I don’t agree with all of this, but E.D. Mondainé, the president of the Portland, Oregon branch of the NAACP, gets the gist of it correct: the protests in Portland now have very little to do with improving anything.
Unfortunately, “spectacle” is now the best way to describe Portland’s protests. Vandalizing government buildings and hurling projectiles at law enforcement draw attention — but how do these actions stop police from killing black people? What are antifa and other leftist agitators achieving for the cause of black equality? The “Wall of Moms,” while perhaps well-intentioned, ends up redirecting attention away from the urgent issue of murdered black bodies. This might ease the consciences of white, affluent women who have previously been silent in the face of black oppression, but it’s fair to ask: Are they really furthering the cause of justice, or is this another example of white co-optation?
If justice is the end goal of the Portland protests, I would dearly love to know how anyone in the movement plans to get there from here; it seems like we are further from justice—for blacks or anyone else—than when we started.
If we engage them [the President and his allies] now, we do so on their terms, where they have created the conditions for a war without rules, without accountability and without the protection of our Constitution. This makes me fearful for the safety of everyone demonstrating in Portland. That’s why we need to remember: What is happening in Portland is the fuse of a great, racist backlash that the Trump administration is baiting us to light.
We cannot fall for their deception. We cannot settle for spectacles that endanger us all. This is a moment for serious action — to once again take up the mantle of the civil rights era by summoning the same conviction and determination our forebears did. We welcome our white brothers and sisters in this struggle. In fact, we need them. But I must ask them to remain humbly attuned to the opportunity of this moment — and to reflect on whether any actions they take will truly help establish justice, or whether they are simply for show.
Mondainé is right, but I’m skeptical that those who need to will heed the call. Don’t want a confrontation with Trump’s Brown Shirt brigade? Demonstrate somewhere—anywhere—other than the federal courthouse. Doing so would deprive Trump and his bullies of the spotlight and take all the air out of his “law and order” sails. (To say nothing of significantly lowering the danger to public safety.)
Instead, protestors and vandals will continue to do what they’re doing. Because they do want a confrontation. In the minds of the real protestors this is the Freedom Rides, the Marches from Selma to Montgomery, and the Greensboro sit-ins. They’re none of these things, of course, because this isn’t Jim Crow America. And allowing the vandals and anarchists to rob the movement of much of its moral legitimacy only empowers and emboldens the detestable federalistas.
Mondainé’s is a worthy attempt to refocus the movement. I don’t expect it to work.