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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Portland protesters resist Trump’s troops

Joshua Hanks

THOUSANDS of anti-racist, anti-fascist protesters continue to come out night after night into the streets of Portland, Oregon, to protest against police brutality, racism and the iron-fisted federal occupation of the city. After two months of continuous protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the protests swelled yet again after the Trump administration sent federal officers to crush the movement.

The escalation of repression has only invigorated the protesters, with thousands gathering nightly in the epicentre of the protests near two government buildings in the core of downtown Portland. Large protests have occurred in North Portland as well, outside the office of the police “union”.

Protesters have taken over two central parks, encompassing the blocks directly west of the Federal Courthouse, where federal officers mount their attacks, and they have occupied the Multnomah County Justice Centre, which houses the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) headquarters and the Multnomah County Jail.

The authorities declared the two parks off-limits and fenced them off, but on the night of 17th July protesters tore the fences down and have occupied the area ever since. Federal and city police have not attempted to enforce the parks’ closure or wrest control from the massive crowds.

Tents have been set up where free food is distributed. One called ‘Riot Ribs’ gives away barbecue and other hot foods to protesters. Donated medical supplies, water, clothing and other gear are distributed freely to anyone who needs it. The area feels almost like a summer block party with DJs, drummers and dancing in the streets – broken up periodically by tear gas canisters tossed into the crowds. Teams of protesters armed with leaf blowers and hockey sticks quickly clear the tear gas from the area, and the dancing starts back up. Soap bubbles float through the air, creating a surreal effect.

Large groups of local mums, dads, union workers, veterans and nurses, many wearing matching colours (the mums wear yellow, for example), are now a regular fixture at the protests, their arrival greeted with thunderous applause and cheers. Some groups march for miles across the city’s heavily populated east side and over the Willamette River into the centre of the city.

a broad section

Whilst the corporate media and the government paint the protesters as violent “anarchists” and “terrorists”, the reality on the ground is completely different. A broad section of Portland’s population makes up the crowds, with Black, Indigenous and people of colour leading most of the chants and giving most of the speeches.

Trump says the situation in Portland is now under control. Yet the protests are larger and more organised than ever, with federal officers usually hiding behind a hastily welded fence encircling the perimeter of the courthouse. On 26th July that fence was partially torn down.

The Portland cops’ liberal use of tear gas had begun to taper off – although the mayor never banned it entirely – but now federal officers are using massive amounts again. Tear gas had gotten into the ventilation system of the Multnomah County Jail, as high up as the 8th floor, with inmates trapped in their cells whilst the building is filled with gas. As a result, officials at the jail decided to close the ventilation system overnight, which raises concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Many inmates are elderly or have pre-existing conditions, making them especially vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus. Being exposed to chemical weapons and a lethal virus whilst incarcerated represents a serious violation of human rights.

Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, a Democrat with sinking popularity, finally showed up to the protests on 23rd July, over 50 days after they started. As police commissioner, Mayor Wheeler oversaw the heavy-handed tactics of the police in response to the protests, a fact not unnoticed by the thousands of people in the streets.

After giving a speech that was largely drowned out by jeers and boos from the crowd, Mayor Wheeler and many others, including this writer, were teargassed by federal officers. But whilst the mayor quickly left the scene and took refuge in a municipal office building a block away, the crowds regrouped and continued their protest late into the night.

The situation in Portland remains tense though fluid, with conditions changing rapidly. But for now, the protesters seem to have the upper hand, being able to withstand assaults from the authorities and hold their ground. Donations and people continue to pour in, and despite round-the-clock negative coverage in the corporate media, the protests still enjoy widespread popularity. Workers World (edited)