Oppose Ted Wheeler’s Protest Ordinance

Below is my letter to Portland City Council urging them to oppose Ted Wheeler’s proposed ordinance to give himself and the Portland Police Bureau power to shut down protests.

Dear members of Portland City Council,

I write to ask that you oppose Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed ordinance allowing the Police Commissioner and Portland Police Bureau to enact time/manner/place restrictions on protests in our city.

I write first as a committed antifascist who has participated in many demonstrations in Portland, especially in the last several years. Time and time again, I have witnessed peaceful groups of people demonstrating against racism, fascism, and violence against vulnerable communities, who have been attacked by the Portland Police Bureau and right-wing demonstrators. While the Portland Police have repeatedly accused antifascist demonstrators of employing violent tactics or projectile weapons, I can honestly say that I have only ever seen such actions in response to police aggression, and I fear that this proposed ordinance only makes those kinds of confrontations more likely. As you well know, Portland’s Police Bureau has a shameful history of targeting and harassing activists, people of color, and folks with disabilities in this city, and we should not augment the Bureau’s legal authority to detain, interrupt, or attack protesters.

And as I’m sure you’ll hear from many folks more qualified than myself to say so, this ordinance runs afoul of an established 9th Circuit precedent concerning prior restraint of protests, Collins v. Jordan. There is no meaningful distinction between this proposed ordinance and the proposed restrictions on protest in Collins, meaning that the city will not only likely lose a lawsuit challenging the law, it will be also forced to expend General Fund dollars to do so. This is not a responsible use of public funds.

All of that being said, my primary objection to this ordinance is a moral one. Let me put it simply: marchers have taken to the streets of Portland because fascism is on the rise in the United States. Immigrant families across the US are being rounded up and detained in makeshift camps with no oversight or due process, with children torn from their parents’ arms, sometimes quite literally. Right-wing terrorists have drawn inspiration from organizations like Patriot Prayer, and have maimed and murdered vulnerable members of communities, as we’ve seen in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and right here in Portland. Unhoused individuals are swept from the relative safety of self-managed camps out into the cold and the rain, even as cities fail to meet their communities’ needs for adequate affordable, accessible housing and emergency shelters. The President has outright called himself a nationalist at the same moment he deploys troops to the Mexican border to threaten and harass a caravan of vulnerable Central American migrants, families from countries which have been destabilized by US foreign policy and military intervention over a period of decades. I could, unfortunately, go on.

We march and we are militant because this is what the historical moment demands. As the old saying goes, you cannot remain neutral while on a moving train. I am often cynical about politics, especially locally, but I am nothing short of inspired to see thousands of Portlanders taking to the streets to fight the routine assaults inflicted on our vulnerable neighbors. Now is not the time — if there ever is one — for milquetoast, both-sides-are-bad rhetoric, nor solutions which indulge that false equivalence, such as the one in front of you this week. At this moment in history, you have a choice: do you stand with right-wing agitators who seek to eradicate their supposed enemies by violent means, often using the police as a proxy to do so? Or do you stand with the communities which are rising up to demand an end to fascism, to demand justice, to demand liberation?

Choose justice. Reject this ordinance. Stand with the vulnerable members of our community who are very literally fighting for their lives.

In solidarity,