As a result of the nationwide solidarity marches, federal troops, under Department of Homeland Security control, have agreed to leave Portland. The world watched the escalation of federal troops’ harassment, arrests and beatings of Portland, Ore. protesters, and they responded with one demand: “U.S. troops out of Portland!”
More than 60 demonstrators were arrested and 46 charged with felonies. What began as a racial justice movement became a broader campaign to drive the federal forces from the city.
President Donald Trump and DHS have repeatedly labeled the protesters in Portland and other cities as “violent anarchists.” But protestors formed a “Wall of Moms” that grew to include hundreds of women in yellow shirts linking arms. A “Wall of Dads” in orange shirts included many with leaf blowers to push tear gas away from the crowds. Most recently, there was a “Wall of Veterans.” Many nurses on July 25 even showed up in blue scrubs.
Large demonstrations in Portland gathered for two solid months, increasing local and national support. At the same time, the U,S. government sent federal troops to abduct, threaten and arrest targeted youth.
While the Portland police force and Mayor Ted Wheeler previously collaborated with these troops, they changed their tune and demanded their withdrawal, saying that they incited violence through their actions.
On July 25, the state lost its bid for a restraining order against the four federal agencies. That same day, at least 2,000 demonstrators, primarily young Latinx, protested at Los Angeles City Hall. There was no police presence.
New to these demonstrations were scores of signs by young Latinx and their families demanding justice for Army Spc. Veronica Guillen, who was murdered April 22 by Army Spc. Aaron Robinson. Her remains were just found near the Fort Hood base.
Everyone wore masks and practiced physical distancing.
After speeches deploring cop brutality, and demanding “US feds out of Portland,” a small group led by the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party split into its own march. After more speeches, another group of more than 1,500 marched through downtown Los Angeles, rallied in front of the Los Angeles Police Department and proceeded to the Department of Homeland Security.
At this point, a small group of anarchists, ultra-leftists and undercover cops spray-painted slogans on the U.S. Courthouse building and broke its windows. The majority correctly stayed in the streets, refusing to be suckered into this provocative action.
The march continued to the 101 Freeway entrance, where again the small group of self-proclaimed leaders urged marchers onto the highway ramp to be arrested. But the overwhelming majority refused to move, so as to avoid negative publicity for an otherwise peaceful march. This way, law enforcement wouldn’t have reason to use violence against the protestors.
Seeing that they failed to involve hundreds, they continued their march, while 95% of the crowd dispersed and left, realizing a confrontation was in store. But some people were intent on having a clash with the police to “Shut the fucker down,” as a woman with a bullhorn proclaimed. They ultimately had their melee and some were arrested.
During the massive protests that have lasted for weeks in many cities, small groups of self-proclaimed more militant demonstrators were unable to carry out these encounters. But as the movement has ebbed and focused on cases of local police brutality, bringing down symbols of the Confederacy, getting police out of the schools, pushing back on all examples of racism inherent in capitalism, face-offs like this, often provoked by police, can discredit the movement that has involved tens of millions of people throughout this country.
Lessons of prior victorious social struggles like the anti-Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement, and the labor movement point to the need for continued massive peaceful, legal mobilizations to push back on police brutality. During the protests after the killings of George Floyd, two labor actions, the June 16 ILWU Oakland rally, port shutdowns on the West Coast and the SEIU on July 20, workers strikes and walkouts around the country were effective, unlike the small groups disrupting traffic or trashing buildings.
Keeping the focus on demands to indict law enforcement officers who killed people such as Andres Guardado and Breonna Taylor is imperative for activists, as well as reopening police brutality cases nationally. Demonstrators have shown that demanding troops out of cities and keeping actions peaceful help engage people becoming anti-racist activists.