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An account of March 19, 2003 protest in Portland, OR


This is my personal account of the events of March 20th in Portland, Oregon, which included a permitted rally and unpermitted march. The police responded to almost wholly nonviolent protestors with pepper spray, batons, and 135 arrests.

Participating in these actions was inspiring, energizing, and hopeful and it was worth it even though I spent the night in police custody.

I went into the action (a sit-in in a downtown intersection) with reservations about the usefulness of the tactic, fully expecting to get quickly arrested, maybe pepper sprayed, while having little effect. Yet when I sat down with the rest of my affinity group, basically a group of 10 students, something truly inspiring happened. Hundreds of people from the march we were part of chose to stay with us, and demonstrate their support for our actions. Soon, many of them sat down, committing themselves to support us all the way to the point of getting arrested. These were people who had spontaneously decided to put themselves on the line for me and each other. I’ve never seen that before. And the energy in the crowd was something I’ve never felt before, either. It was animated by a spirit that said not "look out for number one," but instead "look out for one another." It was a spirit of solidarity and support, a spirit which dictated that we talk together, chant together, sing together, sit together, and get arrested together as equal human beings.

Late at night dozens of riot cops showed, when we were no longer causing any disruption. Yet they still were ordered to clear us out, because if they left us to our own devices, others might begin to see that our actions were not crazy, or radical, or wrong, but instead merely expressions of instinctual human feelings and needs. People might have been inspired by our actions to join us or act on their own. So the media preferred endless shots of talking heads over an exploration of the diverse opinions held by the crowd. And the police took away our rights. They did these things because it is natural for us to come together in solidarity, and only lies and violence even have a chance of preventing us from doing so.

Yet this action will only be a true success if we do the hard work necessary to spread this hope and solidarity to more and more people so that someday we will be free for more than the rare 8 hours on a Thursday in March.

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