WISH YOU WERE HERE: Portland sees surge in protest tourism
They come from out of town.
They shoot through the fence.
They size up the building and the park opposite.
They're the protest tourists who, for weeks now, have to come to check out the site of "the Battle of Portland" outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse and the Justice Center on Southwest Third Avenue. As mainstream media has swapped the Portlandia-hipster narrative for one of fire and flashbangs, spray paint and tear gas, tourists have been walking the streets, preferring to see for themselves.
Meghan Walth of St. Helens was showing her sister Cassie Prescott and friend Zachary Broadwell, who both live in North Dakota, around downtown Portland. They had just reached the view east across Lownsdale Square from Fourth Avenue.
"I expected it to seem a little worse," Walth said. "I didn't know they were cleaning it up today. We were just talking about that, we see (on TV) fires and everything's destroyed. And we've been surprised walking around. It doesn't seem that way as much. But it makes sense that they're cleaning up today."
Broadwell said: "It seems like the things that we saw online and like on social media were maybe a little bit exaggerated. Even if they did clean stuff up, we haven't seen too many broken windows. The worst was the Apple store. It definitely looks like it was exaggerated online."
Walth added, "One thing that has surprised us is the beautiful graffiti on some of these buildings. They're gorgeous. There's the bad graffiti, too, but there's one right over there, a butterfly (at Salmon and Fourth). There's some really pretty things."
Tiffany Klock of Lake Oswego was there with her 15-year old daughter Colbi Klock. Tiffany saw the police had cleared the park and wanted to show her daughter.
"We came down specifically to look at the destruction," Tiffany said.
"I'm glad. It needs to be done," she said of Thursday's cleanup. "In the last 60 days I've seen nonstop anger and destruction. I just I don't understand. The people that are doing this, they're supposed to be the loving, kind ones, but they're creating so much hate and sadness. I have a 31-year-old son that comes down here and protests, and then I have a 15-year-old on the other side that does not believe in this. There's other ways to go about things. This is not humanity at all."
Klock said she doesn't follow the protests much on social media. "I watch Fox News," she says. "I look at Instagram. I have people in different parts of the world that have sent me messages seeing if I'm OK."
She tells them she's not in the vicinity but no, "We're not OK. I don't like what they're doing to our officers at all. This was so beautiful down here and they've wreaked havoc on this. It's disgusting. They're animals, is what I think."
Klock and her daughter stayed in the area for at least another half hour talking to bystanders and police, both white and people of color.
The biggest little city
Laura Paul of Canby was showing around her sister and her sister's husband James Cota, who were visiting from Reno, Nevada.
"It's all over the press so they just wanted to see what it was," Laura Paul said. She did not know the site was cleared that morning. "I try not to look at the press to be honest because I think it's skewed, either way — depends on what you watch."
The trio said they were upset at the damage to the federal courthouse and supportive of the police and federal forces. "You can't help but see this if you have social media, but in general I don't watch a lot of news," Paul said. "Just because it's depressing."
James Cota added, "I think some of it is an attempt to overthrow the system. It's not really about George Floyd's death, which was a terrible injustice. And thankfully the man who was responsible for that is being arrested and going to be charged with murder."
"All lives matter"
Licensed contractor Dennis Robbins was in town from Pacific City to help build a tree house for someone in Northeast Portland and some outdoor seating for a Thai restaurant. He was delayed a few days while his truck was repaired so he came to take a look. He had heard up to 30,000 people were showing up for the Portland protests.
He was not impressed by the people dozing in the park.
"I didn't know there [were] so many young people just so whacked out on drugs. It's just overwhelming."
"I came down here to see the real thing because I'm can't really trust the Internet, it's so political," he said. "Are there any spiritual leaders out here? Anybody … trying to find ways to bring our families together?"
Robbins said he has relatives in the police. "I'm not for racist police by any means. I've been harassed by police," he said. "I don't know what it's like to be a Black youth on the streets and homeless. But you know, I got three children in Israel, they're wanting to know what's going on in America because they want to come back. I'm not sure all these people know what they're fighting for. Are they just fighting because they're angry? Of course Black lives matter. All lives matter."
Robbins said he was surprised to hear there was free barbecue at Riot Ribs — a service offering food nightly to protesters — and decided he would eat and maybe come back in the evening.
Marco Arredondo is a photojournalist from L.A. who came to document the protests on spec. He wanted to know if their meaning had changed after going on so long, especially compared to those in Los Angeles, which he witnessed.
It was his first time in Portland. He arrived Wednesday night, but Thursday morning was his first view of the site.
"I'm very moved. It's amazing to see the amount of expression the people here have. I wanted to see firsthand what the messages are, and if this is a matter of anarchy or reform."
Arredondo saw the daytime occupants of Lownsdale Square as "predominantly a homeless community. It's like a festival camping ground, but you can look over there and you can see the soldiers preparing or being readied."
As a fan of street art, he wanted to document the graffiti. Shooting in L.A. he had a lot of confidence, because he knew his way around.
"(Here) I definitely don't know my way around. But it's so interesting to see the dynamics from Los Angeles to here."
Courtney Carley, who is white, was there with her biracial son David Estrada. They live in Portland.
"It's overwhelming," said Carley. "It's mixed feelings for me. I really support the protest and the voice and the message of it. I just am sad to see it deteriorated in such a way that the message is getting lost."
She helped set up the library in that very square as one of the early organizers of Occupy Portland in 2011.
"And I stayed throughout, off and on, until the eviction night. It started for one reason, the 99 percent, and it got taken over by just negative and mixed, mixed, mixed messages."
Estrada said "I'm all for the Black Lives Matter. I think that's super important. You know, people were being treated unfairly and that's horrible. Especially when it's happening so frequently and everything. I get why people are furious. I get why people are going crazy. I think that maybe it could be done better, more peacefully. I don't want people getting hurt and stuff like that. But people need to realize what's happening and people are getting killed and stuff. So, it's a big deal."
Carley has avoided marching because she had surgery and is immuno-compromised and afraid of getting the coronavirus. She gets her news from The Tribune and OregonLive, and he from YouTube.
"It definitely looks like a war zone, at least from news video or what we've seen on online. The videos are kind of scary."
Carley adds, "I definitely brought him (her son, David Estrada) down here because I wanted him to just see it and take it in, for a moment in history. Regardless whether it turns out to be good or bad, hopefully it doesn't ever come to this again. But I wanted him to take this all in."
If the 16-year-old wanted to come back at night, she would encourage him to express himself, but would discourage him because of the virus.
"It'd be a lot easier for more people to get involved if this whole virus thing wasn't going on. Stuff like that makes everything 10 times harder."
Dian White, who lives downtown, was riding by on her mobility scooter on Thursday morning. She was on the thin strip of sidewalk left by the police tape that marked the park closed.
She often drops off clothes and food for the protesters, some of whom had been camping overnight.
"I just heard that someone said that the federal officers are supposed to be leaving. That's a big catch-22 but they don't know what they're doing. They're not trained. They're here to protect federal buildings and they get carried away."
White is sympathetic to police and thinks they should not be first responders to people suffering mental health crises. But she is wary of police violence. She talked about her son being picked up and roughed up by police when he was drinking. He was pushed below the steering wheel, "So the cameras can't see him. They got him pretty good. He had a concussion from it. So to me, that's not OK. They got caught. They didn't get fired."
The doctor is in
Janet Wilson, a doctor from Vancouver, Washington, had an errand in Portland and stopped by to see the site last Wednesday.
Wilson follows a lot of quilting artists on Instagram and some of them have been actively supporting Black Lives Matter, especially Poppyseedquilts.
"Poppyseedquilts actually posts stuff from both sides, like Democratic and Republican viewpoints. I find her stuff pretty up-to-date on whatever the daily activities are."
"I watched the Wall of Moms that came down to protect the people that were approaching the fence," she said, but she had no clear sense of the fence or the graffiti until now.
"This is way more extensive," she said, looking at the coolers piled up at the barbecue medical and sign-making stations and the various tents (all of which were removed the next day, Thursday, July 30.)
That morning Wilson saw six cars with Homeland Security decals near the old Gus Solomon Courthouse.
"I figured maybe they were some of the people Trump sent, I don't know. Federal agents. I don't know if they were from Homeland Security or they are the people that are picking people up off the street in unidentified vehicles."
Wilson supports Black Lives Matters. Would she come down at night?
"I probably wouldn't. But full respect for those people that do." She fears the violence and the potential for helping spread the COVID-19 virus. "I've seen pictures of people who've been shot with I'm presuming rubber bullets, and they've got bloody heads. It's scary."
She adds she will share the pictures she just took with friends and family. Wilson has kids aged 12 and 16.
"I'm just trying to share with my kids what's happening. They hear about it through videos on YouTube and TikTok. They've actually seen a lot of what's going on and they're more informed than you would think."
Portlanders Steve and Julie Slavik stood looking at the courthouse from the next block, cautious of unmasked passersby. Their background is in education. They live in Northeast Portland. He was wearing a Portland Pickles hat.
"It's just one of those things where we come down once a week to take a look and see how things are. We've participated in various walks during the afternoons, but no, as far as in the evening, when this turns into a little bit different protest, we have not been down here."
Is that because of the violence or the COVID?
"A bit of both. At the age that we're at, by 10 o'clock we're in bed."
They recall Occupy Portland being in the same place.
"It's such a hard thing to see Portland like this," Steve added.
"It doesn't look like the same city that people used to walk around and enjoy," said Julie. "It's important for people to be able to make their point and express their opinions, but we've lived here for 32 years and it's a completely different city now."
They know the courthouse can be easily restored.
"One of the things that happens in a crisis like this is everybody starts for a very good reason. And then all of a sudden, whether it be Riot Ribs or whether it be the Wall of Moms, things get convoluted and messy."
He added, "When protesting happens at one o'clock in the morning, nothing good happens. When the Department of Homeland Security and these government agencies come out the way they are coming out, that's not helping the case. I just wish that cooler heads would prevail."
Communication is key.
"The protesters, the forces and the city, have not done a good job communicating. Yes, we all know what everyone wants. But let's communicate with one another in order to go ahead and achieve that without starting conflicts. This too shall pass."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.