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Staying Safe While Protesting Fascism

By Austen Lethbridge-Scarl

Portland is fired up to stage a massive counterprotest against Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys, and whatever other extreme right wing groups show up on September 26th. XR will be there and I hope you can join us Saturday in saying that hate is not welcome here.


At the risk of stating the obvious, Saturday’s event has the potential to be less safe than you might be used to. Stopping Zenith from killing the planet and stopping hate groups from driving around Portland with AR-15s are different kinds of challenges. This won’t be as dramatic as the Hatfield Courthouse protests, but hate groups are unpredictable and, as the name suggests, they hate you. (Yes, you, personally.) They also have many friends in the Portland Police, so even though the law is on our side, the people who should be enforcing it are not.


So here’s a few simple safety tips to make this Saturday a good one!


The most important thing, by far, is knowing your risk tolerance. How much danger are you comfortable facing? Groups like PopMob like to organize things into Red, Yellow and Green zones. If you plan on bringing your kids (which you should!), the Green zone is the place for you. If you want to confront these guys directly, that’s Red zone business (and very extremely dangerous). Never do anything you aren’t comfortable with!


Another risk factor is time. Police like to stay out of the way when the hate groups are in town and only declare a riot once they leave. They’re less likely to do this against a large crowd, but remember that this is the same organization that had no problem teargassing families in their cars back in May (and still thinks it was the right call). Risk increases as the sun sets and by nightfall all bets are off.


The last thing may seem like paranoia, but trust me: think about protecting your identity against surveillance. Trying to stop fascism is inherently dangerous and your participation may someday make you a target. That danger itself is why we must speak out. But be safe while doing it!


Surveillance comes from three places:

  1. The government, including police. (Courts have explicitly ordered Portland Police to stop filming protesters but they do it anyway.)

  2. The hate groups we’re protesting.

  3. Other protesters.

The last one is extremely important! It’s tempting to record the amazing crowd around you but doing so puts everyone in the path of your camera at risk. No matter what’s happening around you, do not film people without permission! Facial recognition technology is banned in Portland but not on the internet, and there are plenty of people willing to go through footage the old fashioned way.


The best protection against this will always be black bloc, but I understand if that feels a bit extreme. If nothing else, you can use the tried and true celebrity disguise: a hat, sunglasses and the cloth mask you should be wearing anyway.


Hopefully Saturday will be a celebration of the solidarity and kindness that make Portland awesome. Just keep safety in the back of your mind.


See you there!

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