When I was growing up during the 1960s and '70s in Portland, our nation was subjected to constant outbreaks of political violence, ranging from scuffles at a small demonstration, right up to assassinations. Protesters, law enforcement, rioting citizens, terror cells, and lone gunmen all brought their own use of violence to the forefront of American political life. And some of that came to Portland, too. From a child's point of view it was frightening and bewildering. Looking back, it was madness. Very few got their way, as anyone seldom does, through the use of violence. That goes for the calculated, pre-planned sort as well as the spontaneous eruptions that set neighborhoods on fire.
Do you know who did get their way? The peaceful. Ultimately, people like my parents and their friends, those who marched, worked, spoke and wrote for peace, for civil rights and for justice. (I went to a few of those protests. I even remember fidgeting through a planning meeting once with my dad.) The peaceful were committed to nonviolent and passive resistance, to elections, to petitions, and to availing themselves of the constitutional rights promised to us all. Yes, it's slow, and frustrating, and you have to play the long game. Sometimes your side loses and the other wins. But it works. Part of its genius is that even though some of our citizens have been shut out, that document has never been suspended, and eventually the very mechanisms it provides can be turned for the benefit of the disenfranchised, the weak and the marginalized.
The violent on the other hand destroyed themselves and their own communities. Detroit never recovered from its 1967 riots. Some started as campus protesters, but became radicalized and turned to terrorism. Remember the Weather Underground, or the Symbionese Liberation Army? They ended up in hiding, in prison, or dead. The only ones who carried on were those who gave up their commitment to violence.
But make no mistake. The commitment to violence lives on. It is defended on the grounds of unanswered grievances or disenfranchisement. Others consider it essential to their political goals, which depend on chaos in the streets and fear in peoples' hearts. And it can work for those wish to avoid debating issues or opinions on their own merits. This is the unfortunate reason violence, or the threat of it, has risen on college campuses, where speakers with unpopular viewpoints have been barred from appearing.
In Portland big trouble can be caused by small groups, and that's exactly what we're seeing now. Take for example the underground Rose City Antifa, a soft-core terror cell whose anonymous members consistently use street violence.
They are 'anti-fascist.' Unfortunately, on their skewed political spectrum, everyone to the right of Joseph Stalin is a fascist. They threaten on their website any and all 'fascists' who deign to speak freely 'in our city' with violence. This includes written threats, verbal threats, shoving punching and — well, they have not yet demarked the limits of how far they will go against their enemies. Usually such groups feel the need to intensify their violence over time. The group is devoid of any sense of irony. Consider this, from their definition of fascism: "Fascism is marked by its reliance on violence or threats of violence to impose views on others, and its propensity to create compliance through terror." Here they have described themselves.
Such a presence in my hometown is disappointing but not surprising. It's been here since at least the 1960s, and was here much earlier, if you include the KKK. Next week I will offer what I see as the only proven alternatives to a new season of political violence.
Steve Dehner is a Forest Grove resident,
a writer, and a library aide at the Cornelius Public Library.