Nearly one hundred Portland leaders met in Pioneer Courthouse Square this morning to address people intent on spewing hate and throwing punches at a Saturday, August 17 protest.
“We’ve come here together, united as one, putting aside any differences we may have to send a clear and unifying message,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler, who coordinated the morning event. “We stand in opposition to the rising national tide of hate, intolerance, bigotry, and white supremacy.”
Wheeler’s comments were followed by short speeches by a range of progressive politicians, activists, and business leaders. Some explicitly decried the Proud Boys—the alt-right group behind the weekend demonstration—and others condemned any protesters seeking a fight. But despite their varied phrasing, the group’s collective statement against hate was a rare sign of unity in a city that’s been splintered by divisive protests.
“We are here to use our words to help our community resist fascism strategically and intelligently,” said Avel Gordly, a civil rights leader and former Oregon state legislator. “We are here because our children need to see us in this act of standing together. Our children need to see us acting to protect them in a time of traumatizing fear in this nation.”
The planned demonstration, orchestrated by a Florida member of the Proud Boys, is expected to attract far-right extremists and agitators from across the country. Portland leftists, including those who identify as anti-fascists (more commonly known as “antifa”), are planning to counter the Proud Boys' demonstration with their own organized protest. According to Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, every Portland police officer will be working the day of the protest.
Outlaw and Wheeler have both shared concerns that the clash will turn violent, based on past Portland alt-right events and threats of violence already being made on social media.
“It’s extremists from across the political spectrum who come not to demonstrate but to engage in criminal acts of violence and property damage,” said Billy Williams, U.S. Attorney for the State of Oregon, calling these individuals “masked cowards and marauding thugs.”
Eric Ward, director of the Western States Center, pushed back on this so-called “both sides” narrative during his speech.
“There is a right way and wrong way to tackle threats,” Ward said. “We won’t keep Portland safe with false equivalencies about violence on all sides. False equivalencies did not protect Ricky Best or Talesin on the Portland [MAX].”
But, he continued, “I’m not here to blame the mayor or law enforcement. I’m here to hold a mirror to the face of Portland, Oregon. It is time for us to stand up and support our leadership. We are facing a political crisis and it is ineffective and unwise to place the entire burden on city leadership and law enforcement to find a solution.”
Those planning on counter-protesting the Proud Boys event have said the city’s messaging around the coming clash borders on fear-mongering—and has the potential to stifle free speech. At the morning event, only a few speakers openly supported those counter-demonstrators.
“If you are planning to come to protest white supremacy,” said Kayse Jama, director of Unite Oregon. “Bring a picture of someone who inspires you to be a non-violent activist.”
Jama was also the only speaker to identify the dueling groups—Proud Boys and antifa—by name. Like Ward, he argued that comparing the two groups of people to each other was wrong.
“I unequivocally support people who stand up to white supremacists,” said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty who, frequently organized left-wing demonstrations before entering City Hall. “We can expect everyone to behave with dignity and respect for people who show up to stand firmly against white supremacy.”
Before leaving the podium, Hardesty spoke directly to white nationalists planning on visiting Portland this weekend.
“This is not your city. If you want to be hateful, stay home,” she said. “We don’t want you here, we’ve never wanted you here, and if we find you we will expose you to the light of day.”