Solidarity and Confrontation in
Portland in the Summer of 2020
A summer of uprisings: Ish Ishmael shares her live recounts
An elderly woman sits in a folding chair in the middle of the street. I stop and talk to her for a moment. She tells me that she hopes that things stay calm and peaceful, unlike the past few nights. There is a tension in the air, as thousands of people fill up the street by the Justice Center in downtown Portland. Federal Agents had descended upon the city days earlier and began taking protestors away in unmarked cars. Protestors gather nightly at the location for 60-plus days before the feds arrive. Since their arrival, there seems to be a nightly schedule. While people are present around the clock, the protest site hosts tents that serve food, tents for medics to help build shields and distribute PPE and helmets, and sometimes even bullet proof vests, and makeshift encampments for some folks experiencing homelessness.
We are living in a time unprecedented in much of our collective memory. Fighting dominant powers has been at the forefront for many folks for the entirety of the USA’s colonizing history. A global pandemic, however, is a time that most of us had forgotten–the oldest of our elders were babies and small children during the Spanish Flu. Those stories didn’t seem to get narrated down through the generational pipeline. Civil rights infringements, police violence, and black death, however, have constantly been gazed upon by society for decades, and has only increased with the visibility made possible by access to smartphone cameras and media.
The coronavirus has set the stage for the proletariat to fill the streets and say, “Enough!” An invigorated revolution has been born out of the video of George Floyd's murder in broad daylight by a sneering and arrogant officer. This video, along with a video of Christian Cooper, a Black man and a bird watcher, being accosted and threatened by Amy Cooper, a white woman walking her dog off leash in a preserved area of Central Park, circulated during a time where folks were ingesting social media like it is their job, feeling hopeless in quarantine. These videos left many of us wondering when and if these dangerous displays of white supremacy would end, and enlightened many others to the daily hazard of being black in this country. Some of us have been marching and learning for years, and others have just began to open their eyes, but this collective gift of time has caused a shift in the fabric and consciousness of our society.
Donald Trump has advertised himself as the law-and-order president since before he even was president. A long standing steady supporter of State violence, in 1989 Trump took out an $85,000 dollar ad in four newspapers in New York calling to reinstate the death penalty in response to the trials of the Central Park 5. During his presidential campaign, he rubbed elbows with police union leaders and touted himself as the law-and-order candidate, speaking of his plans to use force to remain the greatest force of good this world has ever seen. It is no surprise that Trump would send in troops and conspire with police to react violently in response to people filling the streets. Trump tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”; but what I saw was quite the opposite: peaceful protests, which often turned violent and destructive only after the police began accosting and beating people.
People began marching in cities around the country and globe at the end of May. I began my march in Detroit, and travelled in my van to other cities around the country to participate in marches and dissent in the streets. We are opposing the perpetual violence against black people and systemic exclusion of Black excellence in our institutions and society. We are opposing the modern day slave labor that is the prison pipeline, red lining, and housing discrimination. We are opposing the continuation of white supremacy, effectively beginning to dismantle some of the cogs that turn in the machine to perpetuate ideas of superiority. We are networking and making our voices stronger and louder. We won’t kneel to systemic racism and oppression.