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Live from PDX Part 1
Faith Reflections from the Justice Center
I want to spend the next few posts, over the course of the next few weeks, for as long as I am able, sharing my reflections from on the ground of the Uprising in Portland.
If I endeavor to do this, we must covenant with one another Beloved.
First if you haven’t read my post about why #BlackWritingMatters please stop. Read that, then come back to this post.
Second and the most important. I do not in any way represent any of the organizers on the ground or the young Black leaders fighting for their lives. I will not be critiquing their tactics, demands, platforms, or really anything. I wholeheartedly stand in solidarity with them and only go the Justice Center because I am Black. I can only sit on the sidelines for so long.
I have been involved in the struggle for my people’s liberation simply by existing. But actively resisting systemic racism since Trayvon ( SAY HIS NAME), and investigating white supremacy in this country. As my moral framework collapsed and I became more and more in the state of enraged Baldwin so glibly references, the Charleston Massacre happened. It was no longer “I support my people ideologically.” I knew I could leverage my relative proximity to whiteness due to my complexion, and my ordination in the great struggle ahead. That’s why I show up. I am currently doing this work under the leadership of Rabbi Stone and the Portland Interfaith Resistance. You can read about her work here.
I have only lived in the area for 6 months. Honestly that means I dont know the struggle of Black people in Portland. But I know my struggle as Queer Black man in America. It’s incredibly disingenuous to the Movement and to the young Black bodies putting themselves in harm’s way to have anything to say that contradicted their leadership. Some would call that being traitor to the people at a time like this.
But I think its important for faith leaders to have one Black perspective they value or trust on the ground. As long as this community is committed to supporting this work and wants to hear about it, I will write my ass off. This is too important. This also means my copy editor may not be able to keep up. You will get post like this. Shitty grammar and all. Grammar is a white supremacist construct meant to privilege those with white educational support systems. There is a reason we say grammar Nazi. So, until I can afford to grow the team this is what you get.
I will also never identify anyone, but public figures widely known to be present. By this I mean mostly clergy who I know are ok with it. I will never refer by name, or with easy identifiable descriptions, any frontline freedom fighters’ with phrases other than “Young Black Organizer”, or “Black member of Wall of Moms.”
This goes doubly so for the folks taking casualties for us. They are young, gifted and Black. They are the future of our people. They are the present of the struggle. And the ancestors of the past dance with joy at their work.
That’s the covenant.
Live from PDX Part 1.
I have been going down on a rotating schedule with the PCIR whose work I highlighted in this post above. First let me tell you one truth of interfaith organizing that has been my North Star. Stick with the Rabbis. Always. My experience when bullets start flying or the Billy clubs come out Rabbi’s throw their bodies and lives recklessly into the wheels of injustice. It was true in Philadelphia with POWER and its true here. Most Christian leaders will leave you lying on the ground. They have provided folks to partner with me, a medic, and folks who understand the stakes are higher for me as a former felon. Also protective equipment like a gas mask for the chemical warfare we are treated to every night. They understand I won’t be released with a ticket and depending on whatever bullshit they pin on me I could be looking at years in prison with months of a protracted case complicated by my formerly incarcerated status.
Example-most volunteers, or the press, or the Nurses for Black Lives, or really anyone with common sense all wear bulletproof vest. Every night. It’s illegal for me to wear one because I sold weed in the 90’s. When I talk about the criminalization of Black bodies leading to our people literally being unable to defend ourselves, this is a great example. Here I am defending a democracy that I can’t even engage in, being attacked by federal troops possibly, but its illegal for me to have protective gear.
To say the mood changes from day to day is an understatement. Things like this are always a negotiation in my household. After the death of George Floyd, it took almost 40 days to get the blessing of my family to put my body out there. By the time I hit the scene this was a hardened and traumatized group of organizers, leaders, everyday Portland folks, Black youth led groups that had sparked the whole thing, and the menagerie of people types scenes like this generate. If you ever went to Occupy Wallstreet very similar vibes. Not in tactics or leadership or even why we are there. We are there for #BlackLives. Full Stop.
But it has become a full on Temporal Autonomous Zone an anarchist theory by poet Hakim Bey. You can find an explanation here.
There is an encampment centered around a group called Riot Ribs that just feeds people 24-7 across the street from the Justice Center. Because people deserve to eat and if we are going to have a revolution why not feed them? This has created an encampment outside the Justice Center the feds have routinely broken up, and is then either rebuilt, or people just scatter and return.
The Wall of Moms shows up every night and I know they aren’t the fucking story, and the story of the Black Mothers in the vanguard are erased, but Holy God in Heaven are they amazing. I spend most my time trying to be like water but with a purple vest that says clergy that isn’t easy. Have I witnessed internal violence at the camp? In a word, yes. But that is myopic view of what is happening right in front of our eyes if we but see. What’s really happening is community is being born and every community of humanity has had violence, white people are just encultured to paying an armed force of thugs to keep it out of their eyesight. Furthermore, we learned all this from you. We were stolen, enslaved, had our identities wiped away, and were terrorized for 400 years. We can get a little jumpy at protest.
Also, the issue is simple. The Portland protest are about one thing. #BlackLivesMatter.
To that point-
Ted Wheeler the Portland Mayor and his racist police force ratcheted up the violence, the tension, and made it possible for a fascist secret police force to even operate in America. Ted Wheeler is the commissioner of the police force also. He is directly responsible for everything that plays out over the next few weeks and across the country. Another white progressive leader who doubled down on white supremacy and now it could unravel the whole republic.
Ted Wheeler needs to resign and allow Black leadership from Portland defund and dismantle the PPD and create a more restoratively just system in Portland.
He is the problem. Full stop. I’m telling you this because I see Teddy running around CNN making himself a hero. He is going to make a national political play and he has the track record. Do not allow this monster use the death of Brother George as his “Mayor Pete” moment. The locals call him “Gas Me Teddy Wheeler.” Don’t vote for him because he can say cis het white in a sentence, I guess? I don’t know.
I have been signing off with this. It’s worse than you think here.
Send support to local orgs. If I post one, I will look like I’m playing favorites. I’m not. I’m just trying to paint the scene for you. Every night a group of freedom fighters who first came because of George Floyd and for #BlackLivesMatter have now become the front lines for this democracy you tell us Black people is so great. If that’s important to you then pay attention.
In the name of the parent, the rebel, and the spirit+
The Rev. Lenny Duncan