Portland Protest Points to a Deeper Divide Over the City’s Identity

PORTLAND, Ore. — When Callista Fink informed her father 10 years in the past that she was shifting to Oregon’s largest metropolis, his response was fast: “You’re moving to a place with a lot of white supremacists,” Ms. Fink remembered her father saying.

In the years since, Ms. Fink, who grew up in Illinois and works in hospital administration, has not absolutely satisfied her father that he was fallacious, regardless of the prevailing picture of Portland as a beacon of tolerance. She has questioned, in her travels round the state, whether or not a totally different, extra troubling Oregon was by no means far-off, lurking beneath the floor.

That conundrum got here to the fore on Saturday. Far-right teams arrived for a rally on the Willamette River waterfront, with numerous blustery discuss of violence. Leftists, lots of them masked and apparently equally dedicated to combat, met them in counterprotest. And the police, in a metropolis the place demonstrations routinely flip violent or harmful, held the line towards either side, later dispersing the crowds with flash-bang grenades and pepper spray.

Portlandia, as many individuals name their metropolis, in shrugging resignation or embrace of the caricature from the tv comedy by that title, may appear to many Americans the least possible of locations to be on the boil as a political caldron. But the deep disparity between the place the metropolis started and the place it ended up — from an openly racist territorial capital in the 19th century to considered one of the nation’s most politically progressive cities — has by no means absolutely been resolved, or healed.

“It’s still trying to find its identity — that’s why it brings in the extremes,” mentioned Mark Landers, 39, who works for an artwork provide and framing retailer.

Mr. Landers mentioned that as a result of Portland didn’t get as large a wave of immigrants as many different cities did, it remained frozen in place when it comes to range. “Stuck” was his phrase for it. Portland is considered one of the whitest large cities in America, nearly 78 %, and has a smaller share of foreign-born residents, in accordance to the census.

The piercing retailers and tattoo parlors, the working jokes about all people being in a band (or preoccupied with “artisan knots”), can generally obscure the lesser-known points of the metropolis’s identification.

“There’s a massive state of denial,” mentioned Randy Blazak, a sociologist and chair of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes.

Both the left and the proper can see the Portland they need to see, and refuse to see the components they don’t like.

For some, the previous picture of the nation’s white Northwest — generally known as Cascadia, a piney, legendary homeland freed from immigrants and minorities — lives on as a place price defending, although it’s now largely a mirage, Mr. Blazak mentioned. And many Oregonians refuse to examine or acknowledge the legacy of their historical past, from the state’s founding to the rise of its Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to the gentrification and displacement of communities of coloration right now, he mentioned.

Language included by common referendum in the 1857 State Constitution prohibited blacks from residing right here, proudly owning property or coming into authorized contracts, and made Oregon the solely non-slavery state admitted into the union with a so-called exclusion clause. The provision was never strictly enforced, historians mentioned. But some racist language remained in the Constitution by way of as late as 2002. Oregon’s inhabitants continues to be solely 2.2 % black.

“When I talk to people and say Oregon was formed as this whites-only state, there’s this look of ‘How that could possibly be?’” Mr. Blazak mentioned. “People are just shocked that this is our history.”

That historical past nonetheless endures. Skinhead teams rose to prominence right here in the 1980s, and final yr, a man spouting what witnesses mentioned had been racist and anti-Muslim language stabbed two people to death on a transit train.

Oregon for a few years intentionally sought to cordon itself off from the remainder of the nation, and by some measures succeeded. In the early 1970s, Gov. Tom McCall famously urged Americans to come and go to — with a caveat: “But I also ask them, for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live.” (Some have speculated that Mr. McCall was utilizing reverse psychology: Tell folks not to come they usually’ll instantly suppose they’re lacking out on one thing nice.)

Insularity, and the concept that some sort of totally different society — whether or not racist, utopian, progressive or one thing else — might be conceived and constructed at the Northwest fringe of the continent, nonetheless runs deep in the tradition.

Though Portland is the financial engine of the state, with a majority of the jobs and about 59 % of the state’s inhabitants of four.1 million residing in the metro space, its progressive politics can generally come off as hostile to enterprise. That is in stark distinction with Seattle, which to the Northwest is each a rival metropolis to Portland and its polar reverse. Seattle has cultivated for generations the concept that it could someday turn out to be a nice world metropolis and an financial titan. Portland simply doesn’t dream that manner.

“Seattle will do anything to promote business,” mentioned Todd Brundage, 51, an funding adviser who mentioned his plan for Saturday’s rally was to keep as far-off as potential. “Here, they’re like, ‘Whatever, we couldn’t care less. Stay or go.’”

Divisions over the area’s identification have prompted repeated clashes and protests, particularly since the election of President Trump. The rally on Saturday was organized partially by Patriot Prayer, which espouses anti-immigrant rhetoric and obtained a authorized allow from the metropolis for the occasion. A bunch known as Rose City Antifa began in Portland greater than a decade in the past, and its members, usually masked, have proven themselves to be as serious about breaking home windows, vandalizing companies and difficult the police as combating the proper wing.

The rally and counterprotests, which wound alongside the Willamette River east of downtown, had loads of rage, shouted insults and a few thrown punches on either side. But the Portland police had been additionally out in drive and moved to break up the counterprotesters first, after rocks and bottles, the police mentioned, had been thrown at officers.

The authorities additionally confiscated a number of would-be weapons all through the day, and 4 folks had been arrested on numerous costs that included disorderly conduct, illegal use of a weapon and trying to assault a police officer, in accordance to the Portland Police Bureau.

As the two teams confronted off, the Patriot Prayer group chanted “U-S-A!,” “Trump!” and “Build the wall!” The counterprotesters largely denounced Nazis.

Skirmishes broke out and a few folks, together with a local reporter, had been seen bleeding and nursing accidents. At least three folks acquired medical remedy, the police mentioned.

But as for the widespread violence that many had feared and was talked up on social media, “the rhetoric didn’t seem to manifest,” mentioned Chris May, 31, a scholar who had come to watch. Much of the protest appeared to be about spectacle and showboating.

There is a sample, and it lengthy predates the latest protests and the election of Mr. Trump: To teams on the fringe, consideration is oxygen, and Portland is a excellent spot to get it.

Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting from New York.

A model of this text seems in print on , on Page A19 of the New York version with the headline: Clash in Portland Points to City’s Deeper Racial Divide. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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