Youth play key role in Portland activism
Protests in Portland, which have raged for more than 100 days, are shining a light on the growing number of youth that are interested in making a change both to their local community and nationally.
Youth have created or joined various organizations to push for change since the protests began.
One of the organizations, called Fridays 4 Freedom, is a collective of Black youth and their allies fighting for Black liberation, according to the group's Instagram page. Fridays 4 Freedom meets every Friday for youth-led marches across Portland.
Molly Frary, a junior at Wilson High School and a member of Fridays4Freedom leadership team, was first introduced to Fridays4Freedom when she got a message on Instagram asking if she wanted to join.
"[I] went to their first protest and saw an amazing group of BIPOC youth and I knew I wanted to be a part of [Fridays4Freedom]," Frary said. "Marching every Friday has been some of the best highlights of my summer. The atmosphere at our marches is very high energy and empowering. I think our marches being led by all youth is a big part of why our atmosphere feels so empowering. Us being a group of youth, we are part of proving kids and teens are just as powerful as adults, and anyone, no matter their age, can make a change."
Some teens have chosen to attend protests with family or friends instead of joining the youth-led organizations. Despite students' choice of protest form, most students are supporting each other.
"To student activists protesting right now, you guys are amazing, and especially to Black students protesting remember to check in on yourself and mental health," Frary said. "With school starting, things can get even more overwhelming and this can be a very emotionally draining time for Black people."
Although protests have become increasingly more violent in recent weeks, these youth activists continue to protest against police brutality and systemic racism. To ensure their safety, almost all protesters are taking precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19, tear gas and rubber bullets.
We talked to three student protesters about protesting and compared photos of them in their everyday clothing to their protest clothing to see the precautions they have taken.
Leila Besic, a rising junior at Lincoln High School, said that, although protesting has become a difficult task, she will continue to protest until justice is served to all who were wrongfully killed by police. Besic has always been passionate about protesting.
"As a white woman, I have so much privilege and a duty to be a good ally alongside all people of color," Besic said. "George Floyd's death was devastating. It sparked so much anger in me that the police officers who murdered him could walk free. So, I started protesting for George Floyd, and all other victims of police brutality who did not receive justice."
Besic has attended four Portland protests so far, where she makes sure to wear a mask, sunglasses and clothes that don't expose her skin. Besic said that she does not protest for herself, but rather to elevate and spread the voices of those who are treated unfairly.
"Protesting is not something I do to 'feel good' or feel like my responsibility as a white ally is 'fulfilled,'" Besic said. "I mainly try to focus on uplifting voices of BIPOC. Protesting makes me feel angry, passionate and empowered."
A 17-year-old rising senior at Lincoln High School, Finley Harrington started protesting against unjust violence used against minorities by police, but hasn't been protesting recently because of the rough treatment of protesters by police and federal troops.
"When I protest it feels like I'm being heard, but one of the two times I protested there were people trying to intimidate the groups of protesters," Harrington said. "[This] is one reason why I don't always like going to protests."
At the two protests he has attended, Harrington wore a mask, long thick pants and a sweatshirt to cover and protect himself from the weather and potential rubber bullets. Although Harrington supports peaceful protesting, he said he does not support violence, vandalism or destruction, and he empathizes with both protesters and police forces.
"I feel bad for both sides of the protests," Harrington said. "People don't deserve to be shot with rubber bullets and tear gassed by police for voicing their opinions. But I also feel bad for the police who have been yelled at, attacked and hit with random stuff… I really think that if the protest weren't violent, a lot more people would join."
A rising junior at Lincoln High School, Josephine Javurek was first inspired to start protesting against the prejudice that exists in the policing system. She went to her first protest about a week after George Floyd's murder and has been to three more since.
"I think George Floyd's death was a major moment where I knew I needed to personally engage in activism to fight against this incredible injustice," Javurek said.
At protests, she wears long sleeve shirts, long pants and a mask. Javurek said she will continue to protest for as long as she can.
"When I went to the first protest, it was a lot more emotional than I ever imagined it could be," Javurek said. "I knew that it would affect me, but I didn't expect it to be as powerful as it was. I remember afterwards me and my brother were really quiet and it felt weird and wrong to continue on with our everyday lives. But it's really cool to march with a huge group of people who are passionate about protesting."
This story is possible because of Amplify, a community storytelling initiative of Pamplin Media Group and Metro, the Portland regional government. Amplify supports two summer internships for high school journalists in the Portland metro region to cover important community issues. The program aims to elevate the voices of student journalists from historically underrepresented groups, such as communities of color, low-income residents and others. Pamplin Media Group editors oversee the interns, and Metro plays no role in the editorial process. Read more at oregonmetro.gov/news.
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