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Report Back from Youth Led Anarchist Bloc at #ClimateStrike

On Friday, the 21st of September, the climate strike happened. When I showed up for it around 9:30am, it was a supremely liberal affair, though a massive one – thousands of people gathered in and around a park across the street from city hall, despite the official start time not being 10:30am. Despite having come on the call-up of the PNW-YLF, I barely saw them in evidence. There was a group of bloc’d up teens and college-aged people in the center of the already-massive crowd occupying the park. I can only assume that this was the PNW-YLF, though I was not able to reach them at the time. Among the thousands, more than 9 out of ten were unmasked.

Guessing that the day would be filled with boredom, I left the protest to go and get breakfast. I returned, shortly after the official start time, to an even more massive affair – though a no less liberal one. I walked around the block, through the filled streets, trying to observe what I could. Of immediate significance, two employees of the Guyauki b-corp were giving away Yerba Mate. An elderly woman in a neon yellow safety vest approach one of the vendors, and said: “We need you to stay in the back. We want to put people up color up front.” This is a deeply Portland and deeply progressive sentiment – don’t address the lack of diversity, just try to pretend that it isn’t there, at least for the cameras. A sort of Potemkin anti-racism.

There was some clearly marked socialism in evidence, but nothing terribly significant. Two red-shirted Trots manning a Socialist Alternative table, selling newspapers; and a dozen or so DSA members milling around one corner of the sidewalk, with an out-sized number of cops standing around them. The police presence was largely non-militarized; visible faces, holstered weapons.

The bloc’d-up anarchists trickled in to the protest, gathering directly in front of city hall. I moved amongst them. Their signs were subpar, and required long-winded explanations to be understandable. At one point, two bloc’d up people tried to advance into City Hall, but were repelled by mere shouting from unarmed office workers.

Local Far-Right Grifters Attempt to Engage Protesters

I heard rumors that Haley Adams (a local far-Right leader) and company were in evidence somewhere in the protest, though I could not find them at that time. Eventually, a bloc’d up person on a bicycle road up to the group, and informed us that there were bloc’d up people marching elsewhere that we might want to join up with. As we set off, the man on the bike complained that we were not following proper consensus in doing so, but was roundly ignored by everyone who followed after him – which, ironically, is a perfect example of how consensus emerges, and what it is really all about.

As we marched in a growing black-clad group, picking up members, Haley and company moved to block our path, while screaming incoherent obscenities. We merely moved around them, as there were only six on them, including Haley herself. Amongst them, there were only one or two that looked like serious fighters. I heard one of the fighters scream, “Did you just assume my gender?,” proving that the Right still has yet to produce any new jokes.

As we joined with the main march, another elderly white woman in a yellow vest came up to us. It may have been the same elderly white woman as before. It’s hard to tell. She was such a generic aging hippy that I have to wonder if someone bought her off a sales rack. This time though the generic hippy was frantic and panicked, saying something along the lines of: “Stop! You can’t! You all promised! This is a no-mask march! You agreed!” We stared at her in confusion, because we had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

As the bloc spread out and through the crowd, things became more chaotic – we split up into ones and twos and threes, going about various self-appointed tasks as we advanced towards the front, and our ultimate task of getting past a thin and scattered line of reporters and police standing between us and the Hawthorne bridge. Our bloc merged with another, larger one, at the front – this one notably young, composed mostly of bloc’d up teens. Their youth, and their banners, immediately identified them to me as the PNW-YLF. I had been impressed by their coordination and courage at the last action and was elated to march with them.

That same aging hippy, or perhaps one who locked just like her, appeared again – this time, telling us not to get to the front, because “we” wanted no reporters to get pictures of people with masks on amongst the protest. She went so far as to grab at me over this, jerking my arm. I slipped out of her feeble grasp, and we marched onwards. Merging quickly into a scattering and reforming column, we punched through the line, the group’s youthful bravado baring us past the stunned and outnumbered police officers. We were liked self-willed water, flowing up the slope of that bridge.

Seeing the break in the line that we had created, liberals flowed after us, first a trickle, and then a torrent. The liberals mostly stayed behind us, but some flowed ahead and past our group. Multiple of them separately looped back to tell us that Haley was up ahead of us and telling anyone who would listen that she was going to start a fight with us. One said that Haley and company had an ice pick they planned to use on us, though I never saw any such thing. They looked concerned, though we certainly were not still, the support was touching and a sign of anarchist legitimacy in Portland. The contrast between the behavior of the rank-and-file of the liberals and the behavior of the protest marshals is interesting: while the rank-and-file saw us as people to go to and give information to, and the protest marshalsAnd were under the impression that we would take orders from them, neither sought to reject us. In fact, they actively included us. This is the long-term fruit of sustained antifascism. Whatever the liberal media might trumpet, those in the street believe what they see.

Haley and company, having such pathetically small numbers, were able to maneuver around to the front of us, and took selfies of herself flashing the OK hand sign (appropriated as a dogwhistle by the Alt-Right) and took videos of herself chanting along with us, as she appeared to be trying to pretend that she was working with, or even leading, the PNW-YLF; this is a bizarre ruse that she has a history of engaging in, and that I mentioned in my last article for this publication. Any pretense of this illusion was shattered by PNW-YLF members shouting insults at her, which eventually provoked her largest fighter to turn backwards, to the right, and scream something back, though whatever drivel he wanted to voice was cut off mid-sentence as someone squirted him in the eyes with a water bottle before retreating just as quickly. The far-Right fighter screamed in rage and charged at the bloc, as more pepper spray was deployed in response. Terrifyingly, he charged two or three feet into the spray, roaring like a bull, till he dropped his head and turned back, the pain overcoming his idiotic rage. After this, Haley and her goon ran on ahead and the bloc regrouped.

At the end of the bridge, we turned right onto a walk down towards the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) – dancing around a knot of police in the process, using the swarming liberals as cover. On the walk down, some idiot was handing out flyers for Extinction Rebellion, with very few takers. Someone was heard explaining why joining up with XR was such a bad idea.

On the walk to OMSI, the second and smaller of Haley’s fighters marched into the crowd. Attempts to expel him were slower, but eventually successful. He attempted to confront one person in particular, and when the person told him to leave them alone, he was heard loudly saying: “You think you can tell me what to do just because I’m Mexican?”. The fighter may indeed have been of Latinx heritage, though the motivation for expelling him was based on the violence of his associates, not his race – obviously.

By the time the group arrived at the gathering on OMSI property, there was only one member of Haley’s crew left, a teenage boy wearing a beanie. No one particularly felt like engaging with him, simply because he seemed completely ineffectual and harmless. While at the gathering, a group discussion occurred, during which a chant rose up again and again from many corners: “the wrong ICE is melting, the wrong Amazon is burning.”

Police Attack at ICE Building

The group then began to march to the nearby ICE facility, mere blocks away. The PNW-YLF dispatched a text alert, asking for back-up, to everyone who had signed up for the system, and we were off. A teenager on a bike rode ahead of us, eventually returning to us at the foot of the Tilikum bridge and telling us breathlessly that the way was clear, our spontaneous movement towards the ICE facility could have been predicted by no one, not even us. Police were tied up with the main protest, and had no one out here to back up the ICE agents. He rode out again to check further. When we were within a block of the facility, the scout returned and told us that six or seven squad cars were following after us, though I only ever saw two of them.

People then marched to the front of the entrance to the ICE facility, where people held banners and began chanting. According to news reports, a tree branch and several rocks were thrown at the side of the building. Without warning, officers unloaded into the crowd with a rapid-fire stream of pepper balls. Everyone ran. I ran, too, bent over and maneuvering behind parked cars for cover. One person was hit and later collapsed off their bike and into a wall, hitting their head. A medic administered first aid. I am told that the person had a seizure.

Meanwhile across town, police violently arrested several teens on the Hawthrone bridge, bringing anger and condemnation from the public, who had watched the department only weeks before shut down the structure in order to march Proud Boys, militia members, and white nationalists to safety. In response. Fox News and disgraced far-Right grifter Andy Ngo played up fears of ‘ANTIFA’ involved in the Climate Strike while the police released a statement defending their violent tactics. Clearly, these are attempts by the far-Right, the State, and corporate forces to split the Climate movement and divorce it from the radical and anti-capitalist elements which have always been at the heart of the ecological movement.

Back to my vantage point, the group had devolved into shouting and panic, unable to make effective plans. No one could agree on anything, and hostile bougie liberals were closing in; the ICE facility was in such an upscale neighborhood that we had almost no support. Pepper spray had gotten into my eyes, and I could barely see. I grabbed my companion’s hand, and told him that we were going. He had no complaint with this plan of action, and so we fled through narrower and narrower sidewalks, down through shrubs, and over hard terrain to the rock-strewn riverbank, where no security cameras would look. We unmasked and crouched at the edge of the cool water. I washed my face till the burning was mostly gone.

We discussed how and where we would exit from this, eventually choosing the most obvious plan. We looked out over the peaceful black expanse of the Willamette. My companion turned to me and told me: “If this was a TV show, this is where the episode would end.”

The events at the Portland Climate Strike offer many tactical considerations. People’s courageous action and quick thinking repeatedly were able to repel attempts by members of the far-Right to attack Climate Strike protesters. On the other hand, the situation encountered at the ICE facility shows us yet again the capacity of the State to engage in drastic acts of violence at the drop of a hat.

The youth who took action during the Climate Strike in Portland are great kids, and should absolutely be supported. They are the future of anarchism – and they very much appear to be applying or re-inventing the techniques of the Hong Kong radicals. They ​were​ like water, even though they may still be a little green.