“I’m in my own reality,” said the woman behind the counter, a sad smile lifting the corner of her mouth. This was Wednesday morning. “It’s so much better there, people are just so somber today.”
Well no fucking shit.
The alternate reality thing is apt. Well, perhaps not apt but backwards. Life now feels like an alternate reality, like the original timeline somehow got horribly skewed at some point on Tuesday evening. This wasn’t supposed to happen. But it has and now we have to face the reality that our President-elect is best known for a string of failed businesses and being a reality TV star. That the position has fallen from the dignity of Washington and well spoken grace of Lincoln to a poorly tanned mogul of questionable ability and success is a bitter pill to swallow. But, it’s the reality I’ve come home to. And I don’t want to write about it. I want to fight, to make my voice heard when the policies and the votes and next round of politics comes around, and you know? This is actually a lie. I want to scream and yell and break things and plan to move back to Singapore and the fuck with this place, let it burn, but…
… I can’t. I love this place. I love the Northwest, I love the activism, I love my country despite its frequent lapses into collective stupidity. I foolishly harbor this notion that we can fix this discord.
So I took a day. Cleared my head, had a drink with a friend downtown. Watched the rallies, cheered on the marchers chanting down Sixth until I got nervous with the crowds and had a beer and a slice with Bev at Sizzle Pie. Resolved myself to the fight and went downtown last night, to a vigil put on by Trans Pride. Wanted to stand tall with my community, my people that I’ve fought along with in the past. To let them know they’re not alone, hear some stories of the past. Learn more about the folks that suffered before. Soul-salving stuff, really.
I ran into a friend from the marriage campaign who was apologetic and frantic for bailing on the event to meet a first date. I gave him some advice — such as I am qualified for dating advice — and watched with a smile as he sauntered nervously off across the Hawthorne to meet his date, driving up from the suburbs. A small interaction, but saints bear witness, that feeling of community warmed me in the quickly cooling air near the water. I spoke with a woman who was there with her dog, wanting to support her niece. We spoke of our fears and our worries, glancing at the now ever present helicopter keeping an eye on the ground.
For the prior two nights, folks had marched across the bridges, chanting, singing, working with the police to shut down freeways and then disperse, a surprisingly organized effort that left some hope within me. Maybe we can work this shit out.
The marchers, the mob, the crowd arrived from Courthouse Square, their spokesman giving words of resistance and coalition. During which the noise of the chanting and collective murmur of the crowd threatened to drown out the simple bull horn. It was an interesting moment. I took notes, watching faces. I saw fury and hope and despair and the mixture of work boredom and the edgy nervousness of the media, ready with words and cameras to record anything that might become news. Tensions weren’t really high, though. The feeling of positivity swelled.
The crowd marched on, over the Hawthorne.
I stayed and listened to people speak of pain and read their fears in this world. I started to get it. There are a lot of people who feel left out and we don’t talk about all of them. They too have their pain and they might not understand that of others but it is a reciprocal thing, isn’t it? Clearly there were wounds being laid bare and I walked back uptown meditating on that thought. Last night was the epitome of the amazing autumn weather we get in the Pacific Northwest. Clear, cool and slightly breezy, and so I suggested to Bev that she meet me over at 10 Barrel where I grabbed a pair of seats upstairs on the roof deck, took off my jacket and scribbled notes and wrote. The helicopter still whirled overhead and the tension still lay low on the evening, but as I walked back to the apartment, I felt like yeah. We got this. We can make this work.
Soon after getting back, a murmur of voices could be heard along with the barking of a few neighborhood dogs. I looked out the window. Thousands of people were marching down the Broadway bridge. Bev and I watched them go by, still singing, still chanting. It was empowering, it was the glory of a community speaking up. It was cool.
Until it wasn’t.
A bang, then another. Bang bang bang crash. “Was that a window?” I asked. No, I thought. Everything’s been peaceful. This the sound of people walking on the sidewalk grates. Bang bang crash crash.
Crash, cheer, yell. The mood got ugly, the crowd changed. They turned down 13th. I turned on the news, looked at Twitter. The crowd had come down Broadway, where a few folks had trashed the Toyota dealership. Police went from hands off to riot mode. Those news reporters, the folks with the cameras, they were standing in. Videos went up.
I saw a woman in her car, attacked and surrounded. I have no idea what precipitated this, but the picture was clear. She was alone, trying not to cry while masked men yelled and screamed. I saw a young woman, tiny really, stand in front of a bat wielding masked man to stop him from destroying an electrical box. He reared his bat back and she stood still. Others came to her defense. We made such a thing about women in this election, about how Trump treats them, about how the most visible of his supporters wore shirts and said deplorable things and here, in a group of people outraged by this indecent man, were women, alone and brave and crying and being yelled at.
We came out after the crowds passed. Neighbors walked up and down Lovejoy, looking at the damage. Someone had thrown a brick into an open restaurant. Nobody was hurt. Bank windows were smashed, as was the front door of a local deli. This morning, the Pearl wears its scars — people washing graffiti, boarded up windows. But more importantly, people are pissed. Anger festers in words like “thug” and suddenly the fucking thing has gone tits up.
Listen, the Pearl has money. I get it. It is the original gentrification story of Portland. It used to be the industrial zone of the west side, run down and as I’ve heard it, much like South of Market in the City before the dot coms showed up. Now it’s one of the charming neighborhoods of town. It’s new age, it’s a bit pretentious, sure. But it’s populated by liberals with money, subsidized housing, LGBT folk, the allies that need to be activated to help push back against the conservative overreaction. Folks that know how to push and compromise, those that have some skin in the game to make sure we don’t see-saw back and forth into sides.
And now? They’re fucking pissed off, and why wouldn’t they be? Their neighborhood was just ransacked and with no reason other than it was nearby and someone reportedly yelled out “let’s fuck up the Pearl!”
And hey, this was not everyone. This wasn’t even most people. A lot of people tried to do the right thing last night. The folks breaking shit were separated from the unified march. They were armed with bats and rocks and hammers. Not everyone is as brave as that woman who stood in front of an enraged kid with a bat. But there were cheers when the lights went out on the Eastside. Cheers as the windows of the Starbucks fell.
This isn’t what’s going to fix things. It’s going to make matters worse. You don’t have to look at Facebook or Twitter or the comments section to imagine the hot takes. You can just walk around a neighborhood that minutes before stood out on their balconies with their phones and looked on with curiosity, listen to their anger. See the folks walking around in Tump clothes, stoking fears or just, more intelligently, lending an ear.
I love this place. This is my city, the first place where I ever felt like I wanted to be a part of the community. I know there are probably a lot of hot takes from people all over the country, twisting our story to fit their narratives. But this is something that we here need to take ownership of. We need to understand that anger is what got us into this situation. More anger isn’t going to get us out.
I walk around my temporary neighborhood and feel the anger, the shock. People taking pictures. The police, working their way up Lovejoy, talking to anyone that will spare a few words. The mayor gave an interview in front of the aforementioned local deli, Urban Pantry, which will surely be the talking point for the damage as most of the other places hit were national businesses. A man is walking around with a Trump shirt and a woman tailing him with a phone. She is taking pictures of the damage, he is walking forward at a brisk pace. He’s not engaging anyone, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’s wanting to be seen. Our eyes met briefly as he walked by. There was challenge there, slight but I didn’t care to linger. I don’t want to make assumptions. I don’t want to assume there are sides. I want to march on with our progress and realize that we can’t call everyone that disagrees with the pace of things racist hicks.