Anti-racism protests in Portland will carry on: professor

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Anti-racism demonstrators take to the streets in Portland on July 29, 2020
Anti-racism demonstrators take to the streets in Portland on July 29, 2020 Alisha JUCEVIC AFP/File

The anti-racism protests that have taken place in Portland almost daily since May have become a hot issue in the US presidential race and will probably continue for some time, says University of Oregon political scientist Joe Lowndes.

Question: After 100 days of protests in Portland following the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, is this movement against racism and police brutality running out of steam?

Answer: “I think the fact that it has gone on for this long since May, consistently every night, means that we’re likely to not see it end any time soon. The grievances with the Portland Police Bureau and with the mayor’s office are deep and there is a strong protest culture in Portland.

“There were very large protests. They began to dwindle a little bit to a few hundred people until Trump brought federal agents in during the summer, and then the number surged again into the thousands…. And at the moment, they are a few hundred again, although they have sustained in terms of militancy and consistency of showing up.”

Q: Are the demands made by the Black Lives Matter movement still at the heart of the Portland demonstrations, or have they been eclipsed by demands of a more political nature?

A: “I think it’s a mix. You know, there are there are certainly questions of police violence against black people… So it’s partly about Black Lives Matter. But partly it’s about the police themselves and who controls them.

“What we might call the horizontalism of this movement, that kind of leaderless quality of it, makes it very different from social movements in the past, makes it very different from, say, the height of the black freedom movement, the 1960s.

“There’s no organizational forms or structures to make decisions about what will happen. And so, then, you don’t control who shows up, or what the thrust of the actions will be, and where they’ll go and what kinds of escalations there will be.”

Q: President Donald Trump routinely denounces the situation in Portland and the demonstrations, which often lead to clashes with police. Could this play a part in the presidential election in November?

A: “There’s a lot of concern that these protests might be useful for the right — if Black Lives Matter protesters are framed as being rioters and looters and not people who have democratic dissenters with government policy.

“And that’s something that the Trump administration and the Trump campaign hopes will turn out its base. And it might help actually, it may well help the Trump campaign. But I’m not sure for the protesters that their first aim is to defeat Trump.

“It’s not clear that this protest movement is going to be something that’s going to win him more votes … it depends also on how (Joe) Biden takes this up.

“The country is very divided, extraordinarily divided, probably more divided than any time it has been has since the 1850s. I would say the fact that you have armed violence on the street, and a sitting president condemning one side and encouraging the other in this kind of struggle, is extraordinary and very new. The talk of civil war is, you know, is real, and many people have that on their minds.

“I think the next few months are going to be quite volatile.”

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