Opinion: Space for the protests and the issues behind them

Opinion: Space for the protests and the issues behind them

At last night’s protest this man shared his story about his grandparents living in Vanport (which he said was “just like Katrina”), growing up in now-gentrified northeast Portland, and how apartments near his old home rent for $2,000 a month.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Hello BikePortlanders.

Mayor Ted Wheeler at the wall in front of the Federal Courthouse last night.

It’s been difficult for me to give my full attention to bicycling and transportation-related news for a while now. To say there are a lot of important things going on is an understatement. And yes, because I bleed bike grease, I can tie almost anything back to cycling if I really want to.

But this is not one of those times.

The racist, unfair, white supremacist policies that underpin nearly every aspect of how most Portlanders live, how our city is run and how it was built, are being examined with a ferocity that has sparked an historic nationwide movement with our city as its epicenter. Many people, myself included, are outraged at the answers to many difficult and necessary questions that should have been asked long before George Floyd was killed. Racial, social, and economic inequality are rife and people are sick and tired of how the system leaves so many people — especially Black and other people of color — behind.

The outrage has grown because our Portland Police Bureau and unaccountable federal troops have brutally and violently lashed out against innocent, non-violent protestors for nearly two months now — and the person in a position to protect us against them, Mayor Ted Wheeler, has not done enough to stop them.

Writer and educator Lilith Sinclair gave an impromptu speech as close to Mayor Wheeler (upper left) as she could, hoping to drown out his interview. Sinclair is an ardent critic of Wheeler and believes in complete abolition of the police (among other things).



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Not only has Mayor Wheeler failed to rein in the police, his disrespectful and tone-deaf attitude about the people who attend these protests set the stage for Donald Trump to send his cronies and mercenaries into our city. As you’ve seen in the news, their plan to “quell” the “violent anarchists” in Portland has failed miserably.

Last night Mayor Wheeler finally returned to the streets to face the protestors and the violence. After 55 days of protests, this was just Wheeler’s second visit. He was taunted and heckled incessantly. The anger that has built up over weeks of being gassed and shot at by Wheeler’s troops boiled over. He spoke to many people and was given the chance to make a speech on the stage in front of thousands. “When they launch the tear gas at you, they launch the tear gas at me!” he proclaimed. He then began to leave before the gassing started. He walked slowly toward City Hall, stopping to answer questions from his constituents, then changed course after he seemed to acquiesce to chanted demands to stand at the wall in front of the U.S. Courthouse.

And there he stood, withstanding a barrage of gas clouds and flash bangs as he continued to talk to reporters and get grilled by activists.

Wheeler coughs and one of his security personnel winces in a cloud of gas.

Wheeler now knows what the gas and Trump-sanctioned violence feels like. That’s new. The stinging criticisms from those of us tired of his incrementalism are not.

Will the dramatic events of last night lead to a shift in his tone and actions around the protests and the issues that sparked them? That remains to be seen. What I do know is I’m not waiting for him and I’ll continue to support these protests and help build community power with or without Wheeler in the mayor’s office.

Whose streets? Our streets!

UPDATE: Wheeler just posted about last night on Twitter. His words are extremely underwhelming.

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How are you feeling about the protests and your own journey through these confusing, enlightening, inspiring and anxious times? I’d love to hear from you and I’m happy to answer questions about any of my views expressed here in the comments below.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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