Story by Pete Shaw
There is a keen slice of the anti-fascist community whose thirst for combating fascism and its attendant bigotries, particularly white supremacy, is not easily quenched. They require something else, another level of kicks.
Their craving was slaked in the early afternoon on Saturday June 29 with a raucous dance party in Lownsdale Square that included free vegan milk shakes. It was the most recent of Popular Mobilization’s (PopMob) outreach to people who want to fight fascism promoted by white supremacist groups such as Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer, which was meeting in downtown Portland the same day, but are not comfortable confronting it so militantly as Antifa and the Portland branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Pop Mob understands that resistance to fascism comes in many forms. Some people will stand on the front lines of a march that directly confronts the white supremacists who sometimes come from out of town to meet up in Portland and occasionally attack its citizens, staring into the faces of armed to the teeth riot police who have a history of protecting white supremacists while attacking anti-fascists. Others may prefer to march against white supremacy, but at some distance behind. And still some may find their level of comfort sitting in the shade of tree, sipping on a vegan milkshake among others who like them oppose fascism, but who seek to avoid direct confrontation. The anti-fascism community is diverse.
No matter what level of resistance people wish to put up, PopMob continues reaching out and making sure they have a place. As Effie Baum of PopMob noted in a break between beats, “There’s lots of ways you can be anti-fascist.”
Saturday’s dance party and milk shake feast coincided with the celebrations of the 50 year anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City which began on June 28, 1969 and is one of the most prominent events of the fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Nearly 300 people gathered in Lownsdale Square, some getting down and shaking it to the music playing over the PA, others simply enjoying the comfort of their comrades, all declaring their resistance to an ideology built upon dehumanizing large swathes of people whose existence does not conform to the rigid strictures of white supremacy.
Nearby, at Pioneer Square, a handful of white supremacists had gathered, and there had been rumor of a similar meetup at Waterfront Park. Around 1:00, a contingent of Antifa and DSA members gathered at the northeast corner of the park, and soon, along with some of the other party goers, a crowd of about 200 moved out onto SW Salmon Street and began marching toward the waterfront. It was met by a force of riot cops, and soon there began a haphazard game of marching cat and mouse with the anti-fascists moving along downtown Portland’s streets, seeking out the white supremacists, forcing the Portland police, whose bicycle officers were also out in force, to be constantly on the move. Some of those confrontations resulted in police shooting pepper spray and firing pepper balls at anti-fascists.
The milkshakes proved as agile as the anti-fascists. From the back of a small truck, members of PopMob ladled out shakes to their marching comrades. Whether on the streets or back in Lownsdale–where some anti-fascists safely remained–the shakes served as a tasty reminder of the need to create, as Pop Mob puts it, “a mass movement of everyday anti-fascists.”
An important element of PopMob’s approach is that it recognizes the importance of a diversity of tactics,. Including the power of ridicule. When anti-fascists confronted the white supremacists at Pioneer Square, the latter sometimes found themselves doused with milkshakes and Silly String.
And when the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) once again showed its allegiance to the white supremacists by declaring on Twitter, without any substantiation, that it had heard rumors that the milkshakes contained quick drying cement, PopMob was quick in its response, issuing a humorous statement of transparency regarding the allegation that included the recipe for the over 750 milkshakes it had served on Saturday. Along with 15 gallons of cashew milk, 30 gallons of coconut based ice cream, and industrial immersion blenders, the recipe also included “a group of cute queers in booty shorts,” “a fuck ton of buckets,” “and most importantly, RAINBOW FUCKING SPRINKLES.”
Later, when PPB refused to take retract its unproven charge, PopMob issued another statement noting that, “Since facing public scrutiny, the Police defended their unsubstantiated tweet saying they had an anonymous email threat. This was later revealed to be yet another manufactured narrative when it became clear the email came after the tweet had been sent…Media outlets across the country reported the tale spun by the PPB as fact with no evidence, showing reckless disregard for the truth and causing the misinformation campaign to spread wider. The lack of journalistic integrity and “if it bleeds it leads” sensationalism only put our community members in further danger. PopMob stands in solidarity with the antifascist community in Portland and will not let this absurd spectacle stop us from continuing to build a mass movement of antifascist resistance.”
As festive and fun as the event was, there of course was the very serious motive of confronting fascism. As Baum told the crowd in Lownsdale Square, “We need to show there’s a lot of ways you can be anti-fascist. We need our friends in the black bloc to protect us so we can be here, but we also need to show up so that there’s a lot of us, so it’s not just on their backs all the time. We are strong as a community, and when we show up, then we can outnumber them, and then they will see that this is not worth their time, that the majority are against them, and that when we just sit at home, and when people say, ‘If we don’t show up they’ll just get bored and go away,’ that’s bullshit. Because they’ll just find targets. And that actually comes from a place of privilege, because if you can just ignore them, then that means you are not affected by them. But for some of us, that’s a luxury that we don’t have, so we have to show up, and it’s really important that our allies show up too.”
PopMob’s Everyday Anti-Fascist outreach, along with work of other anti-fascist organizations in Portland, is having some effect. When the group organized its first event at last August’s Stop the Hate rally, it helped gather together a contingent of anti-fascists that dwarfed the 500 white supremacists who had gathered in Waterfront Park. At the front of the rally were, as usual, the more militant anti-fascists, including those with Antifa. As one went back through the crowd, there was a sense that there was a greater safety, that if there was confrontation, those who did not want direct engagement would not get it. They did, however, find themselves immersed in the New Orleans flavored marching jazz of the Unpresidented Brass Band and some people dressed as clowns.
These tactics were certainly not as militant as others, but they nonetheless brought more people into the anti-fascist fold, some of whom for the first time–from a safe position–saw how the Portland police have coddled white supremacists at the expense of the safety of anti-fascists. At the event, one police officer fired a concussion grenade directly at a front line anti-fascist, and if they had not been wearing a helmet, the impact surely would have killed them. The police fired other weaponry at the anti-fascists, and not long after, Chief of Police Danielle Outlaw gloated about her forces kicking their butts.
However, following the event, there was clearly a greater sense of unity among a wider array of people who were anti-fascist. That growth has continued at the expense of white supremacist groups. The group of 30 white supremacists who showed up at Pioneer Square on Saturday was supposed to be much larger. It had been a year since a large contingent of them brought a series of violent melees into Portland’s streets, an event that they considered a major victory, and it was putatively an anniversary that was to be celebrated by much larger numbers.
As PopMob noted on its Facebook page, “We had an amazing day yesterday and it was a wildly successful event getting us one step closer to chasing these hate groups out of our city! Each event they have is smaller and smaller. Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer aren’t even bothering to show up anymore. All of that is to say, IT’S WORKING! Coming together as a fierce, diverse, unified antifascist community, and standing strong against these groups, has made a lot of them stay home….They’re losing and they know it.”