Portland in the American election campaign: a city as a symbol of protest?

Portland has become a symbol of protests against racism in the United States. That is why the metropolis is one of the favorite images of President Trump’s enemy. A site visit.

Photo series with 12 photos

James Buchal says he has fought for the conservative cause all his life. Now the head of the American Republicans in the metropolis of Portland and the surrounding Multnomah district is about to give up. “American ideals are collapsing,” said the 61-year-old lawyer. “This is no longer my country.” Buchal runs through downtown Portland, which is characterized by protests against racism and police brutality, riots and looting. US President Donald Trump portrays Portland as the core of the anarchy that would spread across the country from there – should he lose the November election.

Portland has slipped from one crisis to another in recent months. First came the coronavirus. After George Floyd’s death in late May, protests against racism and police brutality began, which also resulted in riots, looting, and skirmishes. In late August, a supporter of a right-wing group was shot dead along the sidelines of the protests, the alleged gunman – a leftist – was killed in a police operation shortly after.

USA, Portland: James Buchal, Mayor of the City, stands at the entrance to City Hall. The head of the American Republicans in the metropolis of Portland and the surrounding Multnomah district is about to give up. (Source: dpa)

Protest stronghold “Little Beirut”

The protests lasted 103 days in the city of 650,000, longer than anywhere else in the United States. They have now been interrupted by the wildfires in the state of Oregon, which have enveloped Portland in a cloud of sharp smoke for days – but that is not the end. Even wildfires have now been politicized in Oregon, and police had to deny social media rumors that Antifa supporters had started the fires.

Portland is a stronghold of left-wing protests. Even under President George H. W. Bush, who ruled the White House from 1989 to 1993, the city in the western United States was known as “Little Beirut.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, like Oregon Governor Kate Brown, is a Democrat. The city has long been a thorn in the side of Republican Trump – who profiles himself as a guarantor of public order. There has been chaos there for years, he wrote on Twitter at the end of August. “If that mayor’s joke doesn’t make it clear, we’ll go in and do it for you!”

Trump blames Antifa for riots. The triggers of the protests – racism, police brutality and social injustice – are not addressed in the election campaign. Nor does he mention that most of the demonstrations since Floyd’s death have been peaceful. Instead, Trump is fueling fear. Recently, a text message from his campaign team was written in capital letters, “Biden would let the Antifa destroy our nation.” Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 election, clearly condemned the violence during the protests.

The traces of the protests

Buchal leads the German visitor through the city center, where few people move because of the smoke. The many homeless people dominate the street scene. The starting point is the square in front of a federal courthouse, the center of the protests. The building is closed with concrete barriers and bars. The walk mainly passes closed shops, many of which are attached to the shop windows with plywood panels.

The police station has also blocked the ground floor windows, as well as the town hall. In some stores there are notes that the owner is black – in the hope that attacks will be spared. The Apple Store has been closed since the looting in late May, and protesters painted portraits of Floyd and other black victims of police brutality on the plywood in front of the windows. “That was a thriving business district,” says Buchal. “It’s just a shadow of itself.”

USA, Portland: The Apple Store has been closed and barricaded since it was looted in late May. The head of the American Republicans in the metropolis of Portland and the surrounding Multnomah district is about to give up. (Source: dpa / Can Merey)USA, Portland: The Apple Store has been closed and barricaded since it was looted in late May. The head of the American Republicans in the metropolis of Portland and the surrounding Multnomah district is about to give up. (Source: Can Merey / dpa)

How the city deals with the protests

The attorney accuses Mayor Wheeler, city council and district attorney Mike Schmidt, who was only elected in May, of having a common cause with left-wing protesters. “The whole state apparatus is corrupt and is being used to silence the right wing and promote the left wing,” he said.

Wheeler recently banned the use of CS gas against protesters, despite all protests from police. City council has banned authorities from using facial recognition software, making it difficult to identify rioters. Prosecutor Schmidt has announced that he will only pursue violations of the law during the protests in serious cases. Support for the protesters among the population seems to be declining. In an Oregon poll earlier this month, 66 percent said they disapproved of the protests.

Portland: Rescue workers used pepper spray and tear gas against protesters. (Source: Image Images / ZUMA Wire)Portland: Rescue workers used pepper spray and tear gas against protesters. (Source: ZUMA Wire / Image Images)

“Fiercely anti-fascist”

Portland protesters want to continue once the Oregon fires have subsided. At the moment many of them are busy helping those in need from the flames. They set up stalls in a parking lot next to a Portland mall. There they distribute food, sleeping mats, diapers and other everyday items.

Cate Krieger is one of the helpers. The 30-year-old is involved in the Ewoks organization, which, among other things, helps injured protesters and supports those in need during the fires. “Many of us are fiercely anti-fascist, and so am I,” she says. She was there each of the 103 days of protest. “The community has stopped protests for these efforts.” But the old slogan applies: “Without justice there is no peace.” So the protests would continue.

Krieger says the protesters did not protest “because we are militant and want to burn everything down”. The point is that the ongoing police brutality must end. For elected representatives, the needs of heterosexual whites shouldn’t count alone. She criticizes that Trump’s “divisive rhetoric” has fueled tensions among US populations. “It’s bad for our country,” says Krieger. “And four more years don’t make it any better.”

The US on the way to the left?

While critics accuse Trump of not condemning the right-wing violence, Buchal has long believed his country is on a sharp course to the left. He doesn’t think the president can do much about it. “Trump is only changing the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Buchal said. And while the Democrats suspect Trump of not wanting to acknowledge an election defeat, Buchal suspects the same about the Biden camp.

Buchal hopes for a clear victory for Trump. But he also knows that the polls are currently pointing to a good result. The Democrats believe that if this happens, Trump can mobilize his supporters. Buchal, on the other hand, expects Democrats to activate left-wing protesters if there is no winner on election night. He fears: “When it gets tight, this country will become a dangerous place.” Buchal plans to leave Portland soon after. He plans to move to Germany next year – to Mannheim, the birthplace of his German wife.

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