Portland, Protests and People Power

The Black Lives Matter movement continues to push for justice — and the federal government wants to silence us.

By Ginger Cassady

As I write this, Representative John Lewis is being eulogized in Washington, D.C., and being lauded as a hero in the fight against systemic racism and for equal rights.

Representative John Lewis, 1964
Representative John Lewis, 1964

At the same time, unnamed federal troops are still in Portland, OR, in an aggressive and violent campaign to suppress activists supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. These troops arrived without identification and without city or state approval and represent a historic and unprecedented attack on our constitutional right to protest and our freedom of speech. Troops have been documented beating, gassing and abducting peaceful protestors. They have violated freedom of the press by attacking journalists, as well as legal observers and even medics. And this administration has threatened to send unwanted federal troops to other cities — St. Louis, Detroit, Phoenix, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., — specifically where local elected officials have opposed the president. Let me be clear: attacking our constitutional right to protest and kidnapping peaceful protestors off the street without charges or being read their Miranda rights is nothing short of fascism.

Protest and civil disobedience are the lifeblood of positive social change — from shutting down bridges and freeways in the fight for civil rights, to shutting down pipelines across Indigenous lands;  to the women’s suffrage movement,  and LGBT activists fighting for their lives. Disruption and dissent are often the only avenues available to stop legal, yet devastating, practices. Indeed, our own work at RAN is deeply based in the power of protest.

The administration’s excuse for these unwelcome federal troops and constitutional attacks: to protect federal monuments. This is in response to the widespread and growing condemnation of monuments across the country that glorify those who systematically tortured, murdered, raped and enslaved Black and Indigenous people in this country for centuries — and who profited mightily from those atrocities. The administration claims the troops are in Portland in response to graffiti on a federal building. Graffiti does not warrant a violent response and if a crime was committed, it should be judged within the justice system, not by federal troops.

Portland police responding to escalating protests in response to federal agents, July 2020
Portland police responding to escalating protests in response to federal agents, July 2020

But this same administration that claims to be protecting federal monuments has not only failed to protect national monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument — it has intentionally gutted protections by allowing mining and energy drilling on nearly a million acres of land that is home to more than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, considered sacred by many tribes.

And now, the president has tweeted a suggestion to delay the presidential election. This too is unconstitutional.

John Lewis fought to ensure that every vote should count. He fought to protect the rights of all people. He was beaten by police, suffered a fractured skull and nearly died during a peaceful protest for these convictions.

We all must act with the same conviction to the extent of our abilities. If that means protesting, we must protest. If that means voting for justice, we must vote. 
We must acknowledge and stop systemic violence experienced by Black people in the United States. We must stop the institutional injustice that results in the killing of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Tony McDade, Amber Monroe, Breonna Taylor, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and so many others.

Silence is not an option.

At RAN, these issues speak to our core values. We are committed to doing what is necessary, not only what is considered politically feasible, to preserve rainforests, protect the climate, and uphold human rights. We recognize the intersectionality of systems of oppression and the interdependence of all fights for social justice. And we believe racial inequity underpins systemic injustice and we are committed to incorporating a racial justice analysis into our programs and operations to challenge that inequity.

How do we work to make these values real? People power. We believe creativity, integrity and people power can create the positive change we need. To fight for people and planet, we must use that power — through protest or through our actions, through our voices and our votes.