruin your life.”
The maybe 150 people in attendance react with ennui; it’s likely they’ve heard it before. Many of them have been in the streets at least since May 27 and while there have been more than 1,000 arrests, very few—owing to new rules by the district attorney—have stuck. That there is little fear of consequence, maybe, adds to the general lassitude.
If the crowd grows more animated when a young man named Truth explains why he voted for Biden—”With this election, I chose who I wanted to fight…I would much rather to fight a feeble-minded neoliberal than a narcissistic racist neo-fascist.”—it’s pretty clear politics bores them, too, but that what animates them is the fight, the release that comes with screaming in people’s faces and breaking whatever is at hand.
Still, anarchy needs fuel; where to get it? From the uniform, evidently—the head-to-toe black covering that today strikes me as unfathomably sad, a squandering of youth and beauty they will never get back. The repetition of engagement is likewise depressing, the same mission night after night, the same sloganeering, the same objects of hatred: Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland police. If the protesters show remarkable tolerance for repetition, for the endless spray painting of FUCK TED and the chanting of, “All Cops Are Bastards—ACAB!”, there is less willingness to try anything new, or not more new than infusing the same actions with more violence.
The anticipation of which you can feel as the clock ticks toward 5 p.m., as the music in the back of a pickup bumps up, and a murder of crows, just visible above the tall oaks, circles and caws in a way that might, if one is feeling poetic, seem eerie or ominous.
But there’s no poetry—it’s the same marching; the same slogans; the same shining of high-beam flashlights into people’s apartments;
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