In writing these Comments, I try to stay even. Admittedly, right now, staying even is a tough thing to do. There is a demented baby-man in charge of the country. He is surround by a pack of playground snot-eaters that attach themselves to bullies. He has an incredible arsenal of power and, thanks to the ill-considered Patriot Act, few limitations.
Congress and the Courts are able to check Trump. However, Congress’s checks are undermined by the Republicans in control of the Senate, who do enable him. The Courts move in reaction to Trump’s decisions and are slow in doing so. All this is compounded by the pandemic. Right now, it is difficult to stay even. But if we are to defeat Trump, flush the Republicans and move forward, staying even is essential.
For me, the key to staying even is twofold. The first thing I do is that when something happens or is spoken, I make sure that what I am looking at or hearing is what I am looking at or hearing. I dig to confirm what I’ve been tipped to is true and not prank or propaganda. If I nail the source as accurate, I examine the information without reading into it. I take everything at face value.
If Trump sends federal police into Portland, I look at it as Trump sending federal police into Portland. I ignore Trump’s rational and other’s theories as to why it is happening. I tune out the pundits. I dismiss social media spelunking. I identify and acknowledge what is happening and then once I am clear on the what, I try to figure out the why.
To figure out why, the what must be put in context. Knowing context requires some research. What does history, law, theory, psychology, philosophy, science, etc. tell me? I trim away the fluff, the staging, scenery and drama, set aside the words for later, and look for some action. How did the main players behave in the past? I take in everything from what they physically did to their propensity to lie.
I take time to think through what I’ve learned. When I get stuck, I work things out on paper. Often the simple act of getting my thoughts out my head and on a page gives me clarity. It helps for me to babble to people around me, to measure my ideas against theirs. Once I come to an understanding, I write it out and then give that a run through.
My method for staying even and understanding a situation might seem like it takes for-ev-er. It doesn’t. It takes discipline. That discipline starts with the words I don’t know. So, Trump sends federal cops to Portland. Why? I don’t know. It certainly isn’t for the reason he is saying it is. I very much doubt the raid is part of whatever conspiracy Uncle Bob is talking about. I don’t know, I need to know, I need to get to work and find out.
Back to the federal occupation of Portland: Trump is up for reelection. Trump is once again campaigning on fear. This time, instead of Mexicans, the villains are “violent anarchists” and “them” (otherwise known as Black people). The anarchist will attack the suburbs from the outside, while “they” subvert the suburbs by moving in. The federal police are here to stop all that, so says Trump. Conclusion: This is a campaign ploy. Often the obvious answer is the answer.
What I advise seems simplistic, and it is. It is also essential. We live in a world of disinformation and misinformation. Too many people lack discipline and act without forethought or intent. They see, they share. Those of us who care to communicate responsibly must take responsibility for what we communicate.
Identifying Trump’s motivation – winning the election – is not downplaying what is happening. It is simply figuring out the motivation behind what is happening, which is the first step in fighting back. Now that we know why what is happening, we can list what we know:
- The federal police are attacking protesters with batons, firing rubber bullets and projectiles, and tear-gassing crowds with little provocation.
- Federal police are assisted by Federal Protective Services, an agency that contracts with private security firms to protect federal buildings and provide security at events.
- Federal police and their contractors wear military uniforms without identification of their person or the agencies that they work for. They use unmarked vehicles. They refuse to tell reporters, protesters, or those that they arrest what agency they are working for or who they are. They are acting as secret police.
- Protesters have been snatched from the street by uniformed but unidentifiable men, transported in unmarked vehicles, taken to unidentifiable buildings, and not told why they are being held.
- These operations are being led by officials who are working as “temps,” often past the legal term of duty allowed to interim officials. These officials were not elected and have not been vetted by Congress, as required by law.
- The administration is spreading this operation around the country, using different names and varying justifications.
While it is tempting to ask “Why?” to each or all of these things, I stop myself. The federal police and their contractors are doing what they are doing because they have been empowered to do what they are doing. Going conspiratorial on this is denying that Congress has passed laws that allows a president to casually use police for his personal gain. As long as the president frames his intentions as legitimate (lie or not), he claims legality. Diving into the shadows for answers is running from the fact that this bastion of liberty has a mean authoritarian streak. That the ugly truth is stupid and lacks imagination doesn’t make what is happening less ugly or less truthful.
As I’ve written before, what we are seeing has historical precedent. And for Black and Brown people, living under police occupation, enduring repression, and seeing friends and family snatched off the street is nothing new. The murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor is what happens when institutional racism meets occupation policing. Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy demands ICE occupation of Brown communities and an acceptance of white supremacy. What makes Portland different is that the police are coming for white people.
So, what do we do? The most important thing we must do is fight back. We must take a physical stand. We must protest. Those in and around Portland must join people in the street. Those in other cities targeted for occupation must hit the streets. Others must do as we did in reaction to George Floyd’s murder and the repression that followed: We must protest in solidarity, preferably at federal building wherever they are. When they push, we must say “No!”
There are those who advise that Portland protesters abandon the street, that we are “playing into Trump’s goal.” These calls come from armchair advisors, people who do not understand what is at stake. Yes, Trump wants to turn the protests into something chaotic, but not for chaos’s sake. He wants to “dominate,” something he has made perfectly clear by saying “We must dominate the streets” dozens of times. He is not selling himself as peace-bringer, but strongman. His ultimate goal here is to clear the streets, one way or another, and stand in the clearing as victor. If he can do this by bluff, he will do it by bluff. If he needs to engineer chaos and order federal officers to go ultra-vi, he will do that. It is not chaos Trump seeks, but domination.
Abandoning the streets would be civil rights suicide. Once federal occupation started, the streets ceased being merely streets. The feds call the streets a “battle zone” and they are right, but the battle is not over turf. The battle is over the right to protest, to speak freely, to assemble, and to petition the government, which is not a one-time thing but an ongoing process. This is a battle over the Constitution.
On the surface, The Boston Massacre was a turf war over a debt. On March 5, 1770, some colonists/agitators got in the face of a British soldier who harassed a kid who objected to being ripped off by a British officer. Today’s protest critic would frame this as a dispute over a an unpaid bill. Go deeper, establish the context: The dispute was about rights. Did the British soldier have a right to rule willy-nilly over the colonist? Did the citizens of Boston have a right to live without being subjected to occupation and domination?
The confrontation between the soldier and the kid drew more colonists and more soldiers to the fray. The soldiers told the colonists to disperse, to abandon the streets, or face attack. The colonists, knowing what was at stake, told the soldiers to “Fuck off.” The soldier menaced the people. The people damaged property, broke stuff and threw it at the “cops.” One soldier got hit with a piece of wood, so the soldiers shot into the crowd, killing one agitator, a black stevedore named Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the American Revolution.
While, physically, the Boston Massacre was a fight over temporal space, politically, occupying that space was a revolutionary act, one which said, “We Americans will not be ruled by a foreign power.” The fight over the Boston Customs House square was over freedom to assemble and freedom to petition, two rights written into the Constitution. The colonist-protesters were also enraged over the way they were treated by the soldier-cops – the arbitrary use of force, physical abuse, corruption, and unaccountability, i.e. acts of domination.
Had the colonial agitators retreated, as the Portland protesters are being told to do, we’d be feasting on runny pizza, crumpets, and eel pie. If we fail to stand up to these occupations, we can be assured that they will continue through the election and, if Trump gets reelected, beyond that.
While Trump sees no further than what is beyond his belly, others in his circle live in the adult world. William Barr’s vision of the presidency is that of the “unitary executive,” an interpretation of the Constitution that gives the president dictatorial power. The Mikes – Pence and Pompeo – would like to transition the United States to a theocracy. Chad Wolfe would love to rule over a secret police force. Ivanka wants to be the spokes-model for authoritarianism…and beans. Who the hell knows what Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner want, but, whatever it is, we don’t want it.
Let’s say Trump loses, but we don’t fight these occupations. We might be alright during four years of Biden. But, we will eventually forget about the occupation of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, and other cities. Perhaps, the Republican Party responds to a 2020 defeat by putting on more socially acceptable clothes. Gone are the daisy dukes and cheese-stained Lock’er Up t-shirts, hello Kellyanne Conway dressed like Billie Eillish. Fancy, but under the baggy and black are memories of successful occupation. If we get another Republican president, the right-wing will use our failure to stand up to authoritarianism as an invitation to dominate.
While print media coverage of Portland has been good, aside from the PBS Newshour, network and cable news coverage has been lacking. We must change that. We must write the media and demand that they cover and investigate the story of the Portland occupation and how it is migrating to other cities. Send polite emails to those whose reporting is lacking, especially when it focuses on fire and vandalism, not attacks by the federales or the protests’ underlying issues.
Contact newsrooms, news producers, reporters, and hosts. Hit everyone from Anderson Cooper to Chris Wallace, from your local TV news desks to 60 Minutes. Send Thank You’s to those who are doing good reporting and encourage them to do more. Know that ratings not politics drives mainstream news coverage. If a news organization thinks that covering an issue results in more views, they will cover the issue. Views = money.
I understand the frustration with the Democratic mayors and governors who stand against federal overreach but have failed to reign in their own police. You can support them when the buck Trump and fight them on local issues. This is not an either/or thing. Recognize that they are tools to be used to get things done. Accept that sometimes you need to use a wrench as a hammer. Know that tools can be discarded once they outlive their usefulness. With that in mind, back the actions of these mayors and governors when they stand up to the federal occupation by suing Trump. At the same time, work to replace them with better people. Nothing personal here, just politics.
Lastly, we are almost 100 days from the election. Who knows what November’s world will look like or what conditions we will be voting under? We will have an election. It is constitutionally mandated, the date set in the Constitution. No one can cancel the election and only Congress can postpone it, which will not happen. Trump will do what he can to suppress the vote. We must do what we can to increase the vote.
Are you registered to vote? Are you sure? Make sure you are. In the 2016 primaries, I went to the polling place, thinking I was on the rolls. I wasn’t. Before the election, I had tried to re-register party affiliation and I failed to check some box, so my ballot was in political purgatory. I had to cast a provisional ballot, which is always a risky thing. This was Sacramento, California, a deep blue city in a deep blue state. This wasn’t voter suppression or a purge. It was a fuck-up. Make sure that you are registered to vote.
Whether or not you are concerned with the virus, request an absentee ballot, but while you are doing so, make sure that you know all the rules and deadlines. In some states, you can get an absentee ballot and still vote in person. If you can vote in person and are comfortable doing so, do vote in person. Some states allow those with absentee ballots to go to a polling place, pass the line, and drop your ballot in a box – not a bad idea if your state allows it.
Make sure that those around you are not just registered to vote, but that they have all their shit together and that they vote. While you can’t fill out their ballots, there is no law that says you cannot pester others with “Are you gonna vote? Are you registered? Are you sure? Is that pizza? Can I have some? Are you sure you are registered to vote? Did your request your ballot? Did you vote yet? When are you going to vote?”
If you are able, contact your local Democratic Party and inquire about Get Out The Vote operations. Volunteer. Get in touch with organizations working on voter suppression. Be active. Treat this election as the most important thing in your life, because, right now, it might just be that.
Trump would like us to believe that the simple things I am proposing are very little compared to the bigliness of Trump’s attacks. This is a lie. Simple things are powerful. Trump and the Republican Party know this. They need us to feel helplessness. They need us to give up. They need us to believe that Trump stomping his feet and throwing a fit is more powerful than us working together to topple him over. They need us to believe that the “little things” don’t matter. Know that we are powerful, especially when we act together. In doubt and fear, we find strength in each other. They know this and they will work hard to discourage and divide us. We haven’t fallen for Trump’s lies before, we cannot and will not succumb to them now.