Activists take to icy streets to reclaim King’s legacy

Icy roads were no match for the fiery attitude of the crowd

Don't Shoot Portland activists marched through Portland's snowy streets Sunday afternoon to bring attention to civil rights and other issues on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. January 16, 2017, (Jonathan House, Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Don’t Shoot Portland activists took to the snowy streets Sunday afternoon to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, and to press their case for civil liberties.

About 100 people joined the march during the cold, sunny day, starting at Peninsula Park and ending at artist Michael F. Dente’s 8-foot-3 bronze statue of King, “The Dream,” at the Oregon Convention Center.

Icy roads were no match for the fiery attitude of the crowd that chanted, “Oh Portland! Why are you asleep?” or “Hey hey!, Ho ho!, These racists have got to go!”

Organizers used the event to gather three truckloads of donations for the city’s homeless. Their goal? to reclaim MLK’s legacy of civil rights activism and spirit of resistance, and “resist (President-elect Donald) Trump,” whose campaign rhetoric was seen as hostile to civil rights and human rights, acivists and leaders.

In a Jan. 12 annual report, Human Rights Watch listed the United States as a threat to human rights for the first time in the 27 years, citing as its reasoning the rise of Trump and the alt-right populist movement.

On Friday, Jan. 13, the president-elect criticized U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a well-known African-American civil rights icon who was severely beaten twice during marches and who helped organize the 1963 Poor Peoples’ March on Washington, where King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. Lewis told a TV interviewer that he didn’t think Trump was a legitimate president because of Russian interference in the presidential race, and wouldn’t attend the inauguration. Trump’s Twitter response: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

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That set off a firestorm of criticism from national civil rights advocates and leaders.

“We already know we have a tough road ahead of us with this Trump administration,” said Teressa Raiford, founder of Don’t Shoot Portland and a Black Lives Matter activist. But, Raiford emphasized that protesting isn’t the only answer, and that racism didn’t start with Trump’s election.

Love and kindness

On Feb. 1, when the Legislature convenes, members of Don’t Shoot Portland plan to spend time in Salem, pressing their causes.

“Our senators and everybody who can pass laws and policies and mandate changes (who) are going to help us maintain our civil rights, or have access to the ones we’ve been fighting for, since everybody thinks this country just got racist because of Trump — that starts in February,” Raiford said.

Raiford wasn’t the only one at the rally who doesn’t believe that recent escalations in racism were born out of Trump’s election. Tosha Bock, of Portland, who came from Eastern Oregon and is biracial, thinks that many people had the idea that “we were in a different place than we really were.” Especially in Portland, she says. “Everyone kind of just felt a little more relaxed and able to be who they wanted to be, but in reality I think there’s still a lot of that segregation maybe, or separation (and) racism that’s hidden in the underbelly of the U.S.”

The march was billed as family-friendly, and some parents took the opportunity for a teachable moment.

Karen Davis, of St. Johns, who is white, brought her adopted daughter, Rachelle, 7, originally from Haiti, to the rally to show her that Martin Luther King Jr. “represents love and helped people have rights. Brown people.”

“I think it’s my primary goal as her mother to represent love and kindness — the MLK celebration is the perfect timing for that,” Davis said.

The group didn’t stray too far from its roots of focusing on excessive use of police force: The march made a stop outside the Portland Police Bureau for four and a half minutes of silence to acknowledge lives lost in recent years to police shootings.

But quickly, it was back to chanting, as the sun started to set, fingers numb, noses running: “All our life we’ve had to fight, but we’re gonna be all right.”