Dispatch from the Portland War Zone.

Portland: City Under Siege

A number of friends from outside Oregon have asked “what the *** is going on in Portland” and have asked for my thoughts. One wrote “I’d be interested in your personal observations knowing that most news sources are biased one way or another.” My response 10 days ago:

“Well, there have been a LOT of peaceful protests. Like 50+ days of them. People march, there are speeches, there are chants, and then they mostly go home. A small number hang around, and more show up after the peaceful protesters go home (since peaceful is not their thing), and some of them are avowed anarchists and actual vandals. These people are out to do bad things. It may have originally been triggered by the death of George Floyd but for these small number, they come out to raise havoc. It had slowly been subsiding, and things were slowing down, police were finally catching a break, and fewer people were showing up and doing bad things. We were almost back to normal.

“And then the President decided he needed a photo op – this time of a city in flames, out of control, under siege, and to demonstrate how he sent troops in to restore order and take back the streets. Of course, none of this was true but sending in federal troops nevertheless resulted in a major flare-up – exactly what Trump wanted for his new pivot to a ‘law and order’ campaign.

“The city was not in flames.  And the city has never been under siege. In fact, before I even heard what the President and his media channels were saying about Portland, I was walking around downtown and everything was Covid normal – yes, some graffiti and boarded up windows from the first nights of the Floyd protests, but not much since then. Violence (with rare exceptions) is uncommon and confined to an area within a block from the police/justice/federal buildings.

“This is not about violent protesters roaming the streets striking out at people and businesses. It is about (a) a ton of people demonstrating peacefully by day and doing NO violence to people or property, and (b) a small number of people dedicated to violence who square off against the cops and try to provoke them. Idiots. Selfish idiots. And they are doing so much harm to the cause of racial justice. And they are giving Trump his campaign commercial.”

Not much has changed since I penned that 10 days ago, except that my comment that “they are doing so much harm to the cause of racial justice” was amplified last week by the head of the Portland chapter of the NAACP in a Washington Post editorial:

“As the demonstrations continue every night in Portland, many people with their own agendas are co-opting, and distracting attention from, what should be our central concern: the Black Lives Matter movement.”

It has been boringly predictable. Late at night, the hard-core few start tossing firecrackers at the federal building, and try to tear down the chain link fence surrounding it. The feds then come out from behind the doors, and they respond in kind, and being laughably ill-trained for this task, they frequently over-react. Violence begets violence. Blame begets blame. The two groups feed off each other, and the people who despise Trump lose all sense of how this is playing out on a national stage, and play right into the false Trump narrative.

There are 30,207 city blocks in Portland. The protests you see on TV involve only a few blocks, meaning that over 30,200 city blocks are untouched by the nightly theatrics. Most days I go to my office downtown, and yes it is safe to walk all over downtown including the area around the federal courthouse and the justice center – just stay a couple of blocks away after 9 or 10pm.

This past Sunday afternoon, between the “riots, violence, and pandemonium” on Saturday night, and the “riots, violence, and pandemonium” on Sunday night, I decided to go for a walk in downtown Portland:

Portland: City in Flames. Actually trash bin fires happen now and then downtown regardless of protests.
The Justice Center used to be the center of protest activity until the feds arrived. Now it is pretty quiet, guarded by cuddly plush toys, and the action has shifted next door to the federal courthouse.
Art in the Park: this is the heart of the park where the protesters gather. It reminded me of Berkeley’s Free Speech area in the mid-1960’s.
The park across the street from the federal courthouse is now largely populated by homeless and those serving the homeless, at least during the daytime. I noticed something caustic in the air as I walked through the area. It was leftovers from the last night’s tear gas. Even 12 hours later, it was very uncomfortable and I left quickly.
Late at night, those intent on provoking a federal response try to tear down this fence surrounding the federal courthouse. During the day, workers repair it. The cycle continues the next night. And the next day. During the day, no one is around except the workers and the mostly homeless in the park across the street, and a lot of people like me wandering around taking pictures.
I wasn’t clear what the political significance was of tearing down the Walk/Don’t Walk sign. In the background is the park across from the federal courthouse, filled with homeless tents.
Mom’s here.
Across the street from the park, life continues without obvious impact from the protests.
Two blocks from the courthouse, Starbucks remains open.

A quick health update for those interested (and the rest of you please feel free to bail now): I’m doing much better. Most of the radiation burns are gone. I am mostly pain-free. My tongue remains swollen and my speech somewhat garbled, but those who listen to me say it’s better than they expected. It will get even better as the swelling goes down. And if it doesn’t, they’ll go in and snip the excess away. My taste buds are coming back slowly. The fact that I have any taste at all is better than what I was prepared for. I have a PetScan coming up next week to confirm that all the cancer is gone. Thanks everyone who is still reading for thinking of me during the last 4+ months.

14 thoughts on “Dispatch from the Portland War Zone.

  1. Ken,

    So good to hear from you and to get a boots-on-the-ground view of what’s happening in the streets of Portland. Your description aligns well with what we’ve been hearing on MSNBC and reading in the NYT and the Washington Post.

    I agree with those who doubt that Trump’s replay of Nixon’s law and order playbook will work from an electoral perspective. More worrisome to me is the way in which he and Barr are using the occupation of cities’ streets as a beta test for the declaration of martial law on Nov 4th, maybe 5th.

    Glad to hear that you continue to improve but I have a sneaky suspicion that, typically, you are sugarcoating the description.

    Hugs, df

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Thanks David. Any time the mayor of an American city has to plead for a cease-fire with troops sent over the city’s objection by an American president, you know we are in uncharted territory.


  2. Thanks, Ken! You have confirmed pretty much everything I have already believed is happening there and in other places around our country. I am also pleased that you seem to be recovering well from your cancer and surgery. God bless!


  3. Appreciated the perspective from a trusted source. There aren’t many that exist anymore. But most important was pleased about your progress.


  4. Thanks Ken,
    Again, it was great to see you yesterday, even if virtually! Thanks also for this first-hand look at Portland. I’ll admit except for a quick early morning trip to the dentist, I’ve avoided downtown Portland altogether. Nice to see it’s nothing like is being portrayed on social and national media.
    Great news on your progress, too!


  5. Hi Ken. Firstly, we are so happy to hear your recovery is progressing well. Keep it up. We are always happy to get your updates. The situation regarding Portland is most interesting. Thanks so much for that. And we all agree that Trump is a total idiot. He always finds a way to fan the flames to incite division. Dangerous man.
    Keep on getting better and give a hug to Carol for us. Cheers from your Saskie friends, Jean and Harvey


  6. Ken, Thanks again for sharing your cancer journey and good news of some sense of taste returning. Will be thinking and praying for you regarding the PetScan. Keep on keeping on!

    Your Portland perspective was most welcome and refreshing. It almost felt like back in Walter Cronkite’s day of informing the public of what was happening, not sensationalizing the news. I have little faith in present news media to report the news as it REALLY is. Pictures were very helpful and it still looks like the beautiful city I remember visiting when we lived in Central Oregon from 2000-04.


  7. Thanks for setting your world straight, Ken! And for the health update. Would love to hear how last week’s scan turned out. Glad things are well on to the road of a full recovery. Hugs to you and Carol.


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