This essay was written collaboratively by two Portland protest community members, Susan Anglada Bartley and Lexy Kahn, and is the result of conversations after participating in protests, both as frontline protestors and as writers and journalists. Throughout the article, we switch italicized and non-italicized fonts (Lexy in italics, Susan not) when we swap voices, offering two perspectives. We hope the processing we offer can be a catalyst for our comrades in Portland and worldwide who do the work of sorting out how to heal and walk forward. Throughout the writing of this article, we were both working forty hours-per-week, parenting, and doing our own healing, while also continuing our organizing work.
Out of that storm of apocalyptic uncertainty in 2020, and a slew of deep individual and collective traumas, back-to-back-to-back with no time to process any of it, and amidst a tense and highly turbulent climate–with death and disease all around us– somehow a sliver of light broke through. And with it came a small shred of hope that we could finally tackle the issues of systemic racism and police brutality that have been so deadly and devastating to Black America, and all other marginalized groups, in this country for so long.
That tiny shred of hope shining through the cracks of this outdated, inequitable system, was enough to send upwards of twenty-five million racial justice activists, abolitionists, and lost souls, sprinting hard for those cracks to try and break through the obstacles that kept them trapped all their lives. They could now sense the defenses that their oppressors had laid out for them were in a weakened state, not as formidable as they once had been. That possibility was enough to make many of us All Go, All In.
And now, two years later, with a long list of accomplishments juxtaposed to a long list of mistakes and setbacks, this movement stands at a crossroads. Flustered and fragmented, but still standing . . . and still all in. Yet, all that trauma changes a person, and this group in particular has been hit hard with intensive trauma in a very short period of time. And in this climate, where just existing within the current state of the world is traumatic itself, we have to look back and resolve some of the traumas of these last two years in order to be able to move forward and build a more equitable world for our children and future generations.
It was that tiny shred of hope that drove us out of our homes, but for many a mass reckoning around white privilege was also a motivating factor. The geographic, social, and economic demographics of Portland, a city deemed ‘The Whitest City in America,’ a city located in a state that was originally founded as a white supremacist utopia, a city also known for both anarchist underpinnings and quirky white liberal Portlandia funkiness, was the only place where this could have happened exactly as it did. Portland was already known for massive protests. The history of protest in Portland in the past twenty years must be acknowledged as part of understanding how we got here. This historical recounting will not be perfect. It is non-academic. It is written in the cracks between work and mothering and street-level protest. It is missing pieces that I hope others will fill in. Even so, it is written by people who were right there, involved in it and who saw it happen, and also took part in that happening. So take from it what is helpful and add to it what is missing.
Many of the Portland protests of the early 2000s were active rejections of US imperialism and furious responses to Bush agenda colonialism in the Middle East. Climate justice and its relationship to all of the above also drove people to the streets in those early years at the start of the century. And in 2011, Portland joined the global movement of the squares with the Occupy Portland movement straddling two adjacent city parks in front of the Justice Center, which by no coincidence would become the heart center of the Black Lives Matter and antifascist movement of 2020-21.
Human rights organization Don’t Shoot Portland must also be credited with doing the work to shift the gaze inward toward white racism within the city of Portland through their ongoing activism and support of artistic production around police violence and murder of Black people, hyper-policing of Black youth, and the history of racism in the state of Oregon and the city of Portland. Of course, dozens of Human Rights activists from many organizations spoke and protested prior to the rise of Don’t Shoot as a trusted and reliable source of information, but we acknowledge the work of Don’t Shoot due to their clear focus on exposing racism within Portland in the decades prior to the uprising of 2020 and 2021. This does not mean they were the organizer. As we say on the streets, Britney Spears is the organizer. We acknowledge the work of Don’t Shoot PDX in order to highlight the consciousness and political energy-raising factors that preceded the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing public response.
Likewise, the Occupy ICE Movement, supported by multiple antifascist groups, Direct Action Alliance, several mutual aid groups, and Portland DSA, in 2018, helped to focus the gaze of Portland protest community lenses around the intersection between colonialism, institutional oppression, race, and class. Occupy ICE was an immigrant rights movement, but also an Indigenous rights movement, an anti-colonial movement, an anti-federal power movement, and an anarchist movement. One could enter from any of those invisible doors. Once inside, the rhetoric sparked discussions and even deep divides around race, class, gender, sexuality, protest, and organizing that bled right into the protests of 2020-21 through the veins of those of us who were involved in both.
Occupy ICE is also particularly relevant because it was the largest, most recent anti-colonial and anti-racist movement in Portland prior to 2020-21. Like the uprising in 2020, Occupy ICE was decentralized in leadership and some of the same expectations (not naming organizers, protecting Black and Indigenous voices) were the norm (or attempted norm) in 2020/21. Though the Occupy ICE Movement was successful in several of its goals (including the shut-down of the ICE facility on SW Macadam in Portland), the protest community faced a tangle of painful and oppressive internal dynamics, which were only to be expected given that snipers literally pointed guns and surveillance cameras down from the rooftops for the duration of the occupation. Explaining the oppressive dynamics that arose during the Occupy Ice movement would require an essay or book chapter of its own, but what I’d like to document here is that the Portland Protest community, with little actual time to process, came to the next movement with slightly more understanding of how toxic hyper-masculinity in movement spaces could combine with police and military toxicity to attack women, non-binary Black and Indigenous people, children, and people of differing abilities to undermine movement goals.
In the 2020-21 movement, however, voices of Black women who wanted a movement that was truly intersectional (meaning centering Black women including trans women if you are really using Dr. Crenshaw’s definition of intersectionality) were sometimes drowned out by the decentralized approach, and often they were still arrested, harassed, and targeted anyway. There were internal power struggles and ideological divisions among members of decentralized leadership that caused splintering. Within this context, there was also the reality of thousands of high school students, most but not all who were white, with a lot of spare time on their hands and who were ready to roar. In identifying the youth protestors as majority white, it must be acknowledged that Black, Indigenous, Asian, and youth of multiple backgrounds, sometimes in leadership roles did, in fact, hit the streets. Bands of young people began to bloc up for Black Lives Matter informed by Instagram handles that told which park to meet at, how to bloc up, how to make a shield, and what to do if you were arrested.
Portland has a history of anarchist organizing. Reed College is sometimes said to be an anarchist institution, though as a non-Reed student who spent time with anarchist Reedies at the turn of the twenty-first century, I can tell you that this looked like a whole lot of dumpster diving, food sharing, zine-making, reading anarchist literature, and punk rock music played in damp Portland basements.
But anarchism also lived outside of the academic nest that is Reed college. On Southeast Division street in the early 2000s, the Red & Black Cafe was a worker-owned coffee shop that was a center of anarchist thinking and activity. Pockets of anarchism and antiauthoritarianism dwelled in little puddles around the city, often in the shape of young artists collectively renting buildings or houses to create underground galleries, hold metal shows in basements, and hide before big developer gentrification hit this town; when housing was still cheap and working-class artists could afford to hold paint brushes rather than shields.
That the throngs of protestors who showed up in 2020 were dubbed white anarchist youth, however, is absurd. As I’ve already established, the people who came out for the Portland antifascist and BLM protests were not all white youth. People who identify in many and multiple racial and ethnic identities took part in all actions. And there were and are many Black, Indigenous, and Asian people who are anarchists or interested in anarchist and Marxist philosophy living in Portland. Throughout the movement, local media created a divisive narrative in which they juxtaposed “White Anarchists” with “Black Lives Matter Protestors.” In doing so, they both erased the presence of Black, Indigenous, and Asian anarchists, and inflated the lie that white or white appearing people on the streets were fighting for anarchism, but not for Black lives.
That said, a hell of a lot of white youth who had not previously been politically engaged did, in fact, come out for the first time in 2020 and many came out under the banner, or shall we say umbrella, of anarchism. Some had knowledge of the political philosophy due to the availability of antifascist and even anarchist literature and ideologies in their own Portland homes (no doubted some of their parents were once the anarchist twenty-somethings of the 90s and early 2000s). That knowledge also likely grew through communication and pamphlets available at movement activities, but there were still plenty of white kids who had no knowledge of anarchism other than how to tag the A and just wanted the chance to fuck shit up. And did.
Since decentralized leadership also meant that no single group or individual held the power, the rhetoric coming from megaphones and mics (which people just grabbed on a fairly regular basis) also ranged the full gamut of political underpinnings, from tacitly pledging allegiance to state power to anarchistic direct action. City Council candidates who received donations from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) spoke at BLM children’s marches on the same weekend that Black voices holding the megaphone at street-level protests shouted “Every city, every town, burn the precinct to the ground,” while marching through the night. But I cannot speak on this as if I were an outsider listening in. Like many fellow protesters of a great variety of backgrounds, I was right there chanting too, motivated by the sincere belief that the police, criminal “justice” system, and the system of mass incarceration are indeed corrupt institutions that perpetuate racism, genocide, and harm to humanity.
Within the movement, there were common threads and hashtags. #wearenotamonolith became a commonly repeated explanation for serious ideological discrepancies in the movement used to normalize Black people not all having to share the same perspective because they are Black.
Another common thread was a constantly combusting discussion about the deeper meaning of Black Lives Matter and the need for whites to repair historic and ongoing wrongs. Fellow activists often questioned whether the very urgent and immediate daily focus on hitting individual Venmos or Cash Apps of Black and Indigenous activists, organizers, or protestors was in fact distracting the movement from the needed focus on demanding reparations for all Black and Indigenous Oregonians, through money and land that they deserve. To clarify, the demand to send cash directly and immediately was a common refrain through microphones, megaphones, and online platforms. There was often little to no expectation that recipients would prove their need or the use of funds to those who gave. In fact, shouting those kinds of questions back toward the person on the microphone was not possible or acceptable in the context of street protest.
As the practice of demanding funds from fellow protestors became a norm, some fellow street-level protestors began to question whether it was really helping us toward our common movement goals. These critiques did not intend to suggest that the aspects of the Revolution that operated through Venmo and Cash App were all the way wrong; the needs in the movement were and are real and these and other apps and mutual aid actions helped to address immediate needs and keep people housed and supported. The economic and personal needs that emerged in movement circles were also byproducts of apocalyptic capitalism and racism, and many needed urgent support so that organizers and protesters could keep doing the work or simply keep living, but this can be true while it could also be true that the movement can and will win more for those who are most impacted by demanding reparations from the city of Portland, the state of Oregon, and the federal government.
A third common thread was respect for both decentralized leadership and diversity of tactics. Protest policing was widely eschewed, meaning it was not cool to tell anyone else how to protest, whether they were lighting a fire or silently meditating. Above all, it was essential to keep showing up. White people had the responsibility to listen, to front line if able, and to continue to disrupt white supremacy, especially in spaces where they (we) had privileged access due to race.
Not far from the start, three demands were also made by multiple members of decentralized leadership:
Defund and Abolish the Police
Fund the Community
Make Reparations for Historic and Ongoing Racism in Oregon.
Organization Unite Oregon followed up these demands with a detailed set of budget suggestions and actions for City Council and the Mayor (Fuck Ted Wheeler) to adopt.
Some people marched with knowledge of what was on the table. Others marched for other reasons. Communication was imperfect. But in that chaotic context, the movement continued to multiply and subdivide. It continued to attract both sincere protestors and grifters. Its messages were both reproduced, surveilled, and tainted by fear or polluted by ego. We experienced infiltration by those with corporate protest agendas (groups who came down with the intention of soliciting votes or supporting particular agendas), politicians hoping to gain capital in every way they could through the opportunity to speak to large numbers, the FBI, and the Portland and Oregon State police.
Trusted voices emerged in the depths of street protest. Trusted voices emerged far away from stages, in parks, on street corners, behind umbrellas, faces hidden. Brief but historic conversations happened outside of precincts. There were moments where no microphone was present, but the truth was told. Trusted political actors also emerged–people who were intentionally silent, unseen, acting on behalf of the movement. Firecrackers, yes, but also actions never to be heard, seen, or mentioned again. The movement felt scattered like gas canisters on the street after a Portland protest, yet furious, chaotic, unpredictable, and still on fire.
After decades of dancing in denial over racist policies within the US justice system, it only ended up taking those three fateful words to expose nearly every closet racist that existed in this entire Ill-fated empire. Outside of the system and within, all the way up to the potus. All it took was simply saying that we believed Black Lives Matter, and they all crawled out of every racist nook, cranny, crevice and closet, to show how woven in they were to the institutions of this country. And after gaslighting Black America and our most marginalized communities for decades with false narratives that wealth inequality and poverty is based only on their own lack of merit, rather than lack of available resources or systemic racism, the racial justice protests of 2020-21 and the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement forced many white Americans to see and acknowledge the thinly veiled layers of white supremacy that permeate every aspect of this nation’s power structure, to finally face their own complacence and privilege within those frameworks.
It did not take long though for the bigots to come crawling out from the ideological muck and sludge like slugs after a fresh rain to tell Black America that they weren’t allowed to say that their lives mattered. And when that same racist version of white America realized they could not control or suffocate this civil rights movement with their hate speech alone, it led to visible collective rage and a volatile response that reverberated through the far right and manifested itself in many episodes of right wing, neo-Nazi hate groups from out of state, invading the city, leading to frequent clashes with homegrown antifascists, who were forced into defending themselves and their homes. As writer Mark Bray reminds us, “Militant anti-fascism is inherently self-defense because of the historically documented violence that fascists pose, especially to marginalized people.”
Those of us on the ground in Portland that year were probably much less surprised and shocked than the rest of the nation when the events of the January 6th Capitol riot transpired. For far too long, the white American, cis male bigot has been enabled and placated by the powers that be and they panicked and flailed and clung to their prejudiced ideologies in a perverted carnival freakshow-like display of childish tantrum combined with the very real and extreme dangers of mob mentality. So it’s not a wonder that they literally trampled some of each other to death in the process.
Meanwhile, by contrast, the organizers of mass protests on the far-left were diligent in creating measures for de-escalation, and touting chants like ‘we keep us safe’ or ‘we take care of us’ as a way of instilling safety measures into the minds and routines of the participants. Always keeping intersections blocked and barricaded from motorists who would use their cars as weapons against us during marches or demonstrations. Helping to ensure medics were in attendance at large rallies as well as ASL translators for accessibility. Always making food and water accessible and provided for free, fueled by donations of supporters of the movement and dispersed by the efforts and labor of the community, shouts go out to Riot Ribs in those early days (a local Portland food cart that kept anyone in the protest community fed for free in the earliest months of the uprising, and were constantly targeted and assaulted by police and right wingers for their work). So much emphasis was placed on keeping our marches as safe as possible because we knew if we were going up against a violent system of injustice that imposes what’s seen as ‘law and order’ it was going to be dangerous.
Given that police brutality was the very reason for this uprising in the first place, we inherently know how violent US policing is as an institution and if we stood firm against it, necessarily violence was going to follow. Some of our people were going to take wounds from the punches delivered by the violent right arm of the system we sought to abolish or at the very least, bring a much stronger measure of accountability to. Nothing else would do and we could settle for nothing less, and so some windows would have to break, some precincts would have to burn, and worst of all, some of our people would have to bleed before the needle would even start to move. But credit where credit is due, this community worked extremely hard to keep each other alive or from being seriously injured even in the most lawless, chaotic of circumstances. In the aftermath of clashes with neo-Nazis, feds or local police, you’d always see comrades tend to each other’s wounds, carry each other to the closest available medic or wash the bear mace from each other’s eyes with saline. Assigned groups walked injured comrades to safe houses or to took them to the hospital when it was necessary which, thankfully, wasn’t often due to all the community support within the movement and from our heroic street level protest medics tending to us all as needed.
And yet we were workers.
We were workers who held children on our hips. We were workers who did what we had to for tips. We were workers who loaded boxes at the supermarket in the middle of the night. We were Grub Hub, Burgerville, and food cart workers. We were librarians, social workers, and public school teachers. We were childcare workers, EMTs, artists, cannabis clerks. We were bus drivers, nurses, herbalists, students, and professors. We were retail workers, sex workers, and we were also great masses of unemployed workers.
We were exhausted by day, fighting by night. We were willing to meet anytime, anywhere to stand for what we knew was right. We changed out of uniforms, shook off the eight-hour shift. We arranged for childcare, some taking turns with partners, so we could Bloc up and fight.
We met in the park at the place where race, class, gender, and human power flexed into a muscle that was the revolution. For some of us, it was the revolution we had seen up ahead and organized toward for years. For others, it would be the first time tasting it.
We were both leaderless and guided by each other’s voices. We were both marching in the impeccable solidarity of the heart and each needing to express that sacred rage that kept our feet marching when our souls were tired.
It was always all for George Floyd (fly in power) and also for those shattered parts of each of us, dominated our whole lives by racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic authoritarianism that decided upon his death to scream our truths. It was always about Black Lives Matter and it was also our biggest mistake to fail to admit that we were also doing it for ourselves.
Here enters our trauma. Here our lies. Here our unspeakable truths. Here our addictions. Here our imprisonment. Here our egos. Here our fear. Here our fury. Here our failures. Here our demise.
The Battle of 1312 and the Attempted Federal Occupation of an ‘Anarchist Jurisdiction’
And as we were clashing with each other’s egos in a constant battle of ideological motives that sometimes devolved into power struggles based on popularity contests or scene politics, what was most enlightening in all of that was the way all of that drama and toxicity and venom we were directing at each other would suddenly melt away and evaporate into the void the second the police came pushing down on us in their riot gear. And, once again, for the brief clash against the foot soldiers of our real oppressor, we would all be united as one against a common enemy. An enemy we collectively agreed was one of the most glaring problems in our community; there in front of us looking right back, with eyes hungry for violence from behind those shielded helmets. Dressed in body armor, boots and state issued gas masks, the so called ‘peacekeepers’ were back to restore law and order from the ‘unruly mob’ who kept insisting that Black Lives did in fact, matter and had to be beaten, gassed, tazed, shot at, and maced for saying so.
But even if the police were itching to bash some heads, there was not a single night that the police truly wanted to be out there. On the flip side of that you better believe that those of us within the group they came to try and disperse wanted to be out there . . . Even needed to be out there, if only to challenge the brutality of a State that desperately needed to be challenged, with the lives of our own community members hanging in the balance, especially BIPOC and those from marginalized communities, endangered by the same police thug element we were fighting and those state issued .45 caliber handguns that they were always so quick to draw from out of the holster that hung on their hip. And in those moments, even with one of our leading mantras being ‘no gods, no masters’ we were almost always as close to one unified faction as we ever were. You would’ve had no idea that just five minutes earlier multiple people in that same group were at each other’s throats about to come to blows over differences of opinion or petty squabbles. Such is the anger and hatred for the police and their masters that so many of us in the working class majority feel.
The Battle of the Portland Police Association, June 30th, 2020
Could there be a love that was strong enough to win?
We met at Peninsula Park just before dusk. The rule “no whites on the microphone” was in full effect, and I remember cleaning the mic for each speaker, one of whom was my partner, whose words illustrated the relationship between colonialism, racism, and police violence as the sky turned from grey to a shade of indigo above us.
“…Mass Incarceration is Colonialism. Racism is Colonialism! Police Brutality is Colonialism! This is an ancient fight! We are fighting against colonialism. All of these things that we are going through right now…this is an ancient battle! This is an ancient battle based on a violence that we sometimes cannot even see. These are based on laws that are set there to protect settler colonialism and to put pain on those who do not look like them. These are laws that are there to inflict pain on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, so when we are moving forward sometimes we see the department of justice burning…we see all over the country, every time we are about to move forward, we feel that there is something else we need to tear down. That is because we are fighting a very old fight, which is colonialism. Racism, police brutality, mass incarceration are colonialism. We need to connect the dots. All of this racism…all of this colorism that puts us against each other, we need to end this!
By the time the first settlers came to the Caribbean and enslaved and inflicted pain on my people, and inflicted pain on African people all around this land, they had already set hierarchies based on the color of the skin. Right? This is one of the things we are fighting right now because now we can see it. We can feel it!
When we see George Floyd die on the street, we can see on a camera, through a video, that this is what we are witnessing. When we learn about the death of Breonna Taylor…when we learn about the death of Elijah McClain, we see these things at play. When we see Rayshard Brooks who was killed in Atlanta, and who was awakened by the police, sleeping in his car, taken down in his sleep…the best case scenario was that he was going to be arrested. Arrested for what? Can we just open the car and say hey man, here is a bowl of food? What do you need? Can I give you some water? Can I give you some coffee so you can continue your journey? But instead he needed to be arrested. For what? And then he gets killed. And then we look into his assassination and we see all of these things that come down to colonization and racial hierarchies. So we need to end this!
Moving forward, one of the things that we can do is to look into each other. We need to look into the mirror and acknowledge the pain that we are inflicting to each other and to our brothers and sisters by going along with these laws, these laws that are persisting for so many years through racism–the way that we try to distance ourselves because of the color of the skin…this is about colonialism. Moving forward, it’s about true liberation. Whenever politicians say we are going to give you another million dollars for this or that, we must say NO because we still have people who are incarcerated! People who are incarcerated for bullshit! They say we are going to stop and liberate some people. We must say NO! Because right now there are migrant children being detained in this country all over the place! And we think it is not happening because we cannot see it! But it is happening! Politicians say, well we are going to set free a few people. We say NO! This is about colonialism. Set immigrants free! When politicians say we are going to give a few more dollars so we can invest in schools, we must say No! We are going to say NO to continuing settler colonialism history and we are going to have to acknowledge the pain that has been perpetrated against our community for decades and decades! So as we continue to move forward, we need to remove the barrier that has been set inside of our minds, inside of our hearts, inside of our soul. And that is one step that we can take forward.”
-Pedro Anglada Cordero, Peninsula Park Speech, June 30, 2020
Numerous speakers took the mic before it was time to march–moving as a collective to the precinct where we would stand outside and demonstrate our unified rejection of police violence against Black and Indigenous people in this society. As we arrived at the precinct, we knew to expect that police photographers would snap pictures of all of the speakers from the park. At this point, we understood they were always trying to surveil us, especially targeting Black and Indigenous people who had the courage to speak their minds at the microphone. For this reason, we had to be increasingly careful to avoid any actions other than expressing our right to Free Speech.
There was no violence that night, other than the violence of the police themselves. Just minutes after our march arrived (no fires, no broken windows, just people marching into the night speaking their minds and hearts) a blockade of heavily armed and shielded police marched toward us, their automated, authoritarian white male voice declaring our mobilization a riot and demanding we disperse. I heard only the voice of a Black woman–one of the women who was the first to the Justice Center upon the death of George Floyd, shouting, “Hold the Line!” into her megaphone right behind my head.
My partner and I were that line right in front of her. Due to my racial privilege and ability, as a white, able-bodied person, I knew I better not turn the fuck back now. In front of me was one thin line that included a bike activist who was holding their bike as a shield. Next to him was a deeply-committed but frail man I knew had a significant leg injury. To my left was my partner, a Puerto Rican man who I knew was also not turning back.
“Hold the Fucking Line! We’ve got us!” she screamed, again.
As the riot-gear clad police charged with their clubs out, I saw the bike get grabbed away as the frail man was lifted up and pushed back into us like a doll. I kept pushing forward until I felt myself choking on the gas. I felt my partner disappear into the front line battle with the police.
Choking, I felt a spray of pellets on my shins. People were running away behind me. There I was floating in the smoke, trying to regain my focus as I saw cops pinning people on the ground up ahead. I was fucking alone, about to get pinned myself, trying to locate my partner, who had run forward trying to get the fuming gas canisters away from the protestors. I struggled to see through my clouded goggles, stumbling, trying to walk, not run.
In that moment in the smoky, dark of night, a woman I vaguely knew from Occupy Ice grabbed my arm, linked me, stabilized my path, and saved my ass. Never in my life have I believed more in Love. Never in my life have I found a greater sisterhood. She walked arm-in-arm with me in the smoke until my partner retreated from the front line and found us. As the police charged, we ran down a side street where everyone was dispersing. Running behind him, I saw that the police had shot him right toward the balls with green glow-in-the-dark paint. As we neared a dark corner near a dumpster, a blonde, white male comrade who we had never met said to my partner, pulling out a pair of black Adidas running pants, “Dude, you’re hit. Take these. Put them on over so they can’t see you!”
My partner went behind the dumpster and quickly put them on.
Out on the residential side street where neighbors watched from their porches and driveways, we saw comrades strewn about like broken dolls, choking on the gas. Near our vehicle, which was fortunately on that street, a 6’2″ blonde, early-twenty-something white man lay on the grass patch between the street and sidewalk crying and choking because he had been maced directly in the face by the police. We got water from our car and my partner helped him flush his face (milk was not available in that moment). His close comrades soon came to find him, help him up, and hobble him away.
We departed, needing to return for the babysitter. It wasn’t until we got home that I saw the blood and the open wound beneath my partner’s pants. It wasn’t until the next day that we found out they were intentionally shooting Black and Indigenous men toward the balls. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized my partner had helped a white man while he himself was injured and bleeding, but he was glad he did it, and in those moments and into forever, you better believe we learned what it means to be a comrade.
But this isn’t intended to make a happy spectacle of our wounds. This is meant to offer a glimpse into one moment of police-induced trauma, to illustrate the pressure we were under throughout this protest period.
Go home and kiss your child. Hug ’em tight. Get up and go to work. Black Lives Matter. The bruises will go away. End White Supremacy. Where does the pain go? Black Lives Matter. What is that noise in the night? What does it do to a person, facing police and military violence in bike helmets and science class goggles, homemade shields, and combat boots?
There are ways in which it made us way fucking stronger. Firstly, one of the greatest victories of the movement was won that night . . . and in the years that followed. Human rights organization Don’t Shoot PDX proved that the munitions used on protestors were in fact illegal munitions. The lawsuit, which they won on behalf of our Free Speech, both documented exactly what happened, affirmed our right to Free Speech, and created a strong boundary to protect future protestors from illegal munitions like those that were used on us that night. We, as a protest family, thank Don’t Shoot for standing with all of us who were impacted by the munitions that night and every night. There is no way we could ever forget.
There are bonds created in those battles that can and never will die, but there are also ways in which the constant and continuous assault from the Portland Police and federal government systemically broke people and the movement the fuck down. And we cannot tie that up in ribbons and bows. We have to uncuff it, recognize the trauma, realize how it impacted us individually and collectively, and move forward with both the wounds and the recognition that we are welded together by our sacrifices and pain.
White Supremacy is Trauma
There were times things got a little out of control and times where it got downright out of hand. Just thinking back on some of it takes some pretty severe inner fortitude. Even though the police were always the instigators of actual violence against nonviolent demonstrators, there was a louder outcry from white Portlanders over the graffiti and boarded up windows than they had ever expressed over the issue of police brutality. Whether it was a police killing of a BIPOC high school student or the beating of nonviolent protester, white liberal Portland never screamed or shouted about any of it with as much dismay as they did over statues of white racist colonizers getting knocked down on October 2020’s Indigenous day of rage (which the Oregonian intentionally mislabeled as simply the ‘Day of Rage,’ leaving Indigenous out of the title completely in an obvious attempt to discredit the work done that night as wanton property damage and the work of white anarchists). Or the way they howled out their grief over the boarded-up windows and graffiti in the Pearl and other downtown shopping districts. And even though all that property damage was a symptom of the police brutality and systemic racism of the city’s failed power structure, it was still somehow the demonstrators who took the brunt of the criticism from liberal white Portland and the local media, who constantly portrayed us as the more militant side rather than as a resistance to militant policing. This city isn’t suddenly falling apart as the result of these protests. It’s coming apart from failed leadership, mismanagement of resources and the ongoing severity of the opiate epidemic and houseless crisis. The continued protests and unrest in this city are all secondary bi-products and consequences of militaristic, hyper-aggressive policing, inhumane rent increases, and heedless gentrification. The 2020-21 protests and unrest only applied the pressure and provided the clarity needed to magnify how badly this city’s leadership had failed their constituency. But someone had to be scapegoated for the city’s own failures, to answer for all that graffiti and scattered glass on the streets.
To learn how to move forward from here, however, we still have to dive deeper into our collective trauma to further understand how and why we got here, and why those windows had to break. Why and how those panes of glass that had once filled the windows of the banks, department stores, and office plazas of downtown Portland were being shattered as quickly as our country’s own faith in itself.
Where to even start with the list of all these combined traumas? They came back to back to back in a steady rapid stream, compounded one on top of the other with little to zero time between to process any of it before the next crisis hit: A global pandemic and a state-by-state lockdown already had the world shaken and upside down. A Black Liberation and anti-police brutality movement like we had never seen, had swept the globe and racial justice activists took to the streets in record numbers all across the US in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. And, as we’ve been discussing at length, our non-violent demonstrations were once again met with force and excessive brutality by police. The very bizarre political climate, and unrest in the streets prompted the Trump White House in conjunction with the federal government and department of homeland security to invade one of its own cities, Portland, which had become a kind of unofficial protest hub. The atrocities piled up as a result, all seemingly for the agenda driven purposes of Trump admin optics leading up to a contentious election. And when the feds touched down and started snatching people up in unmarked cars, a couple hundred protesters suddenly turned into five thousand, igniting the spirit of the revolution in a group of people who were feeling more empowered by the second, riding high off of their collective civil disobedience, suddenly ready to stand up to the authoritarian abuses they had mostly ignored their whole lives but were now seeing on a terrifyingly heightened level.
The more the police brutalized us the more it seemed people turned against the cops and the State and the stronger we became as a group. More and more people would rally to our cause or put their support behind what they saw a glimmer of light and hope in us, while the world was growing darker and more unpredictable around them. Many of us had waited our whole lives for this moment and were more than ready to take up the call and throw our everything into it, but the sacrifices along the way were very real and some of our best and brightest were lost(Rest In Power Michael Reinoehl, Summer Taylor, and June ‘TRex’ Knightly, all of whom died holding the line).
Those of us who are still here were left with wounds that will take a lifetime to heal. From nightly clashes with the police and being subjected to their unhinged violence just for speaking up and standing firm in opposing their violence in the first place. From at least weekly clashes with armed white nationalists and/or neo-Nazis who were allied with the bureau. From the assassination of one of our comrades, which was openly plotted by the white house and carried out by US Marshalls according to the callous boasts of then president, Donald trump himself. From the rampant nightly use of chemical warfare, LRAD and heavy crowd control munitions by police and DHS agents against nonviolent protesters, press, and bystanders alike. All the wildness that swirled around the eviction blockade/neighborhood occupation of our triumph over the Portland Police Bureau and wheeler admin at Red House (a Black and Indigenous family was forcefully evicted and their home taken, so comrades established a blockade and this became another central organizing site for the movement, which resulted in the family getting the house returned to them, even after the violent, mid-pandemic eviction by the Ppb). And of course the explosion of gun violence citywide and the continued police killings of unarmed houseless Portlanders on mental health calls. And the work, all the while, included always remaining aware of and confronting the continued violence and killings by the PPB and other bureaus in the nation against Black Americans and our houseless community. The list of internal and external traumas goes on and on and as we have already acknowledged, they took a toll.
As fellow frontline protestors, we acknowledge the ways in which the trauma caused by interactions with the police, like those described above, injured comrades, both physically and emotionally. We also illustrate how the sheer pressure of the nightly uprisings against State and police power had many of us living in a frantic state of exhaustion. In this section, we also acknowledge the role that white supremacist thinking carried into the movement by fellow white protestors corroded the movement like an invisible poison. We will identify and break down the ways that we saw elements of white supremacist thinking enter into movement spaces and relationships to cause both disillusionment and the breakdown of important relationships between comrades. The processes identified below also caused the breaking off of many movement visitors who were in fact not comrades, but individuals who eventually returned to their passive stance and did not continue the work of movement building, Abolition, and dismantling white supremacy in society. By examining these factors, we also identify aspects of the movement that were helpful and effective. We ask for understanding as these passages may not be comprehensive or complete. They are an attempt to bring some of what we know now to the light so that we can heal and further dialogue, and so that others can heal and continue the discussion in their own safe spaces.
Cop Shit and Op Shit
Over time, it became clear that one common response to being traumatized by police, facing authority, and being under surveillance was to develop an attitude of paranoia toward fellow protesters, thereby redistributing police-induced trauma back into the movement. The movement clearly needs ways for participants to identify one another as comrades and to prevent infiltration by law enforcement. Unfortunately, police-induced trauma caused deep paranoia that impacted relationships between people who were in fact trustworthy, which helps police to achieve their goals and causes our Movement to falter. Cop Shit–shifting the focus from combating systems of oppression to surveillance attitudes toward comrades, is op shit. Op shit means those doing this paranoid trauma-induced work are in fact operating on behalf of the police and systems of oppression, not on behalf of the comrades. Cop shit and Op shit harmed the movement by planting distrust, and establishing feelings of distrust without clear systems to identify true commitment. In the worst form, this hyper-paranoia combined with people’s genuine anger or jealousy (human emotions that regularly exist in groups if there are not means to process them) caused people to falsely claim that others were ops with the goal of destroying their platform or position. We acknowledge the role of capitalism and white supremacy in socializing people to be competitive. We now see the import of exposing these factors, both for fellow white people and for any comrade who wants to examine the destructive role of white supremacy and perhaps to examine how these factors can show up as internalized racism as well.
Bloc Means No Hierarchies
It is also clearly known that a massive number of white women came out for the movement in 2021. As a person who has been involved in movement organizing for more than two decades, I noticed a phenomenon of clout and recognition seeking among them–- even those with the best intentions. I do not exempt myself from seeking or receiving recognition or self-promoting throughout my years in movement spaces and struggles. What differs is that facing my own racism led me to understand my recognition-seeking and develop systems of accountability in my own life and in movement over decades. And guess what? I still have to look at that aspect of myself. I do not blame any person, raised in a white supremacist, capitalist society, who enters all spaces seeking recognition or clout. That is what we are taught and the media, social media, capitalism constantly reinforce it. But the movement requires that a good part of our work is done anonymously. This anonymity is the deeper value of the very concept of Bloc. Bloc means we give up aspects of our identity for the Movement. Good Bloc–the total negation of personal identifiers–is rewarding because through it we achieve a deeper solidarity. The movement doesn’t and should not offer badges for anarchist work. The tendency to try to re-create the girl scouts, to implement a system of hierarchy and rewards, was harmful to the movement because it caused people to chase the wrong results–selfish results, not movement results, name and social media recognition, even financial profits, not recognition for movement goals, media, not substantive messages.
Throughout the movement, we saw new “organizations” and non-profit organizations try to pop up. Suddenly, a person who literally just started protesting was the CEO of a new protest non-profit. For movement veterans, this was hilarious and sad, an obvious admission of not being part of the movement at all. In movement, we seek to deconstruct hierarchical structures. We view hierarchy as how white supremacy operates in society. When people attempt to establish hierarchies within movement, they are reproducing white supremacy instead. Are we suggesting a deepening of annoying self-critical attitudes that can also be the demise of people’s attempts to experience their own power as people, organize, and create viable systems? Yikes. Overly critical attitudes are another dangerous part of the Portland protest culture. Perhaps we can’t offer an answer here, but a question: “How can we move forward with an awareness of hierarchy, competition, and recognition of aspects of white supremacist culture while also avoiding the harsh critical attitudes that mirror white paternalism?”
Solidarity Means No Gossip
As a member of a program of Recovery, I often wished that just one norm from Recovery, ‘We Do Not Gossip, could become pervasive in the Movement. This part of the article does not pertain to any concerns regarding abuse, but to straight up gossip between people in the movement, unrelated to abuse or claims of abuse. Gossip is another way in which white supremacist ideology invaded the movement with a destructive outcome. Gossip was sometimes incited by paranoia, but it was also likely to walk right in with people claiming to be comrades. It wasn’t just white women by any means . . . but it is an example of internalized white supremacy. Even when multiple people repeatedly tried to set boundaries with others in private conversations, many people simply do not see a difference between gossip and processing. Yet others used gossip intentionally to harm others and move forward their own agendas, thereby betraying the collective. Don’t get me wrong, processing is necessary and healthy! But hateful, vile comments, jealous remarks, and straight up lies invaded and destroyed crucial relationships. These behaviors caused harm and have no place in movement. From all of this we can identify the need to have stronger systems in place that keep us focused on collective Movement goals, expose and illustrate negative coping mechanisms that perpetuate white supremacy, while providing safe processing models for comrades.
Movement, Mutual Aid, & Meeting Spaces
The intention of this article, though, is not to become hypercritical of the movement in a similarly damaging way. The point is to demonstrate the practice of self-analysis and to promote the idea that collective self-reflection and basic communication between comrades must be operant in order for us to win. While factors came in that damaged the movement and impeded progress, there were also beautiful wins, effective strategies, and triumphant moments of coming together.
Specifically, the use of public parks as meeting spaces, throughout the entire movement, was one of the most successful organizing strategies. For the most part, the people of Portland know our public parks better than the police who don’t live here. Normalizing the practice of meeting at parks was one of the most enduring and powerful organizing strategies. In many cases, a microphone or space was opened for anyone who needed to communicate. The downside of meeting in the dark at parks in Bloc was that it is easy for outsiders to infiltrate. The upsides are the creative use of public space, the use of indigenous land to organize against state domination (especially when Indigenous voices were centered), the availability of hiding spaces, the safety of open air venues, and the space for open communication between comrades.
The deepening of Mutual Aid systems is another beautiful aspect that emerged throughout this time period. Dozens of gardeners, medicine makers, food sourcers, shield makers, and medics came together to both protest and provide supports for comrades at parks prior to marching and at the street level. At one point, comrades had an actual ambulance that was painted and re-purposed as a movement-side ambulance. It was parked near the protests and staffed with actual movement-side medical professionals. Networks of mutual aid (including UMAN (United Mutual Aid Network) which we co-operate with comrades, still continue to operate today. Mutual Aid networks, even if they seem to only focus on one very specific aspect (like food, or herbs, or shields) are essential to long-term sustainability of the movement as a whole because they are also places where we can move information, step up and step back, yet stay connected and continue to organize for the battles to come.
Jail Support & Selfless Acts
Jail support was an example of one of the thriving support networks that was set up and operated by community members and has been one of the most essential resources and support services to activists on the ground throughout the timeline of this uprising as well. In some ways it was one of the glues that held us together. Organizers and community members would roam the crowds at any given protest shouting “jail support” and writing the phone number on the bodies of any activists who wanted it in ball point pen (since the police would confiscate your phone and belongings, the number had to be penned somewhere on your skin), for a direct link to bail funds or lawyers. In almost any case any activist that was taken in for a targeted arrest during a protest, you could call that number written on the back of your hand or sideways on your arm and get your bail posted as soon as you were eligible. It was a great support to the racial justice activists on the ground but still those trips in and out of jail left lasting scars on many of our most dedicated front liners.
Our best shields and protectors on the front line were as fearless as they were relentless and as a result of some of their selfless heroics they took the heaviest burden of those targeted beatings and arrests at the hands of hyper-aggressive, heavily armed and armored riot police. As being caged up and treated like a stray animal will make just about anyone feel dehumanized, it was also the resulting court cases, probation and legal fallout from those arrests that became consuming enough to make many frontliners have to walk away. And then there was the deceptive deputization of Portland and state police as federal agents as an extra protest deterrent. So even if the charges were dropped by local and state authorities, they would most often get picked up again and revisited by the feds, making for an already tedious and exhaustive process of getting your name cleared at least twice as long. But many never wavered no matter how many times they got hauled in, beaten or arrested. Some as many as a dozen times over the course of the unrest so far. I remember one of my frontline comrades and I laughing together about how everyone who worked nights at Inverness in Multnomah County Jail booking knew their info by face and name on sight from so many recent repeat visits.
So while there has been property damage, rioting and lawlessness on certain occasions, more often than not our resistance was organized, nonviolent, and more mindfully structured than many (including myself) would’ve ever believed possible in such a decentralized movement. That sustainability is attributed to the intensive amount of labor, effort, and shared resources put in by our organizers, BIPOC leadership, and our community members.
This also happened with protest communities across the country as they banded themselves together to create mutual aid networks and support systems for the movement to provide for themselves and their communities what the state was not. Without this, our ongoing collective resistance to these police killings would’ve fallen apart and unraveled quickly and never grown to be the largest, most mobilized civil rights movement in the history of this country.
In the process of attempting–and often succeeding–to create order in the midst of disorder, we proved that we can replace everything the system and its institutions have ever given us, from medical attention, to public safety, food and even shelter, all by our own means without the support of the state or from corporate institutions. We also proved the powers that be are helpless against our organized resistance when we are unified and working together towards a specific goal or purpose. We were successful in swiftly chasing the feds out of town. We placed constant pressure on the Portland Police Bureau, which continues to splinter under the weight of a mass exodus of sudden retirees and resignations. And there is the victory of our defensive stand and neighborhood occupation at Red House keeping it in the Kinney family’s possession even against all the city’s forces trying to push them out of their home. These are some of the most glaring examples of that collective power over the span of 2020-21 uprising. Now it’s time to finish the job.
Healing Together and Moving Forward to End Systemic Racism
And as we find ourselves transitioning out of one chaotic and tumultuous year and into the unpredictability of what the next will bring, we find ourselves at this busy unmarked intersection of in-betweens and uncertainties, bumbling through haphazardly. On top of the trauma we’ve endured in the movement, we’ve also lost so many people in the last year and a half. Not just from this virus directly but also from the illnesses that went untreated because of it. The thousands of addicts who overdosed or lost their housing and stability due to relapse when the support groups and resources they relied on for their recovery evaporated in a puff of smoke as the whole world shut down. The upsurge in white nationalist terrorism. The explosion of violent crime rates and gun violence because of unemployment, desperation, and overall instability. We’ve lost so many in such a short amount of time. Just existing in this present reality is utterly exhausting. And we still must contend with going back to work or school to pretend as if everything is business as usual, even as the world and system we’ve lived within is burning down all around us.
Existing within this climate is fraying our nerves and those who haven’t completely totally lost their shit are displaying an immense amount of inner strength and resilience. I’m not sure how to find the balance between self-care and the relentless mindfulness it takes to keep our sanity through this gauntlet. All I do know is that acknowledging your vulnerabilities and addressing your own fears, anxieties, and insecurities is more courageous than charging through it while pretending nothing is wrong and projecting a false image of strength. As our comrades are constantly reminding each other . . .hyper-independence is also its own trauma response.
As I meditate on how to close this process of reflection, I am on the mend from a three week take-down by Covid. I am glad to be alive, but also grateful that I will not fail to exhale the virus into this article. For while we fought, we also experienced the pressure to risk our lives in order to maintain capitalism. While we fought, some comrades needed soup and zinc while others needed pain balm to take away the sting of pepper bullets and bruises of police batons. We know that Latin American, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, and Black comrades and family members faced illness and losses at the highest rates. Covid did not level the playing field or end racism, but it did enlighten millions of workers to the deeper reality of our own exploitation. The spiritual, psychological, emotional, economic, and geo-political outcomes of this endless layer of pain and suffering that impacts comrades globally cannot yet be predicted. But we do know that people are quitting their jobs in record numbers. We do know that a great reckoning with capitalism and its multi-layered systems of oppression is part of how we heal.
To suggest that we have all of the answers, or even any specific answers for healing the nuanced individual pain of others, is ludicrous. To suggest that maybe, our process of using our relationship as comrades, as well as our creativity, to do the ongoing work of discussing and healing our trauma is a form of mutual aid that could benefit the movement long term, feels true.
It is true that access to counselors, addiction recovery resources, and medicines (all of which also need to be examined for and healed of white supremacist, capitalist culture) will be needed to heal the damage caused by the carceral state, the police, and the capitalist system that pays white supremacy. Yet, it can also be true that some needed answers will not be found under the rubric of professional mental health services. If we are talking about Revolution, we need to have the courage to look beyond the healing modalities offered up by the system.
For the movement to fully realize our potential, priority must be placed on creating safe access to healing. This doesn’t mean accepting the deeply colonial medical “care” system as it is. It means utilizing perspectives on healing that include, at their inception and in the way they function, the common goal of overthrowing systems of oppression. Witchcraft, Brujeria, Santoria, Espiritismo, Anti-racist pre-colonial Celtic spiritual practices, and Indigenous healing traditions are excellent directions to look in. And we must simultaneously learn about and work on our own healing, while we avoid appropriating other healing traditions and look back in the direction of our own heritages rather than simply invading spaces that do not belong to us. Creating music, art, literature, and rituals that help us to process our losses as individuals and micro-societies will be essential to understand and transmute our pain. To build a movement that heals, we must work beyond the physical realm while seeking healing in our emotional and spiritual selves. The harm is everywhere. The answers differ for each of us, but if we can walk forward accepting that holding one another through our withdrawals, through our revelations, through our betrayals, and through our small wins is as important as linking arms and holding space against the tear gas, we have a fighting chance.
So how do we continue the work in the meantime and cope? At our own pace. With our own coping skills and knowledge of self. By monitoring our inner dialogue and respecting our self-care practices. Through self-love and acceptance. But first through acknowledging the depth of our experiences and how they’ve impacted us. And it’s important to note that while this is the story of our collective trauma, all of us on the ground still have our own individual sets of physical and psychological trauma that we endured throughout the course of these events from which we will all have to heal from in our own ways, at our own pace, and through our own processes.
We have to stay in lockstep with each other more than ever with the current upsurge in recruiting and organization of white nationalist hate groups and far-right militias. With the system unraveling in front of our eyes more every day, the lines have been drawn and the side that is more pacifist will likely be the losing side. The police and the state have nothing to gain from defeating white supremacy, their power is predicated on it, after all. We are the only real shield against the rising tide of fascism and white nationalists in this country. And we’re all going through this as one even while so many forces are trying to divide us. Those who care about others have to stick together like never before right now. Speak kindly and gently to yourself and if you catch your demons poisoning your inner monologue, check that bitch. You deserve all the credit in the world for standing up and keeping it together when so many others are content and complacent to look the other way and function only out of their own self-interest. Hold your loved ones closely and focus on building community. With No Gods and No Masters, we gotta stay together and we gotta stay tight.
-Susan Anglada Bartley and Lexy Kahn
All the photos is this essay are by Maranie Rae. You can see more of her work by clicking here!
 dontshootpdx.org, founded in 2016, is an arts and education organization that promotes social justice and civic participation.
 In March 2020, Britney Spears called for a General Strike, which caused a viral mini-wave of hilarious memes in which she was depicted as a revolutionary. Joking that she is the organizer is a simple way to protect actual organizers and keep leadership decentralized.
1 thought on “<p> This is How We Heal </p> <h3> by Susan Anglada Bartley and Lexy Kahn </h3>”
Rather than ‘texts’ or ‘oratory’ Solidarity is forged in ‘action’. Thank you PDX!
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