Portland summer

Remember George

First, I should stress that these posts are not about me, photo-ops, social media, videos, and images. Everyone wants to be the hero of their story.  No heros here.  This is about a guy named George Floyd.  George was murdered by those assigned to serve and protect.  George was choked to death for 8 agonizing minutes as he called on his Mama. It’s about a daughter without her papa, brother without a brother, and friends missing their friend. It’s about the ongoing movement for desperately needed social reforms.  

I Can’t Breathe

It’s about the infinite others we will never know about, conveniently forgot, or quietly swept under the rug. It’s about all the deliberate mistakes leading to this defining moment in history. 

It stems from white supremacy, systemic racism, and the pillars of arrogance, hatred, and greed propping up those institutions for hundreds of years. 

Portland protests began in May. They continue today. I’ve casually observed and documented; I’ve also participated in peaceful protest. 

It’s Time

The reform movement is Black Lives Matter (BLM). The unlawful violence, looting and destruction are NOT endorsed by the local Black community, or the respected leadership of the BLM movements, anywhere. The Black community denounced those unlawful activities. The criminal acts are limited to a few bad actors outside of BLM.

The images, videos, and narrative posted are not intended to mis-characterize any culture, race, gender, lifestyle, faith, or group. As both an observer and participant, I captured images and videos of everything, without selection bias. From the beautiful and poetic, to the vulgar and angry. I witnessed all . . . I’m just the messenger.

Democracy is noisy, messy, stinky, and at times vulgar and angry. We don’t get to cherry-pick the parts we like, and discard the rest.  Ideally, every voice and expression have seats at the table. Anger puts teeth into a movement.   How anger is manifested is yet another topic. Good trouble is good. Bad trouble is bad.

Like Gandhi, MLK used civil and peaceful disobedience as a means of effectuating government change.  It’s often a symbolic violation of the law used as a nonviolent / collective means of forcing government concessions. 

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Portland is a city where freedom of expression is encouraged, and frequently exercised. Use it, or lose it. Though the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression, there are cities, towns, and regions of the United States where free and peaceful expression are quietly discouraged — that is, unless it fits their brand. Kudos to Portland Oregon.

I’ve been privileged and honored to both observe and participate, and continue so. I am equally privileged and honored to compose (sort of) all of it here. I’m grateful for each moment. Doing so, I’ve learned much more about others, and myself. Being near those with courage and passion, in turn gave me courage and passion. It’s social osmosis. It’s been a very emotional, and often poignant experience. From day one, to present, my perceptions remain fluid. They changed with each day. My appreciation and respect for the urgency of social reforms grew with each moment on the streets.

As a senior citizen, I wasn’t sure what to expect joining crowds half my age. However, the perpetual saturation of news media left me feeling both scared and angry. Even lonely. I’d grown weary listening to media commentators telling me how I should perceive the world around me. Media sound bites can’t fairly judge, or provide an authentic experience.

Conversely, joining ranks with the hundreds of activists at Portland Ground Zero left me feeling inclusive, belonging, and balanced. As an active participant, I felt the strength of camaraderie, and drew courage from their collective strength and character. No risk, no reward. Strength and courage were the rewards for stepping outside my social cocoon, and pushing my comfort zone boundaries — raise the bar.

If you’re falling, dive.  Accept, and dive into the brutality, then see what you can learn about yourself while there — Buddhist teaching

I had more in-depth conversations with complete strangers in 5-day periods than the past 50 years. Uncomfortable conversations, too.  Conversations about the history of racism in Oregon, and the United States.  Conversations about my privileged seat in the ugly history, too, and what’s needed to turn the tide.  It’s like pulling a thorn out. It’s painful, and necessary, if we are sincere about change.

When possible, I approached and spoke with participants of every race, age, gender, lifestyle, occupations and professions.  Men, women, black, brown, white, gay, straight, young, old, lawyers, doctors, nurses, laborers, artists, musicians, cooks, teachers, moms, dads, and yes, the dear Raging Grannies.  There were individuals and groups from around the globe. Every conceivable group was actively engaged in support of BLM. It was a rare opportunity to speak with a diversity of persons. 

Moreover, I spoke to every member of the Black community possible. I need to listen to their story, and perhaps begin understanding what it was like living in their shoes, not mine. Though I may be sympathetic to the Black American Experience, I cannot fully comprehend. Enduring systemic racism and its characteristic hatred is perhaps similar to living with an incurable, or terminal illness — only others with first-hand experience fully understand. I’m a white guy. White provides privilege. The playing field isn’t level. I never suffered lost opportunities or feared arrest because of my race. Proper allyship is a virtue I need to learn.

It is incumbent upon everyone involved to savor this moment in the social landscape. Social reforms have no tidy finish line when we can wash our hands, relax, and surrender to complacency.  Social reforms are never complete, or perfect. Progress is dynamic.  However, this moment will pass. It’s a unique, ephemeral experience I’ll forever treasure.  

Disclaimer: none of the content is censored or editorialized. As expected, the comprehensive, first-hand experience on the streets isn’t in the same zip code as the 1-dimensional, distilled experience through mainstream media. Not. Even. Close. The perceptions, opinions, and judgments of experts sitting in a cozy media studio are in insult to the first-hand experience on the streets.

All images and videos are from downtown Portland, with zero edits. It’s all raw and organic. A few friends and acquaintances judged some images, videos, and my overall experience as extreme. Perhaps. The greater, and more egregious extreme, however, is a man choked to death for 8 minutes as he begged for air. He begged. That, is extreme.

The youthful energy on the streets was infectious and wonderful. I developed an appreciation for all of it: speeches, chants, poetry, painting, graffiti, singing, dancing, yelling, screaming, tear gas, pepper spray, and fireworks. The baptisms of tear gas, flash-bangs, and pepper spray were my rights of passage. All were ingredients in this cauldron of change. It’s been a melting pot of energy manifested into infinite forms of expression. It is a beautiful thing.

Each of us will view, digest, process and perceive the world around us through different lenses.  Each view is no less legitimate or valid than the next.  The content and narratives are through my lens.  

Absorbing all of it