Lake Oswego community members share experiences participating in Portland protests
There's a shift in the air — a change in the peaceful vibe. Later in the night, a feeling that Lake Oswego residents describe as a "tension" trickles throughout the thousands of people protesting in the streets of Portland. Shortly after, plumes of tear gas coat the frontline of protesters outside the Justice Center, and flash bangs erupt from a distance.
The five Lake Oswego residents attending the protests for the first time decide to leave.
On Saturday, July 25, Terri Kraemer and a handful of other women who were either a part of Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism organization or support the cause decided to participate in the Portland protests — which have erupted nightly since the death of George Floyd on May 25.
Kraemer, who'd been wanting to attend the demonstrations — though she didn't feel comfortable attending alone — reached out to people in Response to Racism via Facebook to see if anyone was interested in attending.
A handful of people replied, and once they arrived at the protest — they did not stand with the Wall of Moms, rather they were there as support for the Wall of Moms and the Black Lives Matter movement — the group of women split off into smaller groups and sailed off into the sea of people.
Though Respond to Racism leader Willie Poinsette could not attend the protests, she sent a message to the women who were participating and said: "You will be in my thoughts tonight as you fight for social justice. I am so happy that you have the will and physical ability to do some of the difficult work while fighting for what is just — Black Lives Matter! Please be safe and know that I will be with you in spirit!"
Jenny Babb, who joined Respond to Racism a couple months ago after searching for ways to further her involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement, was terrified to attend the protests after seeing "all of the insanity that was going on, especially with the feds," she said.
But all women were adorned in masks and once they arrived, Babb said she wasn't afraid anymore.
"I felt the ease. There were thousands of people there. Not once did I feel threatened or nervous or scared by anybody's actions," Babb said. "Everybody was just peaceful and passionate."
Babb said she saw all walks of life — elderly folks, kids, couples and different races and ethnicities.
"Everybody was just there to say enough is enough: The violence against Black people has been going on for decades," Babb said. "We listened to speakers from the Black Lives Movement; we listened to some other local activists."
"There's a lot of music and a lot of chanting and solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement from the waterfront up to the federal building," Kraemer added.
Lake Oswego resident Erin — who asked that her last name be kept anonymous — said this was the first Portland protest she has attended, though she's taken part in demonstrations in Lake Oswego and has donated to bail funds and organizations supporting the cause.
"I try to stay more local just because I don't like to be in a big group of people, just in general," Erin said. "It (the protest) was so inspiring. It just made me so proud. Nothing bad happened. It was joyful. There was some righteous anger for sure."
She said the general tone was mutual aid — people caring for one another with a lot of focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. Erin said she didn't feel like the federal troops or the chaos later in the evening took away from the message.
She saw powerful signage, art installations and projections on buildings, and heard stories and chants from various speakers.
"I did not feel unsafe at all at any point," Erin said.
But all three women agreed that around 11 p.m. the mood shifted and they felt a tension right before tear gas was deployed.
"I had read on social media that, especially for the first-timers, to just be attuned to how the crowd feels, especially if you don't have the right gear," Kraemer said. "You could feel tension instead of excitement. Black people don't have the ability to retreat from their skin color and because they are Black they face danger every day — in and outside their homes."
Erin said she never heard an announcement or warning that munitions were being deployed and was hit by the remnants of tear gas.
"For me to be affected by tear gas for standing there is disproportionate. It's indiscriminate use of munitions," Erin said, adding that it stung her eyes and that's when they decided to leave. "The minute it got up to where we were … I didn't even know it had gone off. There was no way for me to know that they had tear gassed that crowd."
Kraemer said starting small fires on the sidewalk at the fence, throwing fireworks and breaching the fence are actions that can trigger the federal troops to intervene, but instead of the troops directing their response toward an individual, they direct their response at the entire group of protesters.
"The offense does not warrant the feds' response," she said.
Kraemer said what people don't want is for the message — to end police brutality against Black people — to be lost by the federal troops' response to the protests, which Kraemer said is "completely unwarranted."
"The level of escalation by the feds each night is unwarranted and gets more press coverage than the movement," Kraemer said. "We can't lose sight of the purpose of the protests. We must get the press to cover the movement and help demand systemic change."
A few days after the Lake Oswego residents attended the protests, Gov. Kate Brown and the Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary, Chad Wolf, brokered a deal to slowly recall the feds' out-of-town reinforcements, but only if local authorities could adequately defend the courthouse.
Protests on Thursday, July 30, were mostly calm according to reporters on the scene.
'We're all intertwined'
Erin, Babb and Kraemer said just because they reside in Lake Oswego, doesn't mean they should ignore the protests going on in Portland.
"My heart is still in Portland," said Erin, who previously resided in the city. "Do I think people in the outlying areas should be concerned? Absolutely. … We're all intertwined. … People need to show up however they can."
Babb said she's heard Lake Oswego residents saying that the protests in Portland are not their problem. "It bothers me because that mentality, that sense of entitlement, is exactly why we are in this predicament that we're in," Babb said. "It's everybody's problem. We are a community of humans."
As a mother, Babb said she also has respect for the women standing in the Wall of Moms during the Portland protests and said they add to the movement.
"When I think about sending my kids outside to play, I don't worry about them; I don't worry about somebody calling the police on them," Babb said. "I don't worry about something terrible happening to them because of the color of their skin."
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