Tag Archives: Don’t Shoot PDX

Black Lives Matter Confronts Black Friday in Portland

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Black Friday has long been correlated with post-Thanksgiving political actions, often labor focused, meant to target what many say are consumerist priorities and the exploitation of low-wage workers forced to leave their families over the holiday weekend.  Of course many working class families have to use Black Friday sales simply to afford gifts for their families, yet it is still a good opportunity to highlight many labor and social abuses.  This includes the white washing of the murder of African American’s in the U.S., which public outcry is bringing together a movement threatening the current order in fundamental ways.

Starting in 2014, the Black Lives Matter movement moved into using Black Friday as a way of highlighting the growing movement and linking it up with existing labor struggles like $15Now and Our Walmart.  This year, 2015, saw this Black Friday becoming an annual one as cities across the country reported rallies, marches, and disruptions at consumer centers.  In Portland, Oregon, Don’t Shoot PDX and Black Lives Matter Portland organized a mass action that would highlight voices of color and mobilize people to keep their voices heard even through the dense fog of holiday shopping.

Around 400 people packed Holladay Park across the street from Oregon’s oldest mall, Lloyd Center.  Amid speeches that discussed the disparity in rates of police violence against black and brown people, the name Laquan McDonald rang loud as people sadly remember his recent death.  McDonald was shot in Chicago in a shocking sixteen time in a matter of seconds by police, showing the veracity at which police address black suspects.  There was also an climate of suspicion as it was recently revealed that the Black Lives Matter movement locally had been spied on by Oregon law enforcement, as well as the general fear after the white nationalist attack on BLM protesters in Minneapolis-St.Paul.  There were a small handful of counter protesters at Holladay park, but they were sandwich board wearing fundamentalist Christians yelling obvious attacks at protesters.  This was until several white men were apprehended by police in the mall carrying airsoft guns and heading in the direction of the BLM rally.

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After an hour of speeches where organizers had white allies create a locked-arms line to protect people of color, the march hit the streets and weaved up and down Northeast Portland.  This often came in direct contact with the police, who would often attempt to block the path before backing down and breaking their line.  The route took protesters through neighborhoods that had been gentrified, new commercial space that is getting frightening rent increases, and parts of town that used to have a vibrant African American community before developers changed the demographics.

The march led back to Lloyd Center to go inside and continue the messaging, just as they were doing in cities around the country.  This meant showing the banners and providing the known chants.  Cross-issue organizing was incredibly apparent here, where Portland State University students were also trying to highlight the arming of security officers on their campus and the project to undo that decision.

Below is a large image gallery of the rally, march, and Lloyd Center action giving a cross section of how this diverse movement came together to highlight the ongoing anti-black racism that defines America.

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Eyes on the Prize: Solidarity from the Streets of Portland

As we are coming up to the year anniversary of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are revisiting a few stories of solidarity actions from the earlier days of the movement.  This is a reposting of a look at the Mike Brown Solidarity Action that happened in Portland, Oregon, which discusses the case, the organized response, and what took place there.

Along with cities from around the country, Portland erupted on November 25th in one of the largest demonstrations and actions it has seen in years.  The Portland Solidarity Network came on as an official sponsor of the event that was planned in solidarity with the Mike Brown actions happening both in Ferguson and in cities across the country.

After the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this last August, Officer Darren Wilson was cleared by a grand jury on November 24th.  The jury was directed to determine whether or not there was probable cause to level formal charges against Wilson, which could range from first-degree murder down to involuntary manslaughter.  The jury determined that no charges were to be filed, in a decision that many were saying was coerced by a mishandling by the District Attorney’s office.

In Portland, the Albina Ministerial Alliance and the Urban League put the solidarity action together.  In front of the Justice Center, they called together over two thousand people to a rally that targeted the racist police violence that has become commonplace both in our city, and the U.S. broadly.  The people present overwhelmed the area, taking Third Street over as well as the park on the other side.  Speakers ranged from local organizations and churches, each putting out a call to create a movement that has the force to confront the kind of mammoth power of institutional racism and white supremacy.  After an emotional round of Eyes on the Prize was sung, a speaker from the AMA came up and boiled the issues down to their essence.

“The blood of Michael Brown cries out for justice today.  Across this nation, and across the world.  Once again, the African American community, communities of color, mental health communities, the poor, the marginalized, citizens who love justice and democracy, those who have been crushed by the decision of the grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.  Once again we rise at the criminal justice system of America, and law enforcement is tainted with racial bias when it comes to rendering justice and fairness for black people.  For communities of color.  For the disenfranchised and the marginalized.  We know from our own experience here in the city of Portland, that the brokenness of the criminal justice system and law enforcement.  We know from Kendra James.  We know from James Chasse.  We know from Aaron Campbell.  We know from Keaton Otis, that there is no justice and fairness when it comes to white police officers killing black and brown and poor people and mentally ill people.”

“What must we do about it?  We must not go back to our old routines, and just talk about it.  No, no, a thousand times!  We must fight to change this broken, unjust and unfair system.  We must use these times of injustice to build a movement!”

Speakers came forward from the NAACP, the All-African All-People’s Revolutionary Party, various churches, Jefferson High School, and many others to draw together the issues of police violence and racism to the various struggles in the city.  A student from Portland State University’s Black Student Union spoke powerfully and bluntly.

“Do not go quietly into that dark night!  This happens a thousand times in America.  But we have an opportunity to rise up and use our collective voices to tell America, ‘Enough is Enough!’  … American, how much more do you want us to bear?  We bore the injustices of slavery.  We bore the injustices of the lies of emancipation.  We bore injustices of segregation.  We bore indignities of Jim Crow.  We bore the annihilation of our communities.  We bore the brunt of mass incarceration.  We bore the debt of your housing market.  We bore the magnitude of under and unemployment.  We bore the assassination of our leaders, and now our children.  How much more America?  What is the cost of justice and freedom?  What is the mortgage on the lives of black and brown folks?  How many more payments before you reduce the principle balance on our freedom? “

When will black lives matter?

Speakers from the Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines and the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party drew the killing right back to capitalism, imperialism, and the need for revolutionary change and international solidarity.  A call here was really to get involved in ongoing organizing efforts, from challenging police violence to related movements such as housing struggles and labor.

A march was then led, through downtown with a population that over swelled even the roads.  The memetic chant “Hands up!  Don’t shoot!” was common, with people focusing directly on the targeting of young people of color that has marked the city in recent years.  There was a sense of group solidarity as major unions, non-profits like Basic Rights Oregon and the NAACP, and more radical organizations like the Black Rose Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation and the International Socialist Organization stood together with a complementary vision.   As the march wound back to the Justice Center, the AMA led a final talk about Michael Brown’s family and led a chorus of old spiritual activist songs and a candlelight vigil.

At this point a large contingent began to form that did not want to end the action at that point, many calling for direct action at the Justice Center openly.  From a third to half of the crowd broke away at this point and led an unpermitted march that again took the streets over and head towards the Morrison Bridge.  Here protesters began to push against the forming police force in an effort to take the bridge, with police beginning to shove through the crowd and drive motorcycles into the crowd.

The march moved back down the street and took over the Burnside Bridge, making it across the river and blocking the intersection on the other side.  Moving through the Water District, the next spot was to openly block Interstate 5 from a park, the same way that organizers have done so in Oakland and Los Angeles.  It was at this point that the police force took another turn and began attacking protesters with the riot-prepared troops and cavalry.  As hundred of protesters attempted to stage a sit-in on the freeway and/or occupy the park, the police began swinging batons and letting pepper spray loose.  Participants of color had to be treated by street medics for pepper spray directly into their eyes, which is an irony that must have been lost on the Portland Police Department.  A former member of the Portland Solidarity Network, and close ally, was seriously injured by police batons, and had to be cared for by a street medic before being rushed to the emergency room.

A move was made to take the next bridge and head back into downtown, though police were beginning to pick off large portions of protesters by blocking them onto portions of the bridge and going for mass arrests.  Luckily, many people were saved from being taken into custody as unarrests in the chaos of the freeway action were roundly successful.  From here protesters made it in the direction of PGE Park, where a now fully militarized police force began using crowd control measures.  Though there were seven arrests reported, the numbers could have been much higher without a conscious move by the people on the ground to keep the crowd together and to watch out for the treatment of fellow protesters.  Things ramped up even more aggressively as the police riot van had its windows smashed in and there were reports of protestor injuries increasing rapidly.  The rest of the crowd eventually made it to Waterfront Park, where final speeches were made and a commitment given to keep this fight going into the long-term.

An action like this shows both the passion and desire that is necessary for mass movements, and the ability to think in a more radical context to directly confront the kind of racial animosity that has tarnished our local and national institutions.  Though we are incredibly happy to see the actions play out as they have, we also want to see this turn into long-term organizing that will be able to continue to target this systemic inequality.  The kind of racism that was implicit and led to both the shooting of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson, and the several police murders in the Portland area, is just as prevalent in people’s workplaces and housing situations.  Redlining, Section 8 and rental discrimination, unequal foreclosure rates, and inaccess to public housing all mark institutionalized housing oppression against people of color in our communities.  We are committing to work with tenants across the city to use community solidarity to force concessions and change in people’s neighborhoods and housing complexes.  These racial issues are not just at play in loud points of cruel violence, but also the subtle evictions that we see in apartment complexes across all cities and the kind of gentrification that turns previously communities of color into trendy shopping centers for upper-class whites.  Let’s take the anger and determination that we saw on November 25th and continue to challenge these institutions, and hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to spotlight the racism that is central to the unequal access to housing in this city and country.

Originally published at Portland Solidarity Network.

Don’t Shoot PDX: Confronting Racist Police Violence

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We come to mark it on our calendar every year. It comes as the annual chance to bring issues together, meet and greet and have an action that is often more about getting re-energized than about getting something done. This has gotten many May Day actions locally criticized for taking a huge amount of time, energy, and money, yet not resulting in movements that are any stronger. However, the last two years have really started to buck this trend, with last year really drawing issues of immigration together with the high profile fight between the ILWU and United Grain. This year Portland joined with cities around the country in identifying an overarching theme that effectively dominated the messaging: Black Lives Matter.

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As groups gathered in the South Park Blocks there was a clear trend moving in that direction. $15Now had a large presence, which is drawing on the strength that they have had in the Northwest in recent months. The recent April 15th Fight for $15 action drew hundreds in Portland as $15Now, Jobs With Justice, SEIU and AAUP worked together to target the wage gap for workers in fast food, care working, and adjunct teaching. This messaging was continued, though Black Lives Matter was notably added to many signs and banners. They, along with Portland Jobs With Justice, made the largest labor showing, which is not unusual for a march that tends towards the more radical side of labor inclusion. Along the way there were many from Unite HERE Local 8, SEIU 49 and 503, AFSCME, Laborers’ and the Teamsters, though ILWU was notably absent. This is surprising after the announcement of ILWU’s May Day action in solidarity with Baltimore, as well as their huge contingent last year. The Carpenters and Painters unions, respectively, all brought notable contingents, as well as groups like the Portland Industrial Workers of the World, Portland Solidarity Network, and the VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project.

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The day began with a pre-march starting at Portland State University called by groups like the Student Organizing Committee, made up of students from multiple Portland area colleges, and Don’t Shoot PDX, marching in solidarity with Baltimore. Several hundred challenged the campus and took the streets in a large un-permitted march, galvanizing energy that they led back down to the May Day central meeting space. From here on the messaging continued towards targeting racist police violence, and it integrated that message into areas that this type of analysis is often absent. A large banner read “Labor Against Racist Police Murder” drew a strong line about where many in the local labor community stand, where the police union often tries to draw divisions in the AFL-CIO over this issue.

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The participation demographics also shifted further away from the sea of homogenous white faces that have often colored other actions. Folks of color, as well as organizations like the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, shifted the conversation in a way that really indicts the institutional racism that is getting highlighted in these high-profile police killings. Throughout the march, which made many stops, detours, and splits, folks of color took the lead in showing direction and targeting purveyors of institutional violence.

“How many people must die in this system before we realize it was not built for us?” said Adrienne Cabouet, challenging the liberal notion that the institution of policing simply needs to be reformed.

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After the march took off, taking well over a thousand people to the streets, the first stop was to swarm the Justice Center, as speakers called out the trend, both nationally and regionally, to scapegoat communities of color and to act with violent fervor with complete impunity. The march then headed straight down to Burnside, the major road dividing Downtown Portland, and hit a right to take the bridge. This was when police made their first confrontation, lining up to block protesters. It was in moments like this that we have seen a clear change in the character of protests, where organizers and participants are much more willing to challenge the violence of the police. Instead of backing down, their voices were loud with chants and speak-outs that showed a real energy that stood against the officers. Quickly storm troopers in tactical gear showed up, and police began pepper spraying the crowd, clearly agitated that some people were peacefully using strong language. Instead of running, the crowd blocked the tear gas and sat down in defiance, proving that they controlled the situation and the streets.

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At this point the march split in two and one headed down the Naito Parkway, then up to Pioneer Courthouse Square. Here, street theater and chants targeted the racial aspects of Wells Fargo’s involvement in the private prison system. The downtown Wells Fargo branch shut down as protesters did a mock “slave auction,” and a banner was displayed reading “Felon is the New Name for N*****.” After a convergence in the square where speakers discussed the personal ways that police violence has brought fear into their families, the march re-engaged the streets in an unpermitted action. It was here the police openly used flash-grenades and pepper gas, hitting several protesters that had to be carried out. The police demanded the streets cleared, which had almost no response. Burnside Bridge remained a target, getting shut down as protesters continued to push.

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What we saw for the 2015 May Day is a notable shift towards militancy, really brought about by the escalations in state violence. While all of these issues are clearly related, as economic inequality and racism are scourges of social hierarchy, the blood that is soaking our streets brings us to a place of urgency. This was felt in spades around every movement represented there. Cultural and ethnic groups were standing alongside the various community organizations. Groups like the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Movimiento Estudianti Chicano de Astlan, as well as a coalition project made up of groups like the AARP and BLMPDX declaring “Solidarity Against State Violence and U.S. Imperialism.” This is a strong turn where by the idea of organizing has pushed out of its usual circles and into those that have often stayed on the periphery. Now it is necessary.   Now it has to happen.

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Another notable addition was the increase in the presence of housing groups. Beyond the Portland Solidarity Network discussing its tenant support campaigns, there were representative organizations from the Right to the City Coalition and the Western Regional Advocacy Project. Right to the City is looking towards focusing on progressive candidates for local office in 2016 and WRAP has been focused on the Homeless Bill of Rights, but both show a trend returning housing justice to the forefront of organizing circles. Much of this may be coming from the beginning Renter’s Assemblies, which have been having a huge recent success in Portland and around the country. It also is likely coming from Socialist Alternative’s push to follow $15Now with a focus on rent control, which is the pattern they showed in Seattle. Either way, this return to the targeting of housing issues is critically important as Portland’s livability rapidly declines with rising rents, and a new housing crisis could be close on the horizon. PDXSol was specifically discussing a project on the outer eastside of Portland, where they have been working with tenants who have been pushed out of the center of the city by rising rents and gentrification.

Black Lives Matter is a movement that is changing the shape of organizing. This kind of mobilization towards inclusivity and against the institutional racist violence that is ever present is an incredible development. As Freddie Gray’s killers have been indicted, let’s hope this only mobilizes folks to take on the police in further escalations. It is through the collective action of the people that we can transform systems, and create a community that can use systems of transformative justice rather than state violence to drive safety. What we are also seeing is that movements are again using annual mobilizations like May Day to push existing social movements, which is the perfect way to utilize a mass grouping that already exists. In 2014 ILWU drew a breakaway to confront United Grain, but this year it was more than a dozen groups who were all converging on a single theme: end racist violence. In this way it was several parallel and converging movements not just tapping into the existing thrust of May Day, but completely taking it over. And in this situation, that is the best thing that could have happened.

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