Protests Grow as Feds Occupy Portland
Salmon Street in front of the Mark O Hatfield Federal Building
There are hundreds of people gathered already. They are in small groups, huddled in conversation. Some have umbrellas (protection from pepper bullets,) some have leaf blowers (protection from tear gas,) some have gas masks hanging from their backpacks. Some stand in line for a plate of Riot Ribs.
Riot Ribs popped up in the park across from Portland’s Federal Building on July 4th. It has been giving away meals to the hungry rebels, the poor rebels, the homeless rebels, the doctor, nurse, and teacher rebels, the chef rebels and lawyer rebels and the rebellious family rebels — mothers, fathers, children, grandchildren standing together in the food line or on the street corner munching their ribs and pointing at signs. They have laid out plates of lip smacking goodness for the chain smoking, beer drinking, and pot-puffing rebels. The Veteran rebels. The disabled rebels. The red, white, yellow, black and blue rebels.
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The place is filling. People wear masks and helmets and carry the weapon of words. They want the Feds out. No ifs. No ands. No buts.
You are not wanted. You are not needed. You have not been invited. You are making things worse. You are using Portland as a prop for the election. You will lose the election. You will drown in your own swamp.
We follow a group to a staging area for a larger group three blocks away. A humungous group of dancing, drumming, sage burning settlers. They pass out cloths to protect our eyes from the gas. Everyone talks of “the gas.” If the gas comes “get to the back, people will help you.” If you start freaking out “get to the back, people will help you.”
“And thank you!” The woman on the bullhorn is black and she speaks of a lifetime of standing alone. “You can’t know what it is like to see all of you here for this.”
We march, en mass, to the scene of the crime: The Federal Building where Trump has reversed the mission of the Department of Homeland Security from protecting the country against terrorists, to terrorizing people who demand an end to government violence. George Floyd’s name is repeated over and over. So is Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jackson, Stephan Taylor, Sean Monterrosa, Philado Castille, Freddy Gray.
The lists goes on and on. A miserable soliloquy marking the sins of our nation, the blood of its people steeped into our soil. A list that leans back to the first time black people stepped onto this ground and were bought and sold on a block. No thought to their needs, their pain, or their humanity.
We arrive back in the park in front of the Federal Building. It is now totally filled with people and the sound of drums. Then I see the wall. Not one made of concrete or bricks or the yellow shirts of the Wall of Moms, but one of Veterans. A woman with crutches, a man with one arm. His good hand holds a sign. Disabled Vets for Black Lives. They stand in formation, postures erect, hands clasped behind their backs. The drumming intensifies, a growing crescendo, phones flash, people yell, they want peace, they want justice, “Black Lives Matter” they yell again and again and again.