BY JORDAN JACKSON|SPECIAL TO LEFT COAST RIGHT WATCH
EDITOR'S NOTE: I met Jordan on August 17th this year at Cider Riot. It was the evening after former InfoWars correspondent Joe Biggs and the Proud Boys held a march in Portland, shoring up their numbers with members of American Guard–a neo-Nazi front group.
This gonzo article by Jordan isn't about that day. It's about, as he says, "[j]ust another day in Portland" about a month later.
I think it's important to give people who don't live in a place and didn't experience something themselves an idea of what it was like for someone who did. Jordan did the important work of collecting interviews with liberal activists and members of the PNW Youth Liberation Front and reporting scenes during the Climate March which sketch an insightful and revealing portrait of what protests are like in Portland. The conflicts, arguments and incidents between people echo larger ideological and material ones happening across the country and across the world. I found his narrative hard to put down from beginning to end and hope you will to. You can read it below or on Medium here. Please follow Jordan and his work on Twitter here.
“Run fast, comrade, the old world is behind you!”
–Anonymous Situationist Graffiti, Paris ‘68
I can report with absolute certainty that the kids are not alright. They shouldn’t be. The Baby Boomers of Amerika have committed the most egregious acts of generational warfare in human history. Forget the Summer of Love, forget the whole Lost Cause mythology of the hippie generation and just look at the scoreboard. They were given a booming economy, a strong social safety net, and an opportunity for progress on civil rights. What did they build with that? Mass incarceration, a new Gilded Age, and neoliberalism. Three Boomers have been President: Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Donald Trump. I rest my case. Time and again, they’ve proven themselves willing to sacrifice their children and grandchildren on the altar of Right Now. God damn them. God help all of us.
Why am I pontificating on the nature of generational conflict? I spent the Global Climate Strike with a pack of wild zoomers and I’ve been trying to sort through the experience since. Enough preamble; let’s begin.
It was raining in Portland and I was waiting for a late bus. A damn near universal experience in this godforsaken city. The delay was far from ideal. I don’t think that I’ve ever left for a protest with time to spare, and the 9/20 Global Climate Strike was no exception. I’m the same way with planes.
I was rereading my favorite passage from the jeremiad ‘The Uninhabitable Earth” on my phone as I chugged an Orange Red Bull and waited for my Adderall to kick in. This bit, “the belief that climate could be plausibly governed, or managed, by any institution or human instrument presently at hand is another wide-eyed climate delusion.” It seemed appropriate for the moment. Extinction is a strong argument for direct action. If the alternative is annihilation, very few solutions sound radical.
When the bus finally arrived, it was too packed with students to let any of us on. I called up a Lyft. The driver took one look at my destination and started fulminating about the “18 million dollars” that the protest would cost the city’s Hardworking Taxpayers. This was because the Portland Public Schools decided to let anyone with a permission slip attend the demonstrations. He continued droning on as we passed into downtown. The second we got near City Hall I had him pull over. There was a rant burning a hole in my throat and he wasn’t worth the time.
The streets were packed with people. The Willamette Week reported the crowd size as “tens of thousands” and that tracks. A lot of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young people excited to be skipping school to save the planet. A lot of chaperones trying to make sure that “everyone stays with their buddy.” The protest signs were bleak. A lot of variations on the theme of “the planet is dying”, which is, of course, an objective fact. Heavy stuff for kids to handle. Sure, I’m only 26, but at least I got to reach biological maturity before it was clear that our species is probably doomed.
Apocalyptic theme aside, the mood was upbeat. As I made my way through the crush of people on Madison St, I was reminded of the Women’s March in ’17 or the March for Our Lives in ’18–both events that I found extremely inspiring in theory and dreadfully boring in practice. Maybe that’s a symptom of being an angry young man. Without confrontation, you become extraneous.
The rain had cleared up and the sun was peeking through the clouds, but it still took trudging up a muddy hill to see the speakers in Terry Schrunk Plaza. The current speakers were representatives from islands in the Pacific who said they would not be victims of climate change; they would be warriors. The crowd cheered. Hell, I cheered too, but a wave of depression passed over me. Even if we keep global warming to 2 degrees, which we won’t, those islands will be uninhabitable. It was all too much. I felt sick. I could barely even hear the aging hippie lecturing me about smoking in a crowd. “Haven’t you heard? It’s the end of the fucking world,” I barked at him as I made my way back out into the street.
As I got back onto Madison, I noticed someone taking my picture. I recognized the guy. One of the self-proclaimed “Patriots” that circle any Portland protest like vultures. Each of them with a GoFundMe page ready to launch if they’re lucky enough to get punched in the face. It was a group of them: Christopher Ponte, David Willis, Reggie Axtell, Haley Adams. Brandon Farley wasn’t too far off, probably defending his honor against ‘Dick Slander’. Seeing this assortment of scum and villainy, I felt myself smiling for the first time. My existential angst was gone. Maybe I’m a scavenger too.
Armed with this intelligence, I scanned the crowds for anyone who might be interested. In the distance, I saw a flag I recognized. The black/green banner of the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front (PNW YLF). A group of them had been recruiting at a cryptofascist rally at Pioneer Square that Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer had put on the weekend before. Watching a contingent of the Portland Satanists argue with theocratic godheads over whether Lucifer was an antifascist was the highlight of the day. But the Youth Liberation Front had piqued my interest. They describe themselves “an autonomous network of youth and student collectives dedicated to the liberation of all people through any means necessary.” They don’t accept any members over the age of 25. Am I a little hurt that at 26, I’m no longer a youth? Sure. But they’re a capable, media-savvy bunch and I can’t deny I like their style. Queer punks in black bloc ready to take on the world. I wandered in their direction and caught the eye of one of their members.
“I just saw some fash taking pictures of folks in black bloc,” I told them. He ran off to tell some of his comrades and three of them came back over.
“How long ago?”
I answered them in quick succession and made it clear that it was just a handful of grifters. No buses full of Proud Boys like last month. Their posture relaxed and one of them offered me a blue and white bandana. Over the next few hours, I would periodically put it over my face but given my wild head of hair, distinctive frame and penchant for chain smoking, it was entirely ornamental. But it marked me as part of their tribe. Uniforms, even informal ones, have power. A week later, I’d interview 6 YLF members outside of a restaurant and they bragged they’d given away all 150 masks that they’d brought. Next time, it had been decided, they’d have to bring more. They weren’t in the business of missing recruitment opportunities.
“Bloc up!” someone shouted and the YLF made their way towards Madison. I knew the march route and they were heading it off. The bloc made it to the street. I didn’t see it firsthand, and accounts varied, but I believe this is when Haley Adams (one of the “Patriots”) was doused with water, finally putting to rest the persistent rumors that she was the Wicked Witch of the Pacific Northwest. At press time, Haley has reportedly received a vision from God instructing her make a pilgrimage, on foot, to Washington DC. I wish her well, though my personal belief is that a vision quest without hallucinogens is a vision quest not worth having. Having interacted with her on one or two occasions, she strikes me as a fan of deliriants. She possesses the disassociated, hostile demeanor of someone who ate too much jimson weed. The drug du jour of the local fash is cocaine, but I make no judgments. To each their own.
A ripple started to go through the larger crowd. The speeches were over, the main organizers were preparing for the march over Hawthorne Bridge. The slow corralling of the tens of thousands of people by the main organizers would take time. Large beasts are hard to The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) and the Peace Team, civilians in hideous lime-green vests, were holding up the bloc at the intersection. Unsurprising conduct from the PPB, which has a long, well-documented history of far-right sympathies. The Peace Team is a different beast entirely. The contrast between them and the “Big Boys of the YLF” (their preferred nomenclature) was stark and seemed significant.
Peacekeepers were demanding that members of the YLF bloc take off their masks.
“Are you afraid to show your face?” They taunted.
“You’re going to scare the kids!” They warned.
I discussed this moment with Tom Hastings, Founding Director of Peacevoice and professor at PSU, at some length in the week after the Climate Strike. To say he is not a fan of black bloc tactics would be an understatement. I asked him why they were demanding that the YLF take off their masks. He sighed and said, “We only do that when we are asked by the organizers of a non-violent event to institute a behavior code.” When I asked him which event organizers had instituted a behavior code, he became very vague. Apparently, the organizer that had invited the Peace Team hadn’t attended the actual climate strike.
He displayed more candor when discussing antifascist youths. There was real anger in his voice when he related stories of being heckled by masked antifascists and made a point of mentioning that he had never had any problems with “Patriots” in the streets. It seemed personal. He mentioned the length of his arrest record and success as an antinuclear activist at least three times during a thirty-minute phone call. When I asked about the masks being necessary to prevent doxxing, he exploded, “You can quote me directly on this. Bullshit! If you aren’t willing to be identified, then what are you doing here? Own who you are…Why are you so afraid of being identified? We paid the price again and again; you have to be willing to do the same.”
I don’t doubt that Tom is sincere in his beliefs, and he might even be right about the effectiveness of non-violent protest. But his anger speaks to a larger phenomenon: The Boomer generation has a pathological inability to realize that they’ve become the Man that they used to rage against. For Christ’s sake, Tom even mentioned starting a “non-violent pilot program” with the swine of the PPB. They latch onto masks because when they were young, they didn’t wear masks. The Big Boys of the YLF burst into laughter when I told them about Tom’s point about masks. Vash (pseudonym) cracked a joke, “No shit. I’m guessing he grew up before the internet.”
Once the main crowd was ready to march to the Hawthorne Bridge, the police and Peace Team started moving towards Hawthorne Bridge. The YLF saw their moment, readied their banner, and split into two groups. Each took one side of the sidewalk and they managed to steal the march on the larger, liberal demonstration. A couple dozen non-affiliated antifascist activists flocked to their banner. The Patriots skulked after, still trying to provoke a confrontation, but I was assured by a nearby YLF member that, “We aren’t going to rise to the bait.”
“Except for the water thing, but that was just someone who got a little overexcited,” someone else chimed in. I was impressed. It had been a smart tactical decision, taking advantage of the mobility their smaller numbers provided. Now, Tom accused them of attempting to hijack the event, which is basically correct. Even the Big Boys eventually admitted that they’d been trying to pull the Climate Strike in a more radical direction. I can’t say that I disagree with that sentiment. The fucking Arctic burned this summer, which is an omen straight out of Revelations. The signs are there for anyone with eyes to see.
Vash and Eli (pseudonym), pointed out to me that the PNW YLF had been aggressively promoting the Climate Strike and had at one point been promised an opportunity to speak at the main rally only to be excluded the day of the event. I’ve been unable to confirm this with the organizers at this time, but they seemed genuinely disappointed. The only time Vash was anything but positive during the interview was when he said dejectedly, “I never even got to read the speech.” While we were crossing Hawthorne, the YLF believed that they’d be able to speak at the festival, though they’d be denied again.
The police let us pass onto the bridge, hoping to get some distance between the YLF and the main Climate Strike march. As we crossed over Hawthorne, the bloc started to spread out and when we’d almost reached the other side, a cop grabbed a guy behind me. I heard shouting that he’d spit on the officer and suddenly four of the bastards were pinning him down. Spider, an antifascist activist I interviewed after the event, was friends with the guy arrested. They said that when they finally got their knees off his back and pulled him up, his whole face was dripping with fluids. “I didn’t know a face could leak like that.” It’s odd the details people remember, isn’t it? He was also screaming that he couldn’t breathe. The PPB is now charging him with vandalism and I regrettably didn’t get footage of the inciting incident. Seems hard to prove you didn’t commit vandalism on a bridge that covered in stickers and graffiti, but I’m not a lawyer. I was, however, trying to be a “citizen” “journalist”, so I recorded his arrest.
The swine of the Portland Police are brutalizing a protester at the #ClimateStrike for standing in the street. #GlobalClimateStrike pic.twitter.com/g57GaXmfaD— Jordan Jackson 👽🦇🏴☠️ (@mandogcar) September 20, 2019
I wanted to see how this would play out, so I stayed with Spider and a handful of the guy’s comrades for a moment. The main group had started filing by. Tens of thousands lined up to walk down the sidewalk. Unbeknownst to me, further up the bridge, agents of the state were scouring the crowd for POC to rough up. I posted a video of the arrest to Twitter. My gut twisted as I felt myself wonder whether it would get engagement. Spider was telling every kid that walked by, “The cops are not your friends, they serve the State” sounding uncannily like a school guidance counselor. I decided to get going and took a curving path to the waterfront. Some members of the YLF stayed on the waterfront path to wave at all the kids coming by. I noticed a few young boys grin as they looked at the high school kids in black. It’s easy for Boomers and Gen X to see antifa as villains, but kids love antiheroes.
The Big Boys I met with wanted to make very clear that “they probably spend half the time dancing any time they’re in the streets.” This is what I meant about media-savvy. Black Bloc-style antifascist activism is rare among anyone older than millennials. It happens, but it tends to be people that were generally social outliers. Among millennials, it’s still more or less a fringe political behavior, especially outside the PNW. The YLF wants to change that for the zoomers, and as any 60s Mad Man would tell you, “If you want to get someone hooked on your brand, you get ’em hooked in high school.”
Once I finally arrived at the festival, I must admit that it felt like a letdown. This was not entirely the fault of the organizers. It had rained heavily earlier in the day, and the grass underneath them was well along in its transformation into mud. The moment of sunshine that had marked the beginning of the Climate Strike had faded, returning the sky to the dingy dishwater gray familiar to anyone who has spent time in this part of the country between September and May. Inside the festival, there were a lot of tents for different left-wing and climate focused organizations. Each set up to recruit the incoming high school students. Career day for the apocalypse.
I saw a group of 30 or 40 black bloc folks standing a little away from the stage they’d set up. I now realize that they had just been told they wouldn’t get the stage here either. “Give it up for the Occupellas,” some skinny guy in glasses said from the stage and a group of older women began to sing acapella. Now, I can’t be objective here. I hate acapella music. I’m sure the Occupellas are fine people who have done more for the world than I’ll ever manage, but on the day of the Global Climate Strike it felt like a perfect summation of everything wrong with the Left in this, the year of our Lord 2019. I wanted to throw a bottle, but I just lit another cigarette. Second pack, I really need to quit.
“We’re fucking doomed!” I said laughing like a maniac. The antifascists I directed it to laughed back, so I kept going. None of it is fit to print, but I want you to get a sense of the delirium that had begun to set in. A few minutes passed and a chant broke out:
“THE WRONG ICE IS MELTING
THE WRONG AMAZON IS BURNING”
This isn’t innovative. I’ve seen versions of this meme on Twitter a thousand times over. I include it here for a specific reason: because as far as I can tell, the chant set the agenda for the rest of the day. One thing that Eli, Vash, Enzo, Skylar, Lichan, Autumn, Spider, and JT (pseudonyms for the activists interviewed for this piece) can agree on is this: there was no plan to march to the ICE facility. It just sort of…happened.
The Big Boys offered the chant as a possible inciting incident. That makes sense. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a pack of like minded individuals in the same uniform, a war party, but it’s a powerful high. Nothing quite like it. Especially if you’re young, pissed and desperate. This is the problem with protesting abstractions. Fighting for the climate is miserable because you can’t face it head on. The Senate is ruled by a great and powerful tortoise at the head of a nihilistic death cult that cares as much about the future of the planet as they do about brown kids in cages. The official, state-sanctioned march couldn’t end in anything but a big festival, but the YLF hadn’t come to mingle. Their blood was up. Blue balls are powerful motivators. The chant offered a solution and suddenly, the call had gone out to bloc up.
Now, at the time, I had no idea where we were going, but wasn’t about to admit that. I’ve been to the ICE detention center before, but I’ve got a terrible sense of direction. Later on I pieced together the story. The original plan had been to take the MAX on Marquam Bridge, but after attaching their banner to the side of the bridge, the YLF had collectively decided that the MAX operators would probably call the PPB and let them know they were inbound. Chief Outlaw’s eyes were focused on the Climate Strike. The ‘piggies’ were all at market. When a chance falls in your lap like that, you don’t waste it to take the train.
50 black clad young radicals passed into downtown. The vibe was merry. A few YLF members walked around making sure everyone had water and the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild sharpied on their arms.
“Just tell them it’s your mom’s number,” someone joked, and the laughter was uproarious, hysterical. I felt myself tense up. That kind of laughter has preceded damn near every mistake I’ve made in my quarter century on this burning blue ball. This was no exception.
The journey was over in one long surreal moment. A mass text had brought in maybe a dozen stragglers. A hash pen was passed around. Everything got a little hazy. A black man pulled up in a red truck. He was pro-Trump and looking for a scrap. The YLF took pictures of him and his license plates and told him to fuck off. The sight of the mostly white YLF kids (accurately) calling a black man a fascist was a heady tableau. It belongs in a museum.
As we passed over a divider, I saw a few guys picking up rocks. My bad feeling intensified, but I was committed to see this through. The Big Boys hadn’t seen the rocks but didn’t dispute it when I told them I’d seen it firsthand. I don’t believe in Objective Journalism, but I do believe in accurate reporting.
- Rocks were present. So was a branch.
- The plan was undefined.
- The stage was set for a shit show.
We turned the corner onto SW Macadam Ave and there it was. The ICE building. The “fortress of chains” Spider called the place, and they would know. They spent months camped there during the #OccupyICEPDX demonstrations last summer. Very few people around, we marched right up the street. We passed a preschool located directly next to the facility. I wonder what their property values are. One of the little ones, a troublemaker no doubt, waved at me as we passed.
The building itself is an ugly place. An ugly place for ugly business. Hospital-waiting room white and surrounded with chain link fences laced with barbed wire. Concrete barricades at the entrance. A fitting local roost for America’s Gestapo. Now, according to the YLF, the plan was supposed to be to walk up to the three guards and finally give the speech they had ready. That’s not what happened. The ICE guards seemed shook. There only five of them with a few other employees standing behind. Some people I interviewed think the cops had warned them ahead of time and had seen a PPB van about a block back, but they couldn’t have gotten more than a few minutes notice. They hadn’t planned on 50 or so masked radicals beating down their door. At least not today.
I asked the YLF Big Boys whether they would have tried to occupy the ICE facility and they were unequivocal: No. They didn’t have the numbers to hold the place and weren’t interested in going to jail for nothing. But the guards didn’t know that. They had their rifles full of pepper bullets out and cans of mace at the ready. The bloc finally had a focal point for their confrontation. Everyone was shouting. The bloc and the DHS riot cops were maybe 20 ft apart. Chants of “Shut Down ICE!” had broken out. Tensions were running high. “No one was ready for what was about to happen,” Vash said. I wasn’t ready, but I knew something had to give, and it did. The next 54 seconds have been burned into my memory.
Now, I didn’t see the rock being thrown, but after watching videos and interviewing participants, I can confirm that it was. It didn’t hit any of the guards, but it damaged one of the vehicles. This is the picture Andy Ngo has been sharing, but I’ll get to that grifter later. The lone confirmed rock thrower was an 18-year-old barely a month into his freshman year in college. He confessed to damaging government property after a night spent shackled in the tender care of the PPB.
Quick PSA: Never say anything to law enforcement without a lawyer present.
There was also a branch thrown at one of the officers. The guards responded with brute force. Generally, it is protocol to fire above a crowd of protesters. Certainly, that would have sent us running. These guards were aiming right at us. Pepper bullets whizzed by me as I ran. The ICE guards zeroed in on one of the few Latinx members of the bloc, lighting him up with a spray of pepper bullets. Mace was deployed. Everything collapsed into chaos. Running. Screaming. If the guards had looked nervous before, they didn’t now. They routed the bloc with clinical efficiency. In the scrum, I got a bone bruise on my shin after I got knocked into a metal pole by a great bear of a young man in the bloc. It was my own damn fault; I’d been trying to take a video. I failed, but you can watch it here:
As we rounded the corner, people started to shout, “Stay together! Stay Tight!” The YLF managed to reform some of the bloc, maybe 30 people, but at least that many decided to get out while the getting was good. Given what happened next, their instincts were on point. The Latinx YLF member, who had earlier been riding around on his bike bearing the YLF banner, managed to get his bike around the corner before he collapsed, and his body started to go into seizures.DHS and ICE have just brutally attacked us after standing and chanting infront of their building for nearly a minute. No warning, nothing, and now 2 of our comrades have been arrested, one youth comrade was put into a seizure from the attack.— PNW Youth Liberation Front (@PNWYLF) September 20, 2019
WE NEED JAIL SUPPRT NOW.#Defendpdx pic.twitter.com/dda7g9Qg8m
“He is writhing like a godhead in the throes of a Pentecostal revival,” I wrote down in my notes at the time.
Maybe it seems glib to you now, it does to me, but gallows humor is a necessity to maintain sanity in insane times. Immediately, a bunch of his friends moved him to the sidewalk and made him as comfortable as they could manage. No one knew what was wrong. The members of the bloc with medical experience and his friends crowded around him. Suddenly, he went still. For a horrible moment, I was sure that he was dead. The call went out that he was just unconscious. Just unconscious. Cold comfort.
“Stop crowding him, guys!” someone shouted. An argument over when to call the ambulance was breaking out. Two old men who seemed like off-duty police started to harass some members of the bloc.ICE guards just unloaded pepper bullets on antifascist protesters. #DefendPDX #ClimateStrike pic.twitter.com/ejMKh5jgjO— Jordan Jackson 👽🦇🏴☠️ (@mandogcar) September 20, 2019
“Why do you cover your face?”
“You going to leave your buddy?”
“You know, they’re trying to do something productive on the other side of-“
This went on for minutes, slowly escalating in intensity. Faux concern transforming into gloating. Someone in the bloc pepper sprayed one of them. He was quickly stopped by his comrades. Enzo, one of the YLF members I interviewed afterwards, started shouting, “We do not mace civilians!” And just in time, a lone Boomer lady was heading up to the street screaming about cowards in masks and the black fash had rolled up again in his red van. These people don’t show up to the Proud Boy or Patriot Prayer demonstrations. They’re too respectable for that. But they share the “Patriots’” deep hatred of antifascists. Enzo yelled out again, “Anyone who isn’t helping, go to the park! Go to the park!” After a little hesitation, the bloc departed to Elizabeth Caruthers’s Park.
There were maybe 30 of us when we filed into the park. Spider, who isn’t affiliated with the YLF, was frustrated at people who were taking off their masks. They were right; the park was no doubt lousy with cameras. Someone was passing around a Ziploc bag full of pizza. Eli at the head of one faction wanted the bloc to return to ICE. They were opposed by a faction led by Skylar that wanted to get to the MAX and return to the main Climate Strike. And thus began, ‘The Great Debate’. A discourse familiar to anyone who has spent time in leftist activist circles.
“We’re never going to have a revolution if we run at the first sign of pepper bullets,” Eli insisted. Hard to argue with.
“All that’s going to happen if we go back, is we are going to get shot at and spend the night in jail,” Skylar shot back. Indisputably true. The argument went on for 30 or 40 minutes, interrupted briefly by Enzo asking if anyone spoke Spanish to talk to the parents of their semi-conscious comrade and then again by the arrival of the poor soul the National Lawyer’s Guild sent out, desperately trying to take notes from half a dozen witnesses. As the shock of the confrontation faded, the whole scene started to take on darkly comedic undertones. A parable on the limitations of leaderless resistance.
I turned to JT, one of the older antifascists that had gotten pulled in, and whispered, “Democrats in disarray.” He didn’t laugh, just shook his head sadly.
“They’re just kids. Brave kids, but this is stupid. We shouldn’t still be here.”
“Then why are you still here?”
“Because someone has to be.”
After several votes, the group agreed to split. Half were heading back to ICE and the rest were returning to the Climate Strike. For the record, Eli and Skylar were both present for my interview with the Big Boys a week later. Both said that they’d gotten too heated. Eli agreed that returning to ICE was an emotional reaction. Skylar came around to thinking we should have returned to ICE. Ships passing in the night.
When we split, I was standing in the middle, unsure where I should be. The ambulance had arrived and taken the unconscious YLF member away As I stood on the grassy knoll, I saw one police van.
Then the three cops barreled into the park, driving onto the grass. I saw one YLF member dive out of the way to avoid being hit. I don’t have video of the event, so I can’t confirm this, but at least one of those vans appeared to be the unmarked variety used by ICE. This would be unsurprising given recent reporting of an illegal training program between ICE and the PPB, but I make no formal allegations. The cops ran out of their vehicles onto the grass as the bloc ran. They had lost all sense of order in their hunger to punish these teenagers in masks. It was a police riot, very similar to the videos I’ve seen of the Boston PD during the Straight Pride Parade.
We ran and the predator-prey dynamic took over. I managed to get video as we fled the park. I saw multiple cops dropping clips of live ammo so they could load up with pepper bullets. They seemed to know who they were looking for but were willing to grab anyone that fell behind the herd. Batons were swung, mace was deployed.
A ragtag band of us regrouped and started moving north. In the corner of my eyes, I saw more PPB vans a street over. We’d given them time to tighten the noose. I was sure I was going to spend the rest of the day or two in jail. Then we got creative. It was JT’s idea. I got the feeling that it wasn’t the first time he’d had to lose the cops in this neighborhood. “Follow me,” he shouted. Underneath Portland’s expressways lies the Pits. A playground for the junkies and travelers of this fair city. There was a spot where we could climb up onto the side of the highway. Not too hard to scale, especially if the alternative is a weekend in the bowels of Multnomah County’s criminal justice system. Adrenaline can work wonders. A dozen or so of us scrambled out of the Pits into a small homeless encampment, just a few tents set up on the side of the highway. Just in time, Lichan (pseudonym) told me that he saw 6 vans pass by just as we made it onto the highway.Police Riot in Portland. The 🐖s stormed Elizabeth Caruthers Park, almost ran over an antifascist activist, and started attacking people at random. #DefendPDX #ClimateStrike #PoliceState pic.twitter.com/oVKOeKb1c8— Jordan Jackson 👽🦇🏴☠️ (@mandogcar) September 20, 2019
We all got out of bloc. I shoved my black hoodie and bandana into my bulletproof backpack and caught my breath. Knees on my legs, I saw the faces of the YLF members around me for the first time. I’d known they were young, but I hadn’t expected them to *seem* so young. Without masks, they just looked like a group of queer punks on their way to a show. These were the faces that the PPB had been shoving into the concrete and spraying with mace. Those goddamn bastards treated teenagers like enemy combatants, and they wonder why “All Cops Are Bastards” is taken as an article of faith by this set.
One of them, Lucy, mentioned that this was the first protest she’d ever been to. Her ride had been arrested during the mad rush in the park. The week after, I asked her if she regretted turning out. She was unequivocal: “No.” Instead, she’s been using her experience to radicalize her classmates. Such is the way of things.
When I met her for the interview, she told me she’d fractured a rib. Not at the protest–at the after-party the YLF threw the next night. By all accounts, a rager for the ages. The kind of party where no one can remember how many American flags were burned, the best estimate is 3. The only regret the YLF expressed is that a few bands had to cancel because their parents found out how they were planning on spending their Saturday night.
After we separated, I walked towards the waterfront with JT. He was on his way out of Portland, I was on his way in. I checked Twitter and found out that my video of the police riot had been quote tweeted by famous liar Andy Ngo. One of the YLF members I spoke with, Lichan, spotted him a block away wearing a medical mask. Yes, a mask! Ngo called me a propagandist while he conflated the rocks at the ICE facility with the events in Caruthers Park. Irony is dead. He got his baseless spin published in Newsweek because you can never go broke if you’re willing to shamelessly lie for the Powers That Be. My little video ended up being viewed 150,000 times. In the replies, you can see the American Right’s bottomless appetite for state violence. It is a strange thing to feel your personal experience become fodder in Twitter’s Forever War. I miss the fourth wall–the one separating the players on stage and the audience. If we were a half-way decent society, we’d give it a dignified funeral.
Just another day in Portland.
What did it all mean? For the people arrested, it means months in court and an uncertain future. For the rest of us? Eli told me that their friend has been dealing with PTSD since it was her first demonstration of any kind. It left me rattled and I’ve been around the block once or twice.
I mentioned the Straight Pride Parade in Boston, and I think that we are seeing a reaction building within law enforcement. They are tired of these purple-haired anarcho-punks calling them fascists. They’re ready to crack some heads in the name of Making America Safe Again. No worries. It’s not like we have a fascist POTUS facing prison time if his grip on power slips. But I’ll let the Youth Liberation Front have the final word. They never got to give that speech, so here’s their finale, presented without comment:
“No one will bat an eye if we just idly stand by as forests burn and people starve. We must make ourselves impossible to ignore, and by masking up, we say to them: we will not cooperate. we will not be content with those who poison the earth, and its inhabitants. So mask up. Mask up and do what needs to be done. We know what we need to do to protect our community, and the world from destruction. We must throw off the shackles that tie us to these dying systems and build a new society free from the chains of capitalism, violence and authoritarianism. Join us for the revolution.”
You can find Jordan Jackson at his Medium profile here and follow him on Twitter here.