The dream of the '90s died in Portland

Still, every encounter between protesters and police that I witnessed followed the same pattern: black bloc and a few Black Lives Matter supporters (fewer as the months wore on) would appear at a previously decided location. They would either attack the location or march toward the night’s target. Pilot vehicles would let marchers know where to go and whether the cops were coming. The target would be bombarded with trash, set on fire, broken into. Activists would drum and sloganeer; as summer turned to fall, the chants were almost exclusively some version of “Fuck the police.” After one to three hours, the police would appear and the activists would form a “shield line,” complete with homemade shields. This was done for the cameras: Portland’s 2020 protests, or what they devolved into, were nothing if not a revolution by cellphone, the choicest clips being those that showed the activists looking heroic and besieged. If you widened the lens to capture, say, a guy battering a building with a fire extinguisher or a girl spitting in a cop’s face, you would be accused of being “a fash”; would be shadowed in the crowd or told point-blank you were going to get your ass kicked; would have your phone or camera stolen because “YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM!” and “PHOTOGRAPHY EQUALS DEATH!”; and would later find photos of yourself posted to social media, sometimes by journalists who, mistaking activism for journalism, whistled out anyone deemed not on-message…

I don’t know how, either. I am almost sure it cannot be moved by government officials—not when their sympathies and policies have, in effect, allowed a tiny group of people to dominate the narrative for the better part of a year; have let them take the city, block by block; have seen them befoul what, less than two decades ago, was a legitimately beautiful place so seemingly full of promise that young people flocked there from across the country to fulfill their dreams. I do not believe they wanted to end up staring into a nihilistic fire, and if I could relay to activists a message it would be to stop devoting their munificent energy toward destruction, and to learn to be builders of the dream.

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