Letter from an Occupied City

To all the cities, movements, rebellions, DSA chapters, and individuals who have shown our city solidarity and support, directly or indirectly, we send our love, our gratitude, and our hope for a new future much different from this present world. We will never forget how you have aided us while you yourselves are fighting against brutal local police forces.

Robert Evans: “Update: a Portland sheriff’s deputy just threatened Garrison and I, telling us (while we were already a safe distance behind him) “if you get any closer than this I’m going to pepper spray you.” His colleagues than came up BEHIND another journalist and pepper sprayed him”

We have seen the violence across the United States ramp up in your cities, where you have sustained continued protest against police murders of Black friends and family. We have seen local police, whether in cities controlled by Republicans or Democrats, brutally crack down on any mass demonstration of protest against the police. They have assaulted you violently, weaponized criminal charges against you, intimidated you through pre-emptive arrests, and have shown themselves to be lawless, unaccountable, and irredeemable. We send you our solidarity and will never leave you to fight alone.

You may have heard of a “withdrawal” of Federal officers from Portland streets, and that this means the end of the occupation of our city. We do not believe that Federal officers are truly gone, nor do we believe the new collaboration between Portland Police, Multnomah County Sheriffs, Oregon State Police, and Federal “advisors” is a better situation or worth celebrating. We are still being occupied by violent police forces that beat us for protesting and intimidate us into complacence. They are now simply under the control of Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler and Governor Kate Brown. That the governor would call her plan for cooperation between state police and the Feds a “withdrawal” shows the opportunism and cowardice of our local liberal leadership. Governor Brown, in negotiating with the Trump administration, has aligned her police forces with them and legitimized the occupation. Although Federal forces have been quiet for the last few days, we have not seen a decrease in violent policing. This occupation is not over. If anything, it has simply shifted hands.

@shane_burley1 “Tonight was the most brutal treatment that the police have given protesters that I have seen, beating people who were running away, attacking journalists, savagely and cruely mocking people too hurt to escape. At it was Portland Police, not the feds. @tedwheeler what will you do?”

The US, whether through local or Federal forces, is using Portland to implement the next phase of its emboldened and newly domesticated imperialism. This country has tested these tactics for years against undocumented immigrants through ICE raids and against Native Nations as they did at Standing Rock. This nationalist and racist terror apparatus is not the work of one singular administration, but has been perfected through decades of capitulation to and worship of Capital, approved and enacted by the bipartisan agreement of our illegitimate state. It’s now being disseminated through collaborations between the Feds and our local and state police.

We have clearly threatened the Empire. We are in this place because we have disturbed order. As we have chanted in the streets, where there is no justice, there will be no peace. And this Empire relies on a magnitude of injustice. The Imperialist Colonizer government of the United States has profited greatly off the super exploitation of Black and brown labor, and it is content to spend whatever portion of its hoarded wealth is needed to thoroughly subjugate Black and brown people through the violence of policing. Because the police across this country and in this city murder our Black friends and family and neighbors in order to repress and terrorize Black communities, we have resisted and rebelled. We are suffering the consequences and we are doing so willingly because we know we are right. Only the full abolition of the police in the United States will end this violence.

Video from Portland Independent Documentarians with this description: “PPB executed a short bullrush knocking several protesters over and macing at least one person.” This video was retweeted by Tuck Woodstock saying: “Mayor Ted Wheeler was recently quoted as saying that federal officers “brought a new kind of fear” to the city streets. These are the city streets tonight as Portland police bullrush and mace participants at a police brutality protest.”

That the United States is mortally challenged by a Black uprising to end police violence should say everything about its existential need to maintain racial violence. It wants to continue to murder Black people with impunity. It has brought its soldiers of war back from foreign lands to enforce its dominion on an unruly mass. It has imported its own colonial violence to avoid ever being held accountable for its crimes.

For three weeks we could palpably feel the pressure of the Empire crumbling above us. The dread of new violence loomed each day. When Federal forces were still in charge, we heard the sounds of helicopters ring through our city all night long. We heard the flashbangs from 50 blocks away. We smelled chlorine in the air miles away on the eastside of the river. We still don’t know what gases were being used at night, or their long-term consequences. (Federal officers collected munitions from the street and commanded the press at gunpoint not to touch any casings on the ground.) Spy planes were circling our city and gathering our cell phone data.

Those of us who visited the protest zone were poisoned, with unknown long-term effects. Many were beaten or hit by munitions. Dozens were arrested, and were sometimes held for days at a time. They were abused and threatened by both local and federal police, forced to sign a document that legally bars them from protesting, and were often let out of jail into a cloud of tear gas with no shoes, no money, no mask and no phone. Yet thousands of people continued to come out and are still resisting. The people of the city of Portland — the beaten down, the exploited, the oppressed — are still coming out. We have created phalanxes of newly radicalized people who are coming out: in defense of Black lives, to oppose police violence, and demanding that we defund, dismantle, and abolish the police.

If it is not yet clear to the world, capitalism is in decay. It is happening more rapidly than we thought. We do not have the ability to predict the future, but we can imagine some potential outcomes. It is time for us to think about how we want to build that other world we’re always talking about.

Garrison Davis: “The police charge toward a bicycle with a headlight and beat up multiple people.”

The movement in Portland, led by Black femmes and the houseless, and supported directly by tens of thousands of Portlanders, has already begun to show us the way. We have seen massive growth in decentralized and autonomous community care efforts unlike our city has ever seen. Care during protests comes in the form of protest medics, onsite clergy, free food, and courageous people with leaf blowers. We are seeing people coming together to provide food, water, and a ride home to protesters released from jail. Our community is providing legal support, supplies, trainings, and an abundance of emotional labor. In order to fight this hard and this long, we have learned very quickly that we need to take care of each other. Occupation is physically exhausting and emotionally draining. We are learning as we go.

We are seeing people spontaneously respond to the weapons of an invading army. We have seen mobilizations of restaurant workers, the unemployed, labor unions, moms and dads. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with comrades and trusted each other to keep ourselves safe. We have seen a community grow in front of us. And we have begun to collectively imagine what we do next.

Sarah Mirk illustration of a person playing the drum and another dancing: “When someone in the future asks what happened in 2020, I’ll tell them I once saw people dancing in the street in gas masks.”

We are grateful to everyone who has shared their solidarity, their resources, and their encouragement with us. We are struggling but we are not defeated. We encourage other DSA chapters to signal boost what’s happening in Portland. We will continue the work of assessing what is happening here and we will share that assessment with you. We hope that this desperate attempt by the state to suppress the will of the working class does not happen in your city. But if it does, and where it has, we ask that you reach out to us as a resource. The best defense against a hostile state is organizing. If you find yourselves in our situation, we know that you will be able to respond inventively and enthusiastically. We will support you as you have supported us. And together, we will win.

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The Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Hailing from all corners of the socialist left, our goal is a better world beyond capitalism.

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