Our Civic Duty

Brian and I at the Portland Protest, July 24, 2020—before the tear gas was deployed…

I live in Portland, and I have been both horrified and proud of what’s been happening downtown since May 28, 2020**. Horrified by the lack of humanity shown by the police and federal officers as they brutalize non-violent protesters night after night. Proud of the American citizens standing up in the face of those assaults for their (and our) First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble. They are not only exercising their Constitutional rights, they are fulfilling their civic responsibility to the People and the government. 

The events in Portland have been described as protests, riots, a movement, and civil unrest, but it’s no longer any of those things. It has evolved, as have its participants. Live coverage from citizen journalists on the ground every night, tweeted through the hashtags #PortlandProtests and #PDXProtests, among others, show these events turn from a peaceful protest to a revolution. These pictures and videos from the front lines rarely make the nightly news. The revolution won’t be televised—it will be Tweeted.

The turning point from protest to revolution comes after dark when the feds (or local police before they arrived) rush out and start gassing people, shooting them with “less-lethal” ammunition, and beating them. The violence always begins with the officers, and the people who were protesters moments before evolve into The Resistance. 

Because that’s exactly what they do: they RESIST. They are not aggressive, but rather they’re prepared for the inevitable violence. For while the officers are in full military-grade riot gear, armed with live ammunition, batons, body armor, bulletproof vests, shatterproof shields, helmets with face covers, tear gas, pepper spray, and more, our civic heroes protect themselves with bike helmets, swimming goggles, construction respirators, and shields made from rain barrels or umbrellas. They protect themselves because they know the violence is coming, as it does every night.

Videos from the front lines depict The Resistance standing shoulder to shoulder on a public street, which is fully within their rights, ready for the onslaught. When the bullets fly or batons descend, they have their homemade shields to protect them. When the tear gas is detonated, they have hockey sticks to knock the canister away and leaf blowers to disperse the toxic substance. 

These are not violent acts. These are acts resisting violence, protecting themselves from an unlawfully occupying force. 

Last week, Trump justified his decision to deploy federal officers with lies and misinformation, saying Portland was “out of control” with riots and vilifying the protesters, taking a word that literally means anti-fascist (Antifa) and declaring them domestic terrorists and radical extremists. He sent these feds to ostensibly protect a federal building from more oh-so-dangerous graffiti, but that’s not the reality of what’s happening in Portland.

The reality is that Portland is under siege. 

Our entire lives, we are taught to revere the United States of America. The best country in the world. A shining beacon of democracy. The nation that defeated fascism. We are the good guys, so if we attack another nation, it simply must be justified.These beliefs are deeply ingrained in our cultural dialogue, so we citizens believe it in our core, even in the face of objective evidence that proves otherwise. 

Now our government is attacking its own citizens with actions that would be deemed war crimes if they were perpetrated on foreign soil. From using tear gas to pepper spraying food and medical supplies (in the midst of a pandemic) used to feed and treat protesters for free, officers are perpetrating literal acts of war. Images and videos coming out of Portland every single night show the level of horror happening on American streets. Images so disturbing that people try to break through the cognitive dissonance by saying things like “this is not Fallujah or Syria or Crimea. This is Portland, Oregon.”

Even the mainstream press are now using words like “occupation” and “fascism,” but many people still seem to think this is hyperbole because “it can’t happen here.” Again with the cognitive dissonance, because it is happening here. Concentration Camps on our borders with families (including children) in cages, White Supremacy on the rise (who the president calls “very fine people”), and now secret police in Portland who kidnap people off the streets, shoving them into unmarked vans. It is not hyperbole. Just remember what the Auschwitz museum spokesperson said: 

“When we look at Auschwitz we see the end of the process…It’s important to remember that the Holocaust actually did not start from gas chambers. This hatred gradually developed from words, stereotypes & prejudice through legal exclusion, dehumanization & escalating violence.”

Source: The Hill

We are seeing this process in America now, and it’s been escalating at an alarming rate over the past four years. 

I’ve seen many critics complain that the protesters need to just leave. The violence would stop if they would just give up and go home. Others say things like “what do they expect if they’re not obeying the officers’ commands?” or “they deserve it for destroying federal property” (i.e,: graffiti, broken windows, and trash fires, which were in direct response to police brutality, not the other way around). This rhetoric sounds very familiar to me. It’s called victim blaming. Compare to: “If she didn’t make me angry, I wouldn’t have to hit her” and “Of course she was raped, what did she expect being dressed like that?”  

This is the rhetoric of abusers and apologists—the words of people so clouded by their cognitive dissonance, that they cannot see the reality through the tear gas. 

If the police stopped brutalizing protesters and killing black people, it would stop. Instead, they meet protests against police brutality with even more police brutality. Blame the police. Blame the government—city, state, and federal—not the protesters. Not The Resistance. 

The bottom line is this: they are American citizens. They have the right to assemble. They have the right to speak out against the government. They have the right to revolt when that government crosses the line. Nay, the duty to alter or abolish it. 

It is written in our Declaration of Independence:

“Governments are instituted among People, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”

Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, and it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish a despotic government. It is their duty. 

It is our duty.

When nearly half the country doesn’t even vote during presidential elections, let alone contact their representatives or engage in civil disobedience (or even political discourse), it speaks to a disengaged populace—tired of the corruption, disenchanted by the lack of real representation, or simply inconvenienced by civic responsibility.

If We The People don’t stand up to our government when they’re moving in a dangerous direction, if we don’t speak out against their actions en masse, if we don’t question their motives, then we’re not doing our civic duty to uphold the Constitution and the very reason this nation was built. 

**Author’s Note: I wrote this on July 22nd. I had tried to get it published first in the NYT and then in the Chicago Tribune, but it was rejected by both. Perhaps I aimed too high! I couldn’t try for a third because so much had changed since then. On July 30th, the State Police came in and replaced the feds in the courthouse.

You can see things in more detail through my 3-video series. I made these shorts to help counteract the harmful narrative spreading half-truths, lies, and misinformation:

The Reality in Portland—Video Series

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