Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Let me walk you through an average day as a peaceful protester on the ground as we approach day 43 of non-stop protesting country wide. In Portland, Oregon there are organized marches, demonstrations, and gatherings in the city, all day, every day. I have contributed myself as a 'corker' during daytime protests. As corkers, we block traffic with our bicycles assuring the safety of the marchers along the route. I spend the majority of my day doing just this at varying demonstrations.
When the proud boys show up, and they often do, many of us will bike around offering people of color escorts back to a safe place. When the sun starts going down, I prepare for the Justice Center where protesters gather starting at 7:30pm every night.
I strap on a tactical vest that I have aluminum plates inserted to soften the impact of rubber bullet shots, a respirator, hard knuckle gloves, goggles, face shield, a Tazor, bear mace and I pack water bottles, eye flush, ear plugs, chemical weapon wipes and other medical supplies in case someone is in need and the medics are not in sight. My past experience as a Patient Care Technician in the cardio-thoracic ICU of a major hospital allows me to feel comfortable enough to apply basic first aid to protesters if a medic is not present. I am a peaceful protester but I wear this armory because I am at risk of bodily harm in any interaction with the police, even though I am not breaking any laws. I repeat, even though I am NOT breaking any laws. This perspective has a new place in my world but is not new news to my BIPOC comrades.
Both the Justice Center and Courthouse are lined with plywood covering their broken windows. The police have built wooden slots that can be opened and closed from the inside. The police often declare the gathering a 'riot' by the time midnight roles around. When they do, they use these slots to throw tear gas into the crowds as the police in riot gear strategically approach the demonstrators from one or more angles in Chapman square. This is when you would think demonstrators would panic but there is no fear left in our hearts.
It’s day 43, we have witnessed horrific events non-stop, we are desensitized to a disturbing extremity. This is where we, most of us complete strangers to one another, stick together and stick tight, in our fight for justice. As the police charge into the square, using CS gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets along with other tactics in the attempt to arrest and assault protesters.
At this point of the night, every muscle in my body is tense, I spend 30% of my energy concentrating on breathing to keep my heart rate down, my ears are ringing, my pupils are dilated from the adrenaline and my guts are metaphorically being tied into knots choking all instincts out of present context besides my survival instinct. But somehow, we manage to cork the streets to enforce safety measures and tend to those who are harmed and need help. This is my role, as a peaceful protester.
When the crowd is dwindled down enough to single people out I will ride my bike through the nights sea of boarded up windows covered in memorial murals and homeless peoples tents, zig zagging through the empty streets of what was once a robust and lively downtown. But now bears a resemblance of my teenage anarchists day dream of what I thought the end of days would look like. Hoping not to be blocked in, chased or caught by the police or proud boys. This is our new reality. This is my new reality. It is surreal, it is dangerous and it is powerful.
I attended the Trump Rally on June 20th, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma where the BOK center was lined with Trump supporters selling merchandise, tailgating, partying, showing off their big trucks, motorcycles and doing whatever Trump supporters do. Throughout the BOK center vicinity, micro groups of counter protesters that support the Black Lives Matter movement were dispersed throughout the event. Eventually all collectively coming together at the gate, right in the middle of the largest concentration of Trump supporters.
This is where we were greeted by the National Guard, Secret Service and local police that held their ground, guarding the entrance to the rally and only allowing whom they judged as a 'non-threat' inside. Which was easy to measure considering almost every supporter of #45 had some sort of loud article of clothing letting the world know their pride.
Meanwhile, BLM supporters and Trump supporters engaged in dialogue. Some folks came to agreement and hugged it out, but most dialogue between the two sides escalated. I found myself mostly putting my body and or bicycle in between Trump supporters and people of color, when they got too close or threatened physical harm. This was my role as a peaceful protester, who is white.
Tensions rose as the sun waned in the sky, before dark I had witnessed two separate men assault a woman of color, racial slurs being slung around amongst the sea of MAGA hats, two Trump supporter motorcycles burn rubber in the middle of the BLM supporters attempting to charge protesters and at least 5 counts of Trump supporters pepper spraying peaceful protesters amongst utter chaos. ALL in front of the eyes of the military, Secret Service and police as they stood by, witnessing flat out racial violence without stepping in, not once. But a woman, a local teacher, wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, just walking amongst the crowd, was arrested that day.
When the sun went down, secret service rushed their black SUVs through the crowd with police cars in between, they stopped in the street, splitting our supporters down the middle. This is where a blue bus full of National Guard troops took center stage and behind them were more police cars and Secret Service. Surrounding the group of the BLM supporters was now drunk, angry and agitated Trump supporters, in the middle of us was the line of their defense and then in came the cops with riot gear. We were surrounded and there was no way out, so it felt at the time. But as the cops closed in and started shooting their rubber bullets, BLM supporters held no fear in their hearts and stood their stance.
The media and Trump supporters presence kept them from being able to use CS gas and flash bangs, and we knew it. Indigenous supporters started singing traditional songs and beating their drums, inspiring strength within each and every one of us. I could feel the interconnectivity that united us with every beat of their drums. Fearlessly, the crowd of BLM supporters marched straight through their defense line and marched all the way to the Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street. Where the Tulsa Race Massacre took place in 1921. But on this day, in 2020, we were greeted by an empowered community waiting for us with a celebration in honor of our black, brown and indigenous brothers, sisters, siblings and allies.
This moment was even more powerful than the peaceful march I joined led by the Millennial Leader in Atlanta, Georgia on June 16th in response to Rayshard Brooks murder by police, where the mourning prayed and held silence in his honor at the MLK memorial. More powerful than June 13th in Marion, Virginia where I joined a small group of protesters from all over the region to protest a slave owner statue being guarded by cops and locals, outnumbered by a far greater number, but they still held no fear in their hearts. This moment in the Greenwood District was even more powerful and chilling than when I witnessed tens of thousands of people gather in Washington DC on June 6th with and for the Black Lives Matter movement. The hair on my arms stands as I type this into permanent ink.
This is a letter from a peaceful protester, to tell you what is really happening in the streets at night while the majority of you sit on your social media and watch CNN feening off of their propaganda motivated by monetary focused agendas. We are a community of people, coming together and risking our lives during a goddamn pandemic, because we know in our hearts, that if change does not happen now, it never will. We are not asking you to give into the reins of anarchy and abolish the entire government structure, though many of us would like that and are asking for that agenda. But most of us that are in the streets are demanding to defund the police programs and take that money to sink back into social programs such as; drug rehab facilities, housing for the homeless, better public education, healthcare and mental health services for underprivileged communities affected by red lining, etc. Police reform is just a tip of the iceberg in how we can start abolishing the school to prison pipeline, systemic racism and police brutality.
My experience is just a microcosm of the largest movement in US history, that is happening across the globe. What is the most surreal thought that floats through my head every day, is that, this is just the beginning. Even though 98% of protesters (from my experience) wear masks, use hand sanitizer and social distance as much as possible, the constant risk of exposure to Covid-19, is exhausting. The constant anxiety of not knowing if you or your comrades will get home safe, is exhausting. The pure knowledge that you are in the streets battling for basic human rights and we are all alone, we only have each other, is exhausting.
But the stories shared by our BIPOC peers that I get the honor to listen to everyday, is what keeps me going. No child, no matter the color of their skin, should worry about whether their family members will make it back home that night, or if they will “be next.” No one should be at risk of a public lynching. No one should be sold to the private prison system for their labor. No one, I mean no one, should ever be exposed to this hell on earth that was created by the 1%.
I am just a peaceful protester, who has just enough empathy to feel the weight of the world sit on my shoulders and just enough strength to carry it. For now. But the pressure is on and we need those that speak the mother tongue of the Tower of Babel to step up and step forth. I share with you my role, in hopes it inspires you to find yours. Whether you are a corker, front liner, medic, online protester, active board member, or peaceful protester. From your home, to the front lines, somewhere, is your role in this movement. I am here asking you to find your role and hop in for the ride. Cause we are in it for the long haul.