Thousands of people will flock to the streets of Portland this week for protests, counter-protests, and marches surrounding the inauguration of Donald Trump. Whether you’re marching alongside them or just stuck in traffic, there’s a good chance the demonstrations will impact you. (See the Mercury’s “Resistance and Solidarity” calendar for the latest protests and events.)
What follows are interviews with two key people—with opposite political ideologies—involved with inauguration events on Friday, January 20 (or “J20” as it’s been dubbed).
Gregory McKelvey – Portland’s Resistance
- Gregory McKelvey at a protest in October.
- Doug Brown
McKelvey, a 23-year-old law student, is one of the leaders of Portland’s Resistance, the city’s anti-Trump go-to for protests, marches, and liberal advocacy that formed immediately after the presidential election. The group has been planning a massive march scheduled to start at 3:30 pm on Friday at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Thousands are expected to attend.
MERCURY: What goes into planning one of these marches?
McKELVEY: We’ve been having people wear different bandanas on their arms. Red bandanas would be the medics, which you need to have because people could get pepper-sprayed or hurt, and it’s obviously hard to get an ambulance through there if something bad happened to anybody. We have something like 20 medics ready for J20, and we’re training more. We have people wearing yellow for security—not like they beat you up if you do something, but just to keep the lines of the march going in the right way, blocking off streets, and that kind of stuff. And we wear white for the organizers, who can basically answer questions. And really even more than the roles the people will play, it just makes the march feel safer when they know that certain people have roles and somewhat of a uniform. It makes the event go smoother, which we’ve learned through experience.
This march has been planned for a while, but the ones immediately after the election were pretty spontaneous. How different will Friday be?
After the election, we wanted to make sure there was direction—other than things just going to chaos—not just for the marches, but what we’re marching for. If we just come out there and don’t change any policies, then it was all for nothing. That said, everything was put together day-of for all the marches, but people were going to be in the streets regardless. But for this march, there’s a lot of planning going into it, the same as our march that was the day of the Electoral College [vote]. It definitely goes smoother, but we never know what the police response will be. It’s also the first march under Ted Wheeler, so we don’t know how he’s going to be responding.”
Have you been in contact with the cops?
The police have tried to contact me and other people. What we usually do is have a police liaison, or a few police liaisons—the designated people who can talk to the police. We let people at the march know this, because if an officer just starts questioning a random person they could get bad information, and it could be bad for the random marcher. I’m pretty opposed to getting a permit for a protest, because it doesn’t make sense to lead a protest against institutions and establishments, and go to them for permission to protest. It’s like if the people dumping tea into the Boston Harbor got permission first.
Yeah, people criticizing protests because they didn’t get permits first never made sense to me.
That’s not the point of protests. And especially when a lot of protests are against the police, or actions of the police, it doesn’t make sense to call the police for help protesting against the police. Plus, the only violence I really see at protests is when it’s either instigated or perpetrated by the police.
What should first-timers know beforehand?
That the march is planned out. We plan on making it a family event where it’s safe for everybody, and I think that everybody should have the right to express their First Amendment rights. One way you can stop people from expressing their First Amendment rights is if a protest like this isn’t safe for everybody. Our protest is safe, it should be good, and we’re not planning on doing anything crazy other than going out there, marching, and speaking our minds.
How do you respond to people who criticize the protests based on the post-election vandalism in the Pearl District?
I think it’s concerning that we have so many people concerned with the destruction of property and not so concerned with the destruction of lives that can happen under President Trump. I don’t condone people going out and smashing things, but I think I have a lot more in common with the person smashing things than I do with Donald Trump or a Donald Trump supporter. I understand that anger, and we need to talk about not just that they’re smashing stuff and that we don’t like it, but why are they doing that? Why are they feeling so unheard? Why are these people so disenfranchised that it’s the only way they feel they have a voice in our political system? I think we should change the entire system. All that being said, you can’t blame an entire movement for the actions of certain individuals. But I think if you are upset with the action of a few individuals, you can’t just condemn them, you also have to consider the reason why it’s happening.
At protests and marches, you regularly tell people not to “police others’ activism.” Can you explain that?
We have to respect the diversity of tactics. If your tactic is peace, which is my tactic, then you should move away from people who have a different tactic. That said, if we’re protesting against the establishment or the police, it doesn’t make sense for you to show up and play the role of the establishment or the police. If we needed people to come out and police the marches, then we would be cooperating with the police, and at least they have the training for something like that. It doesn’t make sense for an individual marcher to come out and play the role of the police in a march that’s in large part protesting the police. And it doesn’t make sense for me to direct anybody that’s following me to intervene with somebody with a baseball bat being violent or destructive with physicality because that’s how I’m going to get somebody hurt. What I say is if you don’t like something, move away from it. All I can do is lead by example, and my example is peaceful.
Do you know, as of now, the marching plans?
We have multiple routes planned out, depending on different scenarios of what’s going on. We don’t just hit the streets and not know. We need a lot of people within the march—organizers and security teams—to know the route beforehand so we can run ahead and get streets blocked off.
What is the philosophy behind blocking, for example, I-5?
That’s never really been one of my go-to things to do, but sometimes the people want to do that. I think it’s the same philosophy for a protest in general, the same reason why we don’t just protest on the sidewalk and say "honk for black lives"—nobody would have to talk about us. If no destruction ever happened in the city, if no MAX lines or public transit were ever blocked, if no highways were ever blocked, then I might not be giving an interview right now. It doesn’t make a good story when people are just quiet. The more noise you can make to bring attention to these issues, now the whole country is talking about these protests and that’s what we want. We only block a street for a matter of minutes, but the conversation goes on for years, decades even. The history books aren’t going to say “Joe Smith was stuck in traffic and couldn’t get on I-5 on November 10,” the history books are going to say “America elected a diet-fascist and the people of Portland stood up.”
How do you feel about getting arrested?
I’m not scared of getting arrested, but I don’t break any laws. Ideally, I would never be arrested for just going out there and exercising my First Amendment rights. For my arrest [in November], most people can tell it was targeted—it didn’t make sense that the three of us were the only people arrested at a march 24 hours after I declined the mayor’s invitation to be a part of his march. It all looks pretty fishy, and it didn’t work out for Charlie Hales. I don’t want to get arrested and I don’t anticipate getting arrested because I’m not breaking the law. But I will get arrested if I have to, it’s not going to scare me.”
I have a feeling there will be a bunch of arrests on Friday night.
Well, I’m hoping there’s no mass arrests of random protesters where they’re indiscriminately rounding people up. I don’t know what the night is going to devolve into when our official march is over. I wouldn’t be surprised if things aren’t going that smoothly then. But as for the main event, we’ve had a lot of marches where nobody got arrested. We just had a big march for the Electoral College [vote] and nobody got arrested. It depends, and it depends on where the police decide to confront us and how they decide to confront us.
Do you feel like marches have a greater impact when people are arrested?
The more of a story there is at any protest, the more of an impact it all has. When the freeways are shut down and everybody is writing about that—the one thing we’ve learned from Donald Trump is that even bad press gets people talking about you and at the end of the day you may win an election off that.
How do you measure the effectiveness of Portland’s Resistance? Is it quantifiable?
It definitely is. We had 22 demands, and the more demands we get to cross off the list, the more successful we are. One of them was we wanted to remain a sanctuary city and shortly after the election, Chloe and Ted said we’ll remain a sanctuary city. We wanted campaign finance reform—city council voted for their election reform. We wanted no new fossil fuel infrastructure, and we have a fossil fuel infrastructure ban here in Portland. Next up, we want more environmental protections, rent control, and at least a ban on no-cause evictions.
What do you make of Ted Wheeler so far?
He was not my favorite candidate, but he’s doing a lot better than Charlie Hales even in this short amount of time. But it’s a pretty low bar. I have a lot of hope in Ted Wheeler, not to be the mayor I would be, but to at least work with us and do the right thing. I think he really cares, and I’ve seen a lot of the things he’s been doing and helping us out with, and he’s already doing way more than I can imagine Charlie Hales doing.”
Have you been paying attention to the issue with the women’s march on Saturday?
From my understanding, it was being run by some white women in Eastern Oregon who probably didn’t think that 21,000 people would end up going. It’s not easy to run a march. It wasn’t easy to run any of the marches I’ve run, and I’ve never done a march with 21,000 people. I wouldn’t have felt safe going to a march that was held by somebody from Eastern Oregon that doesn’t even know the streets of Portland and has never done a march before. But apparently they switched over leadership and I know one of the people working on it, so I hope that it will be better. But 21,000 is a lot to pull off. It will probably have a mind of its own, no matter who the organizer is.
John Glendenning – Oregon Liberty Activists
- Glendenning and his Oregon Liberty Activists group want to extinguish burning American flags, like this one in October
- Doug Brown
John Glendenning is a 46-year-old Portlander and co-founder of the right-wing Oregon Liberty Activists (OLA). Before the Portland’s Resistance march on Friday, a separate anti-Trump group is planning to burn American flags in Pioneer Courthouse Square, in response to Trump floating the idea of revoking the citizenship of flag burners. Glendenning and his OLA crew will be there with fire extinguishers.
MERCURY: So, you’re organizing the flag-extinguishing event?
GLENDENNING: Yes. I talked to the fire marshal here in Portland, and it’s illegal to burn anything downtown. Flags, campfires for the needy, none of it can be burned down there, so why are the police going to stand by and watch an illegal activity? Burning a flag isn’t illegal—hell, I burn United Nations flags in my fire pit and put it on the Internet all the time. But not in the middle of downtown where it’s illegal to burn anything. Frankly, you can hardly even smoke down there. That’s the ground we stand on. I’m conservative but I have a bunch of liberal friends, but they’re not a bunch of anarchists running around being anti-American. But these far-left anti-American scumbags—that’s exactly what they are, and I’m not going to be chased away. I know people who have had their car attacked for being Trump supporters. I’m not gonna keep quiet, I’m not going to hide, and I don’t care what the media make people look like, because I don’t think conservative issues and limited-government people have been given a fair shake by anybody in the press.
Why don’t you think right-wingers have been given a fair shake?
Well, 95 percent of you have given money to the Democratic Party and you say you’re unbiased. I don’t believe that a number can be that high in the industry and it not be unbiased. [note: he's probably talking about this study]
What is the response?
To who? To which? To this group that the Portland political people seemed to have turned the other cheek to as our streets get rampaged? It used to be people were scared of their car being scratched by one of those liberal scumbags, now it’s worse. If it’s inciting to have a GOP, a Rand Paul, elephant, or Trump bumper sticker on your car—if that’s incitement, then yes, I’m inciting. I’m just using my free speech. As far as the flag extinguishing event, I’m sick and tired of these far left-wing liberals and our government... doing nothing. Rampage in the streets, and they do nothing. Burning the flag in downtown Portland is illegal. Period. I believe in free speech, so I would never want anyone to attack your right to burn the flag. But you do not have that right in downtown Portland.
So, you don’t think flag burning should be illegal on private property?
No, I don’t think flag burning should be illegal on private property. That would be against the constitution. I just think that if there’s a place for people to have fires, campfires, or whatever downtown, you could probably burn it there, too.
How many people do you anticipate coming with you on Friday?
We know our core group, a dozen or more. But what we’ve got going on Facebook, we have over 100 people that have confirmed coming, but that means nothing. The good news is they’ve kept interacting with us this last month, which shows signs of them actually showing up. The last time, when the riots happened, we went down there and were interviewed by KGW, handed out constitutions and actually kind of split the liberals off from the anarchists. What we’re trying to do is be able to have a conservative voice heard without being under threat or duress, without anybody turning their head, including you journalists, and especially you journalists, because you have a responsibility to all the people, even the conservatives you might not like. Too bad, do your job. If there’s a bunch of far left-wing asshats making your liberal side look bad, then you should be reporting that too. Shutting someone down for speaking at a college, or the other thuggery that’s allowed to happen while you say nothing. I’m a conservative libertarian and I support Trump about as much as any other president, but you can’t express yourself here.... It seems like we’re going to have to plan an event for rural conservatives to come here and join the city conservatives who are afraid to even speak and have our own rallies. Maybe we should disrupt liberal speakers, liberal mayors, liberal governors—it’s not my governor.
I’m assuming tensions will be pretty high on Friday. Are you prepared for a potential backlash from people?
I’m prepared to defend myself. I would never cause violence, but don’t get any of us wrong: We will stand our ground. It’s our right. We do not have to let crime—including fire—happen in the middle of the streets while the police watch. If they do arrest me because I extinguished a flag, and someone comes at me violently and I knock ‘em out or worse, then, okay, let’s make this a national story. I’d rather not. I’m not into trying to get media. I’m into trying to talk to solve problems.
Will you be armed on Friday?
Well, since I don’t have a [concealed handgun license], I won’t be. But I assume there will be people exercising their rights. But I’ve advised people to never take a firearm to a demonstration.
What do you want our readers to know?
You guys villainized Republicans for more than eight years, my whole life... people are scared. Conservatives are scared. You know how it feels to be a conservative? They won’t let you express your own views, but you have to hear theirs everyday? People have asked us to stand up for stuff. Of course I’m against burning the flag, and if I was going to do a counter protest if flag burning was legal, maybe I’d bring a UN flag and burn it right next to ’em, since you guys seem to love the UN so much.
I don’t think anybody there would be upset if you burned a UN flag.
Well, most of them wouldn’t because they’re anarchists so they don’t like any organization. I’m not trying to piss off anybody, but nobody’s taking control of these anarchists, they let them run the streets here. The police, they know. And the politicians, if you ask the mayor, he’ll act stupid.
Have you been contacted by any law enforcement about this?
No, not about this. I’m going [to] call them and let them know, of course, that we’re going to be counter protesting. I’ve called the fire marshal, but didn’t see any point to call the cops because it’s none of their damn business. The fire marshal told me it was illegal and the police aren’t enforcing the law.
The fire folks told you what?
They told me it’s illegal to burn anything in downtown Portland and the police are not enforcing it. He went on and told me he’s not a conservative, but he can’t stand this... It’s our right to go down there and raise our flags while they’re burning them. It’s also our right to use a fire extinguisher if there’s a fire that’s illegal. I’m just standing on my rights and that’s why I didn’t see a reason to contact police, besides that if you’re an organization you should at least contact them and let them know you’re going down there.
And you will definitely have a fire extinguisher with you?
We have several stored up right here in my garage. I really would just like the mayor to enforce the law. Let them protest, let them do whatever, but burning the flag is not legal—excuse me, burning anything downtown is not legal.