Bottles and cans, just clap your hands, just clap your hands.
On the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States — Friday, January 20th — there was an anti-fascist, anti-Trump protest march in downtown Portland (and in lots of other places).
The next day, there was pro-women’s rights, anti-Trump protest march in downtown Portland (and in lots of other places).
I went to both, and both were good, if markedly different from each other in size and (paradoxically inverted) police response. They had in common that lots of people were there, showing up with anger and defiance and a desire to be counted as explicitly opposed to the Trump admin and the regressive wave it is riding on. It was heartening. I took some pictures, and I’ll include a few below.
Also on Friday the 20th, noted neo-Nazi agitator and recent implausible media darling Richard Spencer got anonymously sucker-punched on camera during an interview with ABC news. It was heartening. I’m including a gif below.
There’s been a lot to talk on both the march and Nazi-punching fronts, and so the last few days have been busy on the internet, even aside from folks trying to keep track of the stew of idiocy and malice that has been the few few days of Trump’s administrative tenure.
(On a personal note: my last couple days got weird on twitter because a tweet I made on the 20th blew up. See the screenshot above; that’s a couple orders of magnitude more likes and retweets than I’m accustomed to, but my stuff doesn’t usually get retweeted by folks with a couple million followers, which is what happened here after the actress Elizabeth Banks RT’d me as a response to a deeply ill-informed tweet by Sarah Silverman describing Spencer as just a “misguided young man”. In Silverman’s defense, she’s not exactly a fan of Nazis herself, didn’t know who the hell Spencer was at the time, and has since changed her stance and nixed her original tweet.)
So there’s been an awful lot of discussion in general about the ethics of Nazi punching, basically non-stop everywhere online, since Spencer got clocked. Closest to home for me has been the MetaFilter thread nominally about music remixes of the video (of which there have been a great many, syncing up the punch imagery with every song you can imagine, notably among others a loop of Born in the USA with every snare hit tied to another loop of the punch), said thread descending quickly and inevitably into a discussion of the punch itself, the ethics of violence, the ethics of praising violence, the conflict between a goal of non-violence and the threat of approaching systemic violence and fascism, and a lot of other wrinkles.
I have complicated feelings about this punch and more generally about the subject of even qualified approbation for violence. I feel pretty conflicted about this stuff.
I also feel like this particular punch, in this particular context, rendering Nazi poseur Richard Spencer a laughing-stock of the internet at at time when he has been granted far too much serious consideration and edgy puff piece attention from national media, is an unassailable good.
I wrote a few comments in that MetaFilter thread in a personal rather than moderator capacity, beginning with this one:
The idea of non-violence is a defense of the idea of universal human decency, of mutual respect for humanity, of not doing to other people, any other people, the things we think should not be done to people. I am a non-violent person in practice and in inclination, and I see a lot of value in discouraging violence even in cases where it is a righteous temptation.
But, you know what, no. Fuck the Nazis. Fuck them.
Because we are not talking about an exchange of ideas. We are not talking about meeting words with unprompted violence. We are talking about an ideology that rejects, explicitly, the idea that black people and Jewish people and all sorts of Others are entitled to that universal human decency. An ideology that denies huge swaths of humanity admission to that idea of universal human decency. Denies them humanity outright.
When Richard Spencer rallies Nazi ideology, encourages white supremacism and virulent racism, harkens back to the good ‘ol days of turn-it-to-11 anti-Jewish hatred? When he publishes writing that says shit like this?
we should instead be asking questions like, ‘Does human civilization actually need the Black race?’ ‘Is Black genocide right?’ and, if it is, ‘What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them?’
That’s not an exchange of ideas, that’s an invitation to violence and genocide. That’s a punch that has already been thrown to horrifying results, being pulled back to be thrown again. That’s a haymaker that killed millions in camps in Europe while decent people fretted.
So, nah. Fuck that. Fuck the Nazis.
That’s not the most forthright pro-Nazi-punching argument in the thread, by a long shot; there’s also a number of arguments for the idea that even if it’s a fucking Nazi, a violent attack will make things worse and is unacceptable. There’s also a lot of rhetorical jousting and analogies and all the other stuff you’d expect to see in an internet discussion, even a relatively thoughtful one, about Nazis and suckerpunches and ethics and short- vs. long-term consequences. It’s several hundred comments long and bumpy, but may be an interesting read if you haven’t gotten into the weeds on this stuff elsewhere.
But, yeah: fuck the Nazis.
Anyway, there were marches, I went, and here’s some pictures and thoughts from both.
January 20th anti-fascist march
The night of the inauguration several thousand folks showed up at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. This looked like basically what I expect a protest march in Portland to look like: mixed crowd but a lot of relatively young, relatively crunchy folks who aren’t new to activism or protest, a broad and intersectional collection of signage, rolling chants on a variety of subjects being led and taken up with a degree of familiarity and ease, and a simmering hostility toward the inevitable preemptive presence of militarized police.
And police response looked like what I’d expect at this point, for a night-time protest march with no permits and no non-local media attention. Phalanxes of riot cops at intersections and bridge entrances, stony behind helmets and weapons handy, with police loudspeakers giving directions to the crowds while protesters took up chants like “I don’t see no riot here / take off your riot gear” while passing.
The main body of the march proceeded without real trouble, blocking traffic but moving forward peacefully. The police in turn were relatively conciliatory by giving-crowds-stern-loudspeaker-directions standards for most of the first loop of the march from the Square toward the river, over and then down to Naito Parkway before coming back up Taylor and back to the Square.
Relatively conciliatory, for a while, at least. When the march reached Naito and Taylor, the tone of the police announcements shifted over the course of a few minutes to threats of arrest and force when a chunk of marchers headed east into Waterfront Park instead of proceeding as directed west on Taylor. My wife and I moved on up the street with a bunch of the crowd; it sounds like some of those who didn’t got flashbangs and gas.
By the time we got up Taylor to another loudspeaker blockade telling us to turn right off Taylor onto Broadway and back to the Square, the messaging from police was pretty unambiguously game-over — proceed or be arrested. Some dumbfuck lobbed a road flare in the general direction of the riot cops, the loudspeaker took on some more urgency, and a lot of us not looking for a fight headed Square-ward more quickly to get out of the way of whatever was likely about to happen at the corner.
Wife and I got back to the Square and called it a night, made our way to a bus stop, and then waited as a second loop of the march blocked off the transit mall for ten minutes or so headed toward the water again. The protest continued for another hour or so before apparently descending into outright police shutdown with more flashbangs, gas, etc. Not a great showing by the cops or the city on that front, vulcanizing an overwhelmingly peaceful demonstration with a predictable handful of shit-stirrers into an us-vs-them deployment of asymmetric force. But not surprising.
January 21st Women’s March
Next day was a different scene. Huge crowd, lots of moms, kids, families; lots of media attention; lots of daylight. Different crowd, different crowd dynamic, and fundamentally different optics. Smiling cops in street uniforms scattered sparsely along the permitted parade route, accepting pink pussy hats from marchers and waving and making conversation.
Which: it’s an easy win for cops and a chunk of ammo for folks arguing respectability politics and putting the responsibility for disproportionate police response to protests on the protesters rather than on systemic issues in police enforcement in the United States.
Anyway but so yes:
Portland’s march was huge by the city’s standards — estimates are about 100,000 people in a city whose core population is about 650,000 — and concomitant with the huge turnout around the US and abroad. Millions of people turned out, to demonstrate solidarity for women’s rights and rebuke Trump et al.
It was also wet and rainy and cold, and there was a great deal of standing around near the waterfront for the duration of the rally speakers/singers (impossible to listen to from where we ended up gathering, on the Morrison Bridge onramp across Naito from the Waterfront stage), and so my wife and I and friends spent an hour and a half killing time and making conversation and pointing out favorite signs while waiting for the march itself to start.
And as with other cities, the overwhelming size of the crowd made marching more difficult than expected — the planned route was essentially full before it started moving. We ended up forcing ourselves into a tributary by heading away from the notional start point down a side street, and got into the flow that way. It was a tremendous number of people.
We marched most of a slow loop, ran into friends, and then stood to the side of the march a little while to rest and watch signs go by before going off to find some food and beer and get warm.
It was a good day, and a good scene. Overwhelming numbers showing up as a stark contrast to the tepid Inaugural crowds for a deeply unpopular (and still despite it all deeply implausible) President is a good look for the United States at a time when a lot of shit is not looking good at all. I’m glad it happened and I’m glad I went.
There’s stuff to be critical of, for all that: it’s difficult to simultaneously organize around broad symbols like the color pink and uterine imagery without latching onto e.g. some complicated gender stereotype reinforcement and trans-exclusion, and the bigger the crowd the more danger that it consists mostly of once-a-year activists who won’t follow through with further less glossy action or critically engage with the issues like the need for intersectionality in their feminism.
In a city as liberal-but-white as Portland, the reality on the ground that women of color in the US overwhelming rejected Trump but white women and white men voted in majority for him is an issue that wasn’t likely to get much visible attention on a day like Saturday. And even if white folks in Portland didn’t demographically fall to that majority-Trump number, it also wasn’t zero. The numbers for Oregon outside of the city are worse. This isn’t a thing that we can collectively show clean hands on, and that’s the sort of thing that is going to require a lot more work to do better on, work that is far less fun and self-gratifying than showing up for a march that everyone else is going to as well.
So, it’s one day and it’s not a panacea. There’s a lot of work to do.
Still: it was a good day.
And fuck the Nazis.