Trash collectors tidy up after nightly Portland protests
Police usually call the Portland protests a riot around midnight or 1 a.m., and after the back-and-forth between protesters, police and federal agents, Lownsdale Square and Chapman Square calm down by 4 a.m.
By six the sun rises on quite the scene: Tents, people sleeping on blankets and benches, abandoned shields and handmade signs and supply stations for medics, the Witches collective and eatery Riot Ribs. And trash. On Monday July 27, one group of Burners – people who go to the music and arts festival Burning Man – volunteered to take it away.
At 7.30 a.m. a man who goes by his "playa" name Human Jones, was out collecting trash. He read about it on a local Burning Man forum and used his own money to rent a truck and trailer for $100 for the day.
"Nobody really had a truck or anything so I just rented this U-Haul and came down," Jones told the Portland Tribune. "We'll see if we can make a little dent in this." He and a friend had already picked up several bags of trash and were loading it into vehicles.
Jones said he supports the Black Lives Matter cause but had not been to the federal courthouse or Justice Center protests because he has asthma and fears the tear gas.
Burning Man is an annual festival at Black Rock City, a temporary camp of 70,000 people, in the desert in Nevada. Beyond theatrical self-expression, the governing ethos is radical self-reliance.
"At Burning Man you bring what you need and you pack it all out," said Jones. "The only things you can buy are ice and coffee. That's it."
Burning Man has another golden rule: Leave no trace. Participants are expected to completely clean up after themselves in the desert. After most people have left, a cleanup crew scours the site picking up every last item, from cigarette butts to the boa feathers caught on the trash fence. The Bureau of Land Management inspects the site afterward so the festival can have the land again the next year.
That's the spirit which brought Jones and two other Burners down to Lownsdale Square, in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. The is where Federal Protective Service members emerge each night to push back protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper balls fired from paintball guns. The agents often add to the festival waste heap by raiding tents and throwing their contents about.
Video on Twitter has shown one protestor collecting trash with a picker-upper and putting it in a plastic laundry basket even as clouds of tear gas envelop the park late at night. But Portland Burners felt they could do more.
"I think it's our way of contributing," said Jones. "Some of my Burner friends come here at night. In my own opinion the original protest for Black Lives Matter has tended to be hijacked a little bit by certain groups that are very, very against authority."
He added, "Most of the people who come down are just peaceful, and they're there for the real reason. But obviously, media will pay attention to whoever's trying to tear up the courtrooms and other things because it's more exciting."
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