At the end of February 2020, my partner and I went to Disneyland for a week, something we do every year or two. This time, the main focus was to visit the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, set in the Black Spire Outpost. Little did we know the world would change so drastically just two weeks later, or that facing Stormtroopers in the street would be a practice run for our own occupation and a real-life Resistance right here in Portland.
I’m part of the Star Wars generation. I saw Star Wars: A New Hope in the theaters in 1977 when I was 7 years old, so it felt as if I had been waiting 43 years for this experience. It was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I drank blue milk, delighted in intergalactic street food, met Chewbacca, was recruited for the Resistance, and relaxed after a full day of fighting the Empire at the Cantina over a drink called the “Jedi Mind Trick.” My partner and I reveled in fighting for the Resistance by “hacking” ships, droids, and buildings through an interactive game on Disney’s special iPhone app. Stormtroopers marched through the city with Kylo Ren questioning people, and while it was fun to play the part, it also hit a little close to home with the way the country has been moving in the past four years. It made for some interesting political discussions where we expressed out concerns for our future.
Two weeks later, the global pandemic hit. After six weeks in self-quarantine, three police officers murdered George Floyd, which proved to be the tipping point for Black people across the nation. Followed by some brief rioting in virtually every major city, Black Lives Matter protests took place nightly and continue to this day, marking nearly five months of a drastically different reality in the United States. News headlines, photos, and videos from around the country depict scenes one would think came from a dystopian film montage or from a foreign police state.
Portland is one of the cities who have been protesting for 60 days (as of today). The one thing that makes Portland different than most other US cities protesting rampant police brutality (only to be met with more) is that Trump deployed federal troops here, ostensibly to protect a federal building from further damage (i.e., graffiti and broken windows). The reality, however, is that these unmarked, unidentifiable feds have been aggressively brutalizing non-violent protesters, taking the violence up a notch from what the protesters have endured from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) during the previous 5 weeks.
DOING WHAT I CAN
I followed these events closely through citizen journalists’ accounts tweeted in real time, horrified by their images and videos. As I mentioned in a previous article, I’ve been politically active for 35 years, so I felt the strong need to be out there. At the same time, I was concerned not only for my physical health with the Coronavirus pandemic far from over, but for my mental heath as well. I am a designated disabled veteran with Complex PTSD, staring with a sexual assault (MST) in the Navy , so I know all too well that trauma is cumulative.
The last time I survived several closely-occurring traumatic events, I was barely functional for a year, so I self-soothed by reminding myself of my political activism over the years, accepting my limitations and doing what I could from my quarantine at home. I donated to the ACLU, BLM, protester bail funds, medical bills for those hurt by the police, as well as bringing bags of food to Riot Ribs, an organization who feeds protesters 24/7 for free. I spoke out through blog posts and boosted the signal on Twitter and Facebook, engaging with those spreading misinformation by showing them the footage from the front lines.
However, once the occupation was underway and it became clear our very democracy was at stake, it became a moral imperative to risk my health to be counted along with those standing against fascism, the unconstitutional occupation, and the nightly violence against American citizens exercising their First Amendment Rights, for I couldn’t live with myself if this situation evolved into a police state and full dictatorship and I hadn’t done everything I could.
IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE RESISTANCE
My partner and I planned to go downtown on Friday, July 24th. We had purchased some goggles and a better N95 mask to at least give us some protection from the tear gas. We had a frank discussion about how this might affect me if I experienced directly or even witnessed this violence in person. It could throw me into a suicidal depression for days or even months, rolling back all the work I’ve done over the past 5 years with intensive trauma therapy and psychiatric care. We both voiced our fears and made a plan to protect ourselves as much as possible, accepted the risk, and headed out on our bikes to ride the 5 miles to the front lines.
We watched first hand the same thing we had seen in countless videos. The night began as a normal march focused squarely on Black Lives Matter. Black activists spoke, leading us in chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Feds Go Home.” Then, just like every night without warning, the feds deployed chemical weapons on the group of peaceful protesters, and the gas spread quickly. At this point the protest evolved into a revolution and the protesters who remain become what I call The Resistance.
Although we weren’t on the front lines, we were about 1/2 block away and moved with most of the crowd back even further. The Stun Grenades (aka Flashbangs) hit the ground one after another, causing more movement away from the front lines. Most people there, including us, did not have adequate protection from these types of munitions, but the effect even a block away was enough. You can watch for yourself how the tone of the evening changed when the feds start the violence, like they do every night. There are no riots, as you’ll clearly see in this video. That’s Trump propaganda. In fact, The Resistance shows remarkable restraint after being brutalized every night for the past 60 (and counting).
The Resistance responded to the feds’ aggression by shooting fireworks in a high arch over the feds’ heads, causing their own bangs. Flashbangs. Fireworks. Flashbangs. Fireworks. Less-lethal ammunition shot into the crowd directly at protests from a high-powered rifle followed by more tear gas. I said, “This is like a battle!” … and then I corrected myself: “This isn’t like a battle, this is a battle!” It was a battle for our streets against the occupation. It was holding the line from encroaching fascism, and that is no hyperbole, folks. (Please read my “The Bottom Line” post if you think it is.) Trump has criminalized dissent.
The only thing I could think of, standing there listening to the battle happening just 50 feet away from me, is how fucking dare they! I was utterly enraged! Spitting bullets angry! While I went to the protests worried about being further traumatized, now I just wanted to fully join The Resistance, Instead of being armed with my lightsaber, like I was during the Disneyland cosplay, I would get a proper gas mask and be down on the front lines every night standing up against fascism until Trump’s secret police left.
Seething, with our throats and eyes stinging from the tear gas that had seeped through our inadequate protection, we walked away making plans for the future. Once back at our bikes, blocks away, we felt safe enough to turn our phones back on (as it has been feared that officers have been gathering surveillance from protester’s phones, since protesters have reported being doxxed by the police with them sometimes showing up at their homes to harass them). We checked in with our friends to let them know we were safe and then started the 30-min bike ride home at about 11:30pm. Even 5 blocks away, we felt the sting of the tear gas. They are polluting all of downtown, not to mention the toxic runoff into our river.
If you see all this and are thinking things like “Why don’t the protesters just leave?” or “This will stop if they just go home,” please read my post tomorrow. It’s very important to address this rhetoric directly.
Also: please refrain from spreading misinformation and Trump’s harmful rhetoric without fully educating yourselves, especially if you don’t live in Portland. There are hundreds of police brutality videos from all over the country, catalogued by Greg Doucette, plus you can see what the people on the ground sees every night by following #PortlandStrong and #PortlandProtests.
Trump fucked with the wrong city.