Oregon has a long history of white supremacist and bigoted activism that is woven into our state’s story. It includes early territorial exclusion laws that required blacks in the region to be publicly whipped, as well as the forced internment of Japanese citizens and racist skinheads murdering immigrants in Portland. Each wave has sent messages to various groups that you are not welcome in Oregon.
In recent years we have tried to change the message to one that clearly states that Oregon is a welcoming place to all people. Unfortunately, white supremacy and bigoted activism continue to insert themselves. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in hate crimes and a new wave of bigots under the broad banner of the “alt right.” Some of these bigots are planning to march in Portland this Saturday. This includes a group called the Proud Boys that has been linked to violence in our city on several occasions. The potential for violence from protestors and counter-protestors has attracted the attention of the national media.
The Coalition Against Hate Crimes wants to have an official statement suggesting an appropriate response to this march. The CAHC was one of the numerous organizations that was present and supportive of Mayor Wheeler’s Unity Rally on Wednesday morning. The question remains, what to do on Saturday? On the one hand, when people with fascistic ideas about the world want to march in the city, it is of great value to directly oppose them and say, “not in our town, not in our streets, never again!” On the other hand, the alt right has been deft at controlling the media narrative and using images of violent anti-fascists to paint themselves as victims of “anti-freedom” forces. The political right has framed the actions of antifa counter protestors as “domestic terrorists,” a meme that has had some influence on the perception of progressive causes.
So the question is to counter-protest or let the alt right march through empty streets with no audience for their street theater. After much discussion, the Coalition would like to take a different approach.
The very presence of these marches acts as a form of emotional terrorism for people who have endured generation after generation of trauma from the forces of intolerance. Instead of directly confronting them and “feeding the wolf,” or going about our daily lives like we don’t have a real problem with white supremacy in the Northwest, we are supporting a third option.
We hope people use this occasion to recognize that there are many populations that are feeling fragile in this current political and cultural environment. That includes immigrants, people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, people with disabilities, and religious minorities. Saturday can be a day that we offer support to our targeted neighbors in creative ways. Bake a cake, take a bit of time to chat, ask to pay for someone’s coffee as a sign of support, attend a community market and spend some money. Maybe instead of increasing the anxiety levels of marginalized communities, the presence of groups like the Proud Boys in Portland can serve to increase the civility between communities. Let this be an opportunity to reach out and build connections.
And those who feel they just want to hide this weekend, or be far from the battles in the street, you have complete permission to practice self-care. If you’ve had enough of news about mass shooters targeting communities like yours or just sick of people telling you to “go back where you came from,” your act of anti-fascism on Saturday might be taking a long bath or taking your children out to one of Portland’s great ice cream parlors.
And those who have the energy to directly confront the peddlers of hate, you are the heroic actors who are helping to change Oregon’s history of intolerance. We just ask that you take that brave stance in a non-violent manner and not give the alt right another meme to attract people to their cause or scare people away from ours. We can both confront hate and play the long game against intolerance.
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.