Mark Gaither, Staff Writer – Thursday, July 23, 2020
Seth & Alex
Seth asked me if I had a helmet and Alex chimed in that I would need it to protect myself against the projectiles fired by the Federal Police. Seth then handed me a black baseball helmet which he produced from the large bag he carried on his back. By the time our interaction was done, Seth and Alex had given me earplugs to protect against the flash-bang grenades and a squeeze bottle of teargas neutralizer. On Thursday, July 23rd, around 11:30 PM, I found Seth and Alex sitting on the brick steps of the Terry Schrunk Plaza at 3rd and Madison, diagonally across from Multnomah County Justice Center. They were both dressed in black, Alex was on a scooter and Seth was carrying a black, homemade shield with the word RESCUE in white letters. Much like many of the other individuals in the crowd, they had found a purpose. Seth used his shield to protect people that the police were attempting to attack, either directly or with teargas canisters or rubber bullets. They informed me that once the police and federal forces attack, it is best to simply walk away. Seth let me know that he will be up the street helping people rinse the teargas from their eyes. They had both been participating for the majority of the 55 days the protests have endured.
Bev Barnum and another “Mom” in a yellow shirt, approached me, and two out-of-town gentlemen with cell phones taking video. Bev accused me and the two gentlemen of taking photos of the WallofMoms vehicles that were parked along Madison. I quickly informed Bev that I was not with this two men, both of whom now were quickly walking away. Something that I said convinced Bev that I was telling the truth. We introduced ourselves with an elbow bump and through COVID-19 masks proceed to tell each other why were were here this night. Bev informed me that she was the person who started the WallofMoms in Portland, a group dedicated to protecting the protesters by forming a wall of “moms” dressed in yellow shirts. This night the human wall blocking 3rd Avenue stretched onto the sidewalks on both sides of the street. They are a dedicated group, working in “buddy” pairs, practicing non-violence. They stood in a line for over two hours. Much of the last hour before the Federal Police began firing teargas, Bev was in the intersection leading chants and watching every direction, waiting for the attack to begin. At about 1:15 AM, teargas began drifting toward us from Main Street. The small amount of teargas at first simply stung my eyes. I rinsed them with the solution that Seth and Alex had given me and then with another eyewash. The burning didn’t stop. But it wasn’t bad enough for me to leave. Though it all, Bev was still in the intersection keeping the Moms together and keeping them safe. She looked at me at one point and said she was scared. From my position on the sidewalk, I let her know I was scared… I was terrified. As the teargas increased it was impossible to stay in place. Everyone began moving west, away from the courthouse. The teargas was so bad that I had to resort to washing my eyes with water. Thankfully, there were strangers on the streets, handing out water and helping people flush their eyes. My lip burned from the teargas and water mix that became trapped behind my mask… Almost twelve hours later, I can still feel the burn.
Early on in the evening, I had the courage to move past the WallofMoms to the front of the courthouse where people were speaking to an open-mic, hosted by the Black Lives Matter participants. A young black woman in striped black-n-white slacks was speaking. Standing at the base of the rotunda columns that front the entrance to the courthouse, Kinsey was giving an passionate speech about her choice to participate in these protests, why she was now standing in front of this large crowd. She talked about how the system tried to define her blackness. She expressed how she was proud to lead with her vulnerability, how each of us had to be in touch with our own vulnerabilities to be able to listen to the most vulnerable. Next to Kinsey, a United States flag was flying upside down, a sign of distress. She promoted “radical inclusivity” the right of every person to be included in society – “This is American as it gets!”