After May Day—where windows at businesses and government buildings downtown were smashed, a few fires were set in the street, and more than two dozen people were arrested—Portland anarchists made headlines.
And many anarchists feel they've been unfairly skewered by the press, highlighting the May 5 Oregonian editorial that called them "punk fascists" and "parasites." We've been talking to some.
Yesterday, in print and online, we published our interview with "Jeff S," one of the anarchists arrested on May Day. Today, we bring you another interview with an anarchist who was also arrested on May 1. They were booked for disorderly conduct—a charge not for those accused of vandalism or violence.
MERCURY: You identify as an anarchist. What does that mean?
ANARCHIST: Anarchy is the belief that nobody knows what’s best for you other than yourself. Self-determination, you should be able to figure out what’s good for you. As long as you’re not hurting other people, then why shouldn’t you be able to do it? The way society works now is there are rules and there are taxes to pay people off. This whole system is based off work, capitalism, and production. Infinitely. We spend so much of our lives working and not enjoying our fucking lives. We have one life and most of us spend it inside, all day, struggling to make ends meet. Why? Why am I paying [Mayor] Ted Wheeler’s salary? What’s he really doing for me that I can’t do for myself?
Why did you decide to go out on May Day?
That’s the big thing the Oregonian really annoyed a lot of us with. The editorials they ran made it sound like anarchists hijacked this event. To be perfectly clear, May Day is an anarchist event that traces its roots back to the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where anarchists were shot down by the cops while fighting for an eight-hour workday. It is an anarchist holiday—it’s the only one we get. Nobody should be surprised a bunch of anarchists showed up on May Day, it’s like Christians going to church on Christmas. There are a lot of new faces in the street, especially in the post-Trump America, and there are a lot of people who aren’t educated on that, and there are a lot of people in the media slandering us, making us sound like crazy, scary monsters, which sucks.
Do you get why people think anarchists look scary when they wear all black and cover their faces?
I absolutely get it, it is a little bit off-putting. But there are reasons it’s done. For example, on May Day, I was standing on the sidewalk trying to block the bike cops from flanking us and, after dealing with us for so many minutes and getting frustrated, they tried to grab me and arrest me for doing nothing but standing on the sidewalk. Because I was wearing all black, somebody could de-arrest me, get me away from the cops, and I could go back in the crowd without fear of further repercussions. Also, there are some in the crowd who want to do more than peacefully march, and I have no right to tell them not to. The black bloc allows those activities to happen. But also, there are people in the bloc who are queer, people of color, immigrants who don’t have papers and can’t get deported, can’t get fired, can’t get in trouble for various reasons. The black bloc helps to cover their ass and make them anonymous.
What did the police accuse you of doing?
I got arrested for disorderly conduct. They tend to round up anybody giving them any sort of lip during these events, just to clear the streets. Most of the charges aren’t going to stick, they’re not going to pursue them with most people. It’s scary, and it deters some people who are new to the streets from coming back, which sucks. The main reason they do that is to get the streets cleared as quick as possible.
Were you mentally prepared to get arrested?
I did a lot of training ahead of time, sat in a bunch of National Lawyers Guild talks, learned my rights. That’s the biggest thing—if you know your rights then you don’t have anything to worry about. Most people don’t take the time to learn their rights, and the police prey on that. They prey on ignorance to manipulate you into giving up your friends, giving up everything. If you remember to not talk, don’t comply, get the ticket, go to jail, get out, go to court, and fight then you haven’t given them anything and they don’t have anything. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. When they bring you in, they have you talk to detectives and their job is knowing body language. They can tell pretty quick who’s worth trying and who’s not. If they see someone saying "no comment, no comment, no comment," then that’s somebody they’re not going to get through to, it’s not worth trying. But sometimes they’ll get people who were caught up in some vandalism and they’ll terrify them. Nervousness and lack of knowledge about rights can lead you into a trap where you give up more than you have to. You don’t have to tell them much. You have to identify yourself and give them an address. That’s it.
Let's talk about vandalism for a bit...
I don’t actually view vandalism as violence. A lot of people look at it as "oh, these scary anarchists who are angry, and mean, and violent window smashers." But what’s real violence: Shooting a 17-year-old kid (Quanice Hayes) in the head with a rifle because he stole an EBT card, or breaking a bank’s window? What’s the real violence: The pipeline going in North Dakota that’s funded by Wells Fargo, or me smashing their ATM? Not that I did. Property vandalism is not violence. It’s inherently not violence. It’s lashing out against the system. We live in a society where it’s either you play by the rules, or else. If you are a person who realizes the game is fucked and don’t want to play it anymore, you’re stuck in it and that leads to feelings of frustration. Sometimes breaking something is the only way you know how to communicate that frustration. It’s wrong to outright condemn all of that, like a lot of organizers do—they do it to cover their ass because they can’t be condoning it. But I believe in education—during the November protest, there was a bike shop that got smashed up. Not the wisest of choices, but that 16-year-old kid didn’t know better, he was just mad and feeling emotion and acted out on it. You shouldn’t have to hold that in, however, you should maybe do that to Bank of America instead. Pick your targets wisely. Small businesses, it hurts them a little more. On May Day, it was mostly symbolic windows.
What led to your anarchistic beliefs?
It’s been a slow fire burning. I grew up in a big military area, constantly surrounded by guys who wanted to take guns and kill people. It was also an area of a lot of white-on-black racism. With those things around you realize, this shit is fucked up. If I don’t take part in it, that doesn’t change that it’s still happening, so I need to be part of the solution. It also comes from being poor as fuck all my life and realizing the game is rigged. I will never not be poor, I will always be scraping to get by. That’s fucked. Why should I have to scrape by when Donald Trump’s kids don’t? What did they do differently than me other than be born with wealth?
What else should people know?
I want to make sure that everybody gets a clear picture of what went down and why it went down. To many people in black bloc, the anarchists down there, May Day was a complete success. It got shut down in 90 minutes, but it was a complete success.
How do you define "success"?
No civilians got hurt, first and foremost. Minor arrests compared to how many people were out there. Symbolic property damage. One of the big things that’s just now getting talked about that I wish more people were paying attention to is the role the police had in allowing it to get to that point. There’s really no reason a planned, organized march should go from march to riot in 90 minutes. Being in the black bloc, what we saw from the get-go was the cops constantly swarming us, some folks brought shields for defense and those were rounded up, folks not in black bloc had their poster poles seized—the police were treating this as if it were going to be a violent event from the get-go. That mood creates tension. Everybody can feel that tension. On top of that, the police tried to flank us the entire time with cyclists constantly watching us. They tried to lash out and arrest some of us standing on the sidewalk and we did nothing illegal—we were literally on the sidewalk. You’ve really got to look at the police force and their role in it, their lack of de-escalation training and tactics which has been shown time-and-time again at all these protests.