OP-ED: Portland’s Protest Culture
By Matthew Wurst
A renaissance in understanding the motivations behind people choosing to use their platforms to exercise a non-violent protest has occurred in recent years. The issue came to light again recently after Olympian Gwen Berry used her platform to protest during the National Anthem during the Olympic Trials being held in Eugene, Oregon. The more prominent response has been the rise in efforts to vilify these individuals as unpatriotic, as people who hate America, as those who should leave America if they hate it so much. Indeed, as Portland became the center of national attention during the protests last summer sparked by the murder of George Floyd, similar accusations were levied by conservative commentators and leaders begging the question of “If they hate America so much, why don’t they just leave?”
What is often overlooked is that the very action of peacefully protesting the actions of the United States during the playing of the National Anthem has always been an example of what America stands for. One of the earliest examples of athletes maximizing their platform to bring attention to the shortfall of America to live up to the values it professes is from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the air. Although their salute was vilified, the symbol persists and decades later when Colin Kaepernick would take a knee in for similar reasons, the reaction was almost predictable.
In Portland, and cities across the nation, protestors are not acting out of hatred for America, but because they know that America can, and should, be more than what we currently are. We recognize the systemic racism that exists persisted after the success of the Civil Rights Movement in passing civil rights legislation; that police brutality exists when the central tenant of police departments is to “protect and serve”; that as a nation we have never successfully lived up to the ideals of ensuring “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, the promise of America is that we always continued to strive to uphold our values.
That was central to the protests of last summer and of protests during the National Anthem. As a society, we have failed communities across the nation in protecting their rights, their communities, and even their lives. We protest for a change in the status quo because failure to uphold our American values is a failure of us as Americans. The fact that we protest does not mean we hate America; it is because we know that America can and should be better. With Portland becoming a “poster child” for everything wrong with America by conservative media, it’s important to remind ourselves that Portland’s strong culture of protesting the government is uniquely American.
It is important to remember that as Americans we are not out to destroy each other’s beliefs, but to continue to push for the realization of the more just and equitable society we deserve. As President Lincoln stated in his first Inaugural Address “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
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