Epic battle of the leafblowers!
If Thursday night's episode of Portland Riot-Palooza was a bit of a dud, Friday night's was must-see TV. Those of us who invested another night in watching it unfold on Twitter were richly rewarded.
The crowd at the early evening rally in the downtown parks just keeps getting bigger. Last night there were at least 3,000 people there; one estimate said 4,000, and for sure it looked like more than 3,000 to me. New groups joined the moms' and dads' contingents that had formed a few nights before. There were health care professionals, teachers, and lawyers. There was an Asian-American line. There was a gaggle of chefs in chef hats. They marched. They sang. They chanted. They cheered the speakers. They lit up their cell phones and waved them gently in unison.
The huge crowd held a moment of silence. It was beautiful.
As I stood there in the kitchen, downing Extra Toasty Cheez-Its and scrolling away, taking it all in on the iPad, it hit me how much I dig the people of Portland. However much I dislike the government here and its puppeteers. However done I am with the United States.
There were more people demonstrating in Portland tonight than showed up for Trump's flop show in Tulsa. Way more. We are badasses in our own goofy, white bread way.
A group of veterans was on hand, and they formed a wall in front of the security fence erected outside the federal courthouse on Third Avenue. There, they replaced the wall of moms from the previous few nights. That was a bit of a relief to me, because as we all know, that fence becomes Violence Central when the nightly crapshow starts. The vets are trained to handle violence, at least on some level.
Watching the action on the screen, I was able to get a variety of angles from a sizable number of different reporters, most of them independents, who went down there and tweeted it all. The blogger Bix, himself a veteran citizen journalist, has all sorts of good journalists on his Twitter feed, and I just followed along with them. Regrettably, I am forgetting some of them at the moment, but let me list (and link) most of them: Garrison Davis, Suzette Smith, Tuck Woodstock, Robert Evans, Sergio Olmos, Griffin, Donovan Farley, Jonathan House, 45th Parallel Absurdist Brigade, Soundtrack to the End, Cory Elia, Lindsey Smith, and Clypian (which is apparently students from South Salem High, right on!). If you were following those folks on Twitter, as I was, you saw and heard a lot. Thanks to all of them, especially the ones who wound up getting hit with "less lethal" ammunition or getting tear-gassed.
So what did they show us? Same basic plot as ever – peaceful demonstration, then provocation at the fence, then tear gas (starting a little before 11 this time), Mace, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and finally a stormtrooper charge onto the streets. But heaven was in the details.
Perhaps the most entertaining segment of the night came just as "dodgeball time" started. The feds stalked out of the building and up to their side of Fencie with their usual tear gas entrance theme, but the crowd on the other side had so many leafblowers going that a lot of the gas blew back on the hapless federales.
After about an hour of this, the feds came out with their own leafblowers, to counteract the protesters'. Battle of the leafblowers! It was a scene right out of "Portlandia," I tell you.
I said to myself, this is a golden marketing opportunity for leafblower manufacturers. They could do endorsement deals with the two sides! "The Black & Decker LSW-321 – the official leafblower of the Portland Antifa." Or "The Craftsman CMCBL700D1 – approved by the Department of Homeland Security." They could get Jo Ann Hardesty and Chad Wolf to do commercials.
Unfortunately, the fed stormtroopers couldn't resist going out of their way, down the street, to be sure to give a faceful of tear gas to the moms and the doctors, who had no leafblowers handy. That was a cheap and cowardly thing to do, which is why the boys who did it will probably get a raise from whoever writes their paychecks.
Speaking of whom, some of the cameras got close to the dudes in camouflage costumes, and you could see their eyes. They looked young. And scared. It seems as though they are realizing that they are not going home, wherever that is, any time soon, and that they will be dealing with large, smart crowds here at least until the election. Worst of all, nobody here is all that afraid of them.
Anyway, when the epic leafblower tussle was at its height, somebody in the crowd whipped out a bubble machine and sent soap bubbles wafting into the tear gas. You don't see that too often.
The leafblower contest made perfect sense, really. In its own way, it was filling the void left by the suspension of competitive sports. I can see some day soon, teargas leafblowing becoming an established pastime. It could be like robotics in the high schools. Maybe it could even be in the Olympics.
Along those same lines, another aspect of the protests filled the void left by the absence of live music events. A guy with a trumpet showed up, and he knocked it out of the park all night.
Of course, as expected, he played the bugle call for "Charge!" every now and then, but for a while he also had a dance party going on the corner of Third and Salmon. A bunch of the drummers came over, and they broke into some jazzy numbers. At one point, it was like a cover version of Fred Wesley & the JBs' "Pass the Peas," but the crowd changed the lyric to "Fuck the feds."
Until the usual violent ending, the night really did have a summer festival feeling to it. Riot Ribs, the food stand, kept dishing out food to hungry protesters all night long. The folks at RR don't shut down for tear gas; one tweet showed a guy working the grill with a gas mask on. I read somewhere that so many people have donated money to Riot Ribs – well into six figures – that they have stopped accepting cash contributions for now. That is heartwarming and encouraging, I must say.
On the topic of gas masks, I hear that in light of what's happening in Portland, that item is sold out from San Diego to Vancouver, B.C. So if you waited until now to buy your back-to-school gas mask, you're out of luck.
Getting back to the protests: At 2 a.m., a drone appeared and hovered over the crowd. The airspace is restricted for a mile around the courthouse this month, and one can only assume that it was a government drone taking pictures. So add the drone to the growing list of federal aircraft that are required to make sure that kids don't spray graffiti on the courthouse.
Can you imagine how much this is costing? But hey, it's worth it. Maybe the fool in the White House will see the shot from the drone and get an overview of a bigger, better crowd than he may ever get again.
At about 2:30, somebody had a pretty big "taunting" bonfire going right where the dance party had been, and that was the cue for the stormtroopers to come marching out from inside the courthouse fence and chasing everyone as far as the Cray-Cray 7-Eleven at Fourth and Taylor. That location is a couple of blocks from the courthouse. Here are the troops pushing the rowdies north on Fourth at Salmon – exactly where the local cops gave the crowd the same rush less than a week ago.
They had a guy hogtied on the ground on Fourth in front of the Standard Insurance Center. Not sure what he was going in for. The feds handed him over to the Portland police, who otherwise didn't show their faces all night.
The feds stood at the 7-Eleven staring at the dwindling crowd for a long while, then slowly walked backward to the courthouse, with the protesters taunting them the whole way. A few canisters of tear gas were thrown back and forth as a goodnight kiss, and then pretty much everybody called it a night. It was after 3. Griffin remarked that as the protesters dispersed, they were chatting like people leaving a theater after a movie.
I'll end this report with something from Suzette Smith. She posted a tweet that sums up this summer in Portland better than a million longwinded blog posts ever could: