What’s the truth of the #J20PDX protest? Arrests and crime? Here’s what protesters said about resistance, civil disobedience.

Poor for a Minute
7 min readJan 22, 2017

Is Portland’s “#J20PDX” protest in Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday a tale of vandalism, tear gas, rubber bullets, burning flags and police arrests?

Or is it about Pierrette Tanguay, a woman with multiple sclerosis, showing up in her wheelchair to exercise her First Amendment rights and protest President Donald Trump’s imminent dismantling of the Affordable Care Act?

“Resistance” and “civil disobedience” — in the words of Portland protesters from the #J20PDX assembly in Pioneer Courthouse Square Jan. 20, 2017. Video by Thacher Schmid

If you only read media accounts like KGW’s “a tense night in downtown Portland” story, which focuses on the goings-on after dark — after Tanguay and many others left — you might think all protesters are hoodlums.

This post, and video above, are about what Tanguay and 10,000 others did and said for five hours before the 8 p.m. official end of the event, since the football-esque back-and-forth skirmishes that happened after dark have received most of the media attention.

So, who is the average Portland protester? If Poor for a Minute interviews on the 5-minute video above are any guide, she’s civil, literate and involved. Reserved, at times.

She’s more racially and culturally diverse than you might think, and she’s a moral creature: mostly polite, and expressive.

She has a knack for making some hilarious signs.

Portlanders protest on January 20, 2017. Photo by Thacher Schmid.

She’s also offended. You could describe her as someone who prefers not to take her gloves off, but now that President Donald Trump has slapped her several times, and is getting ready to go for more, she’s rolling up her sleeves, and just took the gloves off.

If the 10,000 or more who attended the Friday #J20PDX protest and the 100,000-strong in attendance at the next day’s Women’s March are any guide, she’s legion.

What does resistance mean to you?

Portland being Portland, there’s no one answer to the question. In fact, President Donald Trump’s ability to divide us, to inspire resistance and outrage for diverse reasons may by the first big story of his presidency.

“To try to express my absolute disdain and dismay that this man has become president,” says Meg Tims.

“I’m resisting his immorality — [Trump’s] disgusting behavior towards women,” says Beth Hirschfield.

“Resistance in a scientific sense is opposition to electrical current, and in this sense it’s opposition to political activities that we don’t approve of,” says Victor, who says he’s a scientist.

“Resistance means showing up. You can’t let racism, fascism, misogyny take hold in your communities, you need to show up, be a block, stop it before it gets out of hand,” Duncan Zevetski says.

“The forefathers put in the Constitution the right to protest if the government isn’t doing what it should be,” says Pierrette Tanguay, who is in a wheelchair. Tanguay adds that she suffers from multiple sclerosis, can’t afford to pay for her medical bills without the Affordable Care Act, and is concerned Trump’s going to cut the so-called “Obamacare.”

“You can have a whole country full of people who don’t like what’s going on, and nothing changes, because nobody’s saying anything,” says Victor. “But if a lot of people are saying something, then people are more likely to do something, because they know that they have more of a connection with the people around them, that they’re not alone in their views.”

“It’s a little bit weird to come here after [the election], because we’re not really protesting, other than saying ‘oh, this sucks,’” says Sara Westerfeld.

“I think [resisting] means fighting for what you believe in,” says Blair Vallie.

“I just think it means not accepting things the way they are,” says Clark Gazzola.

“Not accepting a racist president, just speaking up for things you believe in, like equality, doesn’t matter which gender or race,” says Sarah, an American who “grew up overseas.”

“Public discourse, talking to people about your opinions, meeting to organize … basically, being politically active outside of just protests,” says Chris Lum.

“This isn’t America’s president, people don’t want him to be president, so they’re resisting, and that should say something about the election process and the electoral college,” says Rob Turke.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is a good president for us,” says Sammie Tasso. “He’s racist, he’s sexist — shit, he even has rape charges against him.”

“We’re all here to express our total dislike of the president, basically,” says Sofia Aiello.

“It means standing up for what’s right, for what you believe in, to protect the other people around you, to lift up your brothers and sisters and join together against oppression and fascism,” says Sara B., who declined to give a last name.

“It means calling people out, and it means being aware that with Trump being president, a lot of people that had feelings that maybe they knew were wrong, they’re going to feel validated in having those feelings — like racism, homophobia, sexism — they’re all going to feel like now, that it’s okay. So I guess resistance is, every day, calling those out, in a way that people will listen,” says “Rattle Battle,” who wore a black cloth over their face, anarchist style, and stood with others who carried an upside-down American flag. “Learning language that’s conducive to talking, rather than just being pissed,” they add. “But today is a day to fucking be pissed.”

“Being out here in the streets, but I also think that [it’s] organizing, building strong connections with other activists so we can fight in more militant ways in the future, for example, going on strike against his platforms, be they economic or political, like attacks on black people, attacks on women’s bodies,” says Camille Avian. “I think it’s great doing a march, but I think we have to take it to the next level.”

“Being willing to not just sit and think and wish, but actually take action and make your voice heard,” says Deloria, part of a group of five women dressed as cats that also included Luna, Kiva, Mira and Ravona.

“I feel like normally, I wouldn’t be a person to resist, but something like this is making me feel like coming out,” says David Grandfield.

Portlanders protest on January 20, 2017. Photo by Thacher Schmid.

Do you believe in civil disobedience?

While many protesters seemed willing to consider various options and tools — and clearly, some were willing later that evening to break laws to make their point—the vast majority of those interviewed emphasized the importance of nonviolence and constructive action.

“To a point,” says Tanguay. What point? “Not hurting other people. It’s not okay to hurt other people, and I don’t think there’s anything gained from destroying property.”

“We’re trying to keep it very civil, very peaceful” say Crystal Clark and Blair Vallie.

“As long as one is peaceful and doing things mindfully, rather than just mad chaos, and say, destroying things for destruction’s sake — that’s not civil disobedience, that’s chaos,” says Deloria. “A spirit of I want to disobey the norm, but in a peaceful and constructive way, that’s what civil disobedience is to me.”

“Blocking traffic and stuff, it does make it out to the larger people, like when Occupy was happening, my sister, who, like all she cares about is like fashion and buying shit, like actually complained about the Occupy movement in San Francisco. She actually had to think about it, because it fucked up her commute. And she’s like, ‘What’s the point? Blah, blah blah.’ I’m like, ‘This conversation is the point,’” says Sara Westerfeld.

“It’s good to have people engaging in discourse, that to me is most important with resistance,” Chris Lum says.

“I’m a college student, I don’t want to get in trouble,” Rob Turke says.

“Would I ever do vandalism or anything like that,” Sammie Tasso asks. “No. All I want is my voice to be heard, and that’s it.”

“I wouldn’t vandalize anything, because that doesn’t really make a point to the president — it’s not going to change anything,” Sofia Aiello says. “That’s a local business that you’re hurting.”

While saying they favor nonviolence, a few refused to rule out that at some point, crossing the line from nonviolence to “breaking eggs” could be necessary.

“Civil disobedience? Yes, yeah, totally. I will not do anything that Trump wants that I feel is immoral,” Hirschfield says.

“[Standing up for what you believe in] has to [take the form of civil disobedience,” Sara B. says, declining to give a last name. “You’re peacefully protesting, prayerfully protesting, and making sure your voice is heard, but not harming others. It hasn’t come to that yet.”

So nonviolence, but sometimes laws get broken?

“That happens,” Sara B. adds. “You break a couple eggs.”

“Sometimes it’s necessary,” says Sarah, who said she’s American but speaks with a German accent. “Doesn’t include violence or riots, but disobedience to follow racist laws is a good thing.”

“For me, [civil disobedience] includes a lot of different and varied tactics,” says Duncan Zevetski. “It depends on the situation.”

“I’m all about getting attention, and sometimes that takes some shit getting broken,” says David Grandfield. “I personally am not going to be breaking anything, and I don’t try to promote that, but it makes sense to me. It’s not a surprise.”

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Poor for a Minute

We are all poor due to the broken social safety net in the United States, the world’s richest nation. Portfolio, bio, contact: ThacherSchmid.com