City of Roses: Coming Soon to a City Near You

“If The Line Is Not Drawn In The Sand Right Now, America May Be Staring Down The Barrel Of Martial Law In The Middle Of A Presidential Election.” ~Senator Ron Wyden, (D Oregon)

After ethics backlash over Ivanka Trump's posts about Goya beans ...

What can I possibly say that is not depressing about this?  I do appreciate the Naked Athena and leaf blower guys, as well as the wall of moms. They lend a special Portland twist to this which is uplifting in the way only Portland can be, and it is still massively depressing. This is something I had hoped to be wrong about.  I love the concept that one naked vulva can stop the Feds. Good for her, whoever she is. The leaf blowers incidentally are to clear the air of tear gas. What we need now is a cosmic leaf blower to blow out the rhetoric of hate, the manipulation of the population and the corruption that taints the politics and public sphere of this country.

Meanwhile, as he sends in the Federal troops to Portland, Trump poses behind a row of canned beans, smiling, pleased with himself. Then, next step after beans, he escalates a trial run to see how the populace responds to Federal troops, military gear on display, on the streets of Portland. Or as the lady who started the “Wall of Moms,” Bev Barnum stated to Michael Moore several days ago, Trump is “target practicing.” He is and the target practice will be coming to your city soon.

As this experiment in tyranny ensues, I find myself wondering what it must be like to accept a paycheck to beat up a Navy veteran who stands, oak like, as he is being beaten and gassed. He was as elegant in his calm as is the lady doing yoga in front of a line of young men dressed in battle gear. I would enjoy knowing them, but what is it like to assault your fellow citizens? I believe it is not the pay that motivates these recruits from border control and Homeland Security, it is belief system, it is the propaganda. They have been convinced that their fellow citizens are the enemy. This needs to change or we are heading directly for the Brown Shirt world.

I have a friend who is seventy-six and lives in Portland, she is veteran of civil disobedience, one of the oldest and most honored forms of first amendment speech in this country. Remember the Boston Tea Party? She demonstrated in New York City in the late sixties, early seventies and I met her as we took over a building together on a cold winter’s night. The building belonged to the City of New York but was unused. We were part of a group trying to establish a health clinic in an extremely poor area of the Village. The word underserved had not yet been invented. The women who organized this planned for months. We had doctors, supplies, sponsors and were ready to go. For two weeks we hunkered down in a cold building with no running water and no working anything. I met Martha woman-ing the front door. Late at night an old woman arrived with hot tea for us. It was received with gratitude. She expressed her thanks to us. She seemed too old to be out that late, but she had been an activist herself.

After attempting to negotiate with Mayor Lindsey, a professed moderate, Lindsey sent in the troops. I watched from the second floor of the building as they carried off a friend, holding her by all four limbs, spread out and violated. She fought in terror and rage. I have often wondered what happened to her. The violence with which they arrested her was unnecessary. She was trying to start a clinic. I was horrified that she would be treated this way. That was a moment of awakening. I was nineteen.

The last I saw the space in which the building stood it had been razed and was a parking lot. Joni was correct, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Not that it was paradise, but it could have been for the people in that community who needed help.  Lindsey could not be out maneuvered by women, that was really what the arrests and violence were about. The need for the clinic was real and urgent, it would have cost the city nothing. The politics were that Lindsey couldn’t allow a group of women to force his hand. The same principle is true today, the players have changed but the control still lies in the hands of the powerful and wealthy.

The irony is months later, and arrests later, the City of New York allowed the clinic group to rent a city building for a dollar a month. We won after all, important to remember.

Forty-nine years later, displaying courage and wit the Navy Veteran and the naked lady, the moms, and the leaf blowers, are working for the same cause: justice. In 1971 we were attempting to create economic and medical justice for all those in the neighborhood who had no access to health care. Today the people in the streets of Portland are attempting to encourage and promote a country that is just and free of racism and all the isms that go with it. If we can’t treat one group of people with respect, we are likely to treat another group poorly. The question I sit with today is will the people in the rural and suburban areas, the Republican areas understand this? Will they understand that these 17-year old’s, the moms, and the naked lady are fighting for them?

Humanity’s endless problem is the othering of people. If they look different, sound different, if their humanity and lives are not understood, xenophobia, racism, classism, and sexism overtake reason. A caricature is created. There are all sorts of fantasies of how dangerous the “other” is.  Many of the politicians in power want the public to believe that all who are not white are dangerous. They encourage the fantasies of danger. They promote fear because with fear people can be controlled. From what I know from living in the lower east side of Manhattan (before it was fashionable) the folks who lived there were too busy trying to survive to rob you of your job, your stereo, your anything. I am not saying there were no exceptions but overall, this was true. Life was hard. People who worked two to three jobs to pay the bills, had little energy left for much else. What is markedly different today is that the rich are far wealthier. 

Today there are all sorts of people protesting, Garrison Davis is documenting what is going on in this small corner of a very white city. For over 56 days Portland and other cities have been holding protests against police brutality toward African Americans. The protestors are diverse, coming from all backgrounds. It is profoundly positive to me that many of the protesters are white, finally, expressing the truth that if one group is mistreated then we are all at risk for the same. The fact that my friend dragged, spread eagled, from the occupied building in ’71 was white was irrelevant to the police. She was challenging a long-held value system that the police, the mayor and the men were not to be challenged. There is a penalty for insisting on being treated equal or insisting that others be treated equally. We are about to learn what the penalty is.

Money is made from the labor of those who are othered. The very wealthy want their rules and property protected. Whoever said that the love of money was the root of all evil was correct. This country’s wealth was built on slavery. The continued wealth of the few is still built on racism and the othering of whatever group they wish to pay less. Providing healthcare for the poor was not in their interest in 1971 and it still is not.

It is important to understand that this is not just an issue of ethics, it is about economics and power. Money buys power and the naked Athena, the Navy Veteran, the leaf blowers and all the protestors in Portland are a threat to both money and power. If I believe that I am your equal, even if you are Jeff Bezos then I won’t put up with poor treatment, no healthcare and lousy wages. I will honor myself. I know my own value. The folks out protesting in Portland recognize this.

Equality is not just a moral concept it is a major threat to the wealthy. These people are good at manipulating public opinion. It has served them well for thousands of years. The values this country was founded on was that there are lesser people, people just a step above the animals. And remember, we eat animals. Our attempt in 1971 to establish a clinic, a safe place for people to be treated well, was threatening to the powerful. These folks will not give easily.

There is a social experiment going on in Portland. Bringing in the equivalent of military to a civilian protest is the experiment. Will Trump get away with it? Will protecting his election and continued presidency by instituting military control of a city that is one of the more liberal in the nation be tolerated? The protestors say no. The media is mixed on this. Many in the media understand that bringing military forces, carrying live ammunition into a U.S. city is not justified, constitutional or legal.  It is a tactic advanced to promote fear. Protest is always labeled a riot, even though the First Amendment is clear on this, but this is overlooked by the conservative political spin. If people are violent, which is what the word riot implies, then the troops can shoot with impunity.  There are already people gravely wounded in Portland and many fear the use of live ammunition, although rubber bullets will take out an eye.

My friend in Portland tells me what she hears through the Portland grapevine. People are being snatched into unmarked cars and the Federal Troops are sexually assaulting the women they pick off the street. Not full on rape, yet. With the Patriot Act in force, women and men can be disappeared with no rights to call a lawyer or family. If you are labeled a terrorist, it is now possible to do what Pinochet was so well known for, detention and murder. In his day, with his military, he pitched people who dissented out of airplanes. They were never heard from again. The word “desaparecidos” was coined. The disappeared. The word on the street, both from my friend and from other sources, is that the Federal forces are not identified and do not identify themselves when they pick up protestors. The protestors are not charged with any crime and sometimes released later and sometimes not. As there is no way to keep track of who is picked up and who is not released it is not clear how many people are being warehoused and where. Is this the American you signed on for?

This is a display of power, a warning of what this administration will do to you if you object to the current structure of society. You will have no rights. You may get picked up and detained, and any rights as a citizen you have are then gone.  Why this display of power? For Trump to assert his ability to dictate. In the country of the free he will be dictator if he possibly can. It is happening now. Watch it live on your streaming service.

The revolution will be televised. The revolution is what we as citizens do about this. Do we simply watch as our democracy, however imperfect, is taken away? I hope not.  Starting with the package of laws that comprise the USA Patriot Act, the laws must change. The USA Patriot Act is neither patriotic or American and has infringed on the Bill of Rights, suspended it, since 2001. These laws have sat waiting for the right dictator to take advantage of them. He is. This is happening in Portland now and this show is set to open in Albuquerque, Seattle, and Chicago as I write.

It is time to speak up for our Democracy before it is gone. The time for silence is over. It is also a time to wake up. The black person down the street does not want your flat screen TV, he or she wants equality and not to die at the hands of the police. It is vital that we learn we all suffer from divide and conquer. Unless we stand together, we will lose this country. Freedom is not about whether you wear a mask or not, it is about whether you have a right to the police person identifying himself and whether you can call you family or lawyer. It is about the basic and hallowed values of the First Amendment.

It is time to insist on justice for all or this scene out of the Nazi playbook will be coming to a town near you.

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