Surrounded

Another protest took place last night in my neighborhood, at the edge of which lies the unfortunate home of the local ICE facility.

Around 11pm we heard a siren, then more sirens. Stepping out onto our 19th floor balcony, I noticed one squad car after another circling our building, sirens blaring, lights flashing. I counted at least 4 squad cars and 4 motor cops. By midnight, around 100 to 200 people congregated in the middle of the main intersection adjacent to our condo. Amoeba-like, the crowd first moved one way, then with no apparent motivating cause, switched course, then after awhile, switched direction again. A picnic table once again was dragged into the center of the street. I kept waiting for this one to be lit on fire like the one last week, but the crowd ultimately left without any incendiary activities. A couple of people even moved the picnic table back onto the sidewalk. By 1am, we were able to head back to bed. A walk around the neighborhood this morning revealed no apparent vandalism.

Nonetheless, there is a certain vulnerability that you feel when you are surrounded by events – potentially violent – outside your control. Our safety was never at risk, and yet I had a dim sense what it would be like to feel vulnerable to violence.

I am not sure what these midnight romps accomplish. Organized and peaceful marches have gained the support and participation of millions of people across the country. Those marches have changed minds, and have brought to the fore the need for racial justice and changes in policing. That is how you change society. A midnight march through a residential neighborhood? Sorry, it just pisses people off.

Having observed over 50 years of protests, beginning with the student riots of the late 1960’s, I have some suggestions for the people who organize (if one can use the term) the protests in Portland:

  1. Peaceful protests are more powerful engines of change than violence or destruction. Over 70% of the populace support peaceful protests for racial justice; well over 70% actively oppose violent or destructive protests regardless of the cause.
  2. Protests are more powerful the more people who attend. Thus, they should be scheduled when more people can attend, and they should be publicized for maximum participation.
  3. Accordingly, secretly planned protests that start at 11pm or later on a weeknight will not be as effective as ones that happen during the day on a weekend. (Note: there is a reason why the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 took place on a Sunday during the afternoon, not at 11pm at night. Actually, there are a lot of reasons.)
  4. Disrupting neighborhoods at night, even though populated by a good measure of progressives who share the goal of racial justice, does not serve your cause.
  5. More to the point: if violence and destruction, regardless of the animating cause, becomes the dominating issue in the upcoming election, Trump will win. Is there really anything more that needs to be said?

[Well, maybe one more thing, this regarding a health update from your author. It seems he now has a brain tumor. It’s just a little guy, only about 5 silly millimeters long, that has found purchase on his pituitary gland. It is almost assuredly benign, but it does require some further investigation that will begin in early October. Allowed to grow, it can have an impact on vision, and nothing is more important to me than my sight so surgery is possible. I have already become a frequent flyer in the O.R., so if I do need to go in again, I am hoping I’ve accumulated enough points at least to get upgraded to high-speed internet.]

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