Editor’s note: Due to privacy and safety concerns, most sources opted not to share their last names. The audio interviews embedded throughout the article may have explicit language.
After two weeks of protest against police brutality and racial injustice in Portland, it’s become abundantly clear that these demonstrations are not without community support.
Thousands of people continue to gather peacefully in Portland’s parks and streets. There is plenty of coverage showing the protest as a faceless monolith. A closer look at the protest shows some demonstrators lead chants or marches, while others support the movement by making sure people have access to food, water, and medical care. We spoke to the individuals that have come together to form a support system for their fellow protesters.
Several hundred people continue to come equipped with supplies to pass out every day, the most prevalent being cases of bottled water, boxes of granola bars and bundles of bananas. There are individuals from all walks of life bringing supplies every day, but the visible support system is mostly male. People are constantly combing the crowd with hand sanitizer and other supplies while tables on the outskirts act as sign making stations and supply outposts.
Other supporters have more mobile operations. Vehicles marked ‘water’ or ‘medic’ with red tape follow the protesters on their marches through the streets of the city. Some of the snack vehicles have Venmo or Cash App links posted on each side, encouraging others to donate some money to the drivers in order to keep the supplies coming.
“As long as they keep marching, I’ll keep coming out.” -Brendan
Portland native, Brendan, is one of many individuals passing out snacks and supplies almost every day. After doing it for a couple days, he developed a strategy to help meet the needs of the protesters. A handwritten sign taped to the back of his forest green truck read ‘SNACKS! Vegan and Keto friendly!’
“I think if you can physically be here, you have a civic responsibility to be here.”-Will
Will, 30, said he remembers being at a demonstration against police brutality in Portland 10 years ago. He said that the best way for him to participate now is by using his cargo bike to distribute supplies to his fellow protesters. Will said the bike allows him to stay with the crowd as they move through the city.
The widespread protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody are occurring amidst the first global pandemic in about 100 years. Although many protesters in Portland are concerned about contracting the coronavirus, they said it will not prevent them from continuing to protest.
Most protesters come prepared with the CDC recommended face-coverings and masks, and some even gather 6 feet apart at the back of the crowd. Shouts of ‘hand sanitizer’ intermittently ring through the crowd as individuals walk around squirting gel into open hands.
“I see a few naked faces, but most people thankfully have come with masks.” – Danny
Danny, a young Portland resident, has been passing out light blue surgical masks in an effort to help his fellow protesters stay healthy.
“I don’t trust myself to be on the front line. With the skill set of being able to fix people’s cars and bikes, I’m more useful here.” -Tom
Others have found more creative ways to support the demonstrations. Tom is an east-coast transplant who’s lived in Portland for 13 years. He used to own a bike shop in the city, so he’s been using his unique skill-set to offer vehicle and bike support to those who may need it. “I’m going to stay here until everybody leaves,” he said.
“I’m out to help reform the police, maybe abolish the police if we can.” -Jackson
With the thousands of people marching and occupying public spaces day after day, inherently a lot of trash is being generated. Some individuals have taken it upon themselves to help keep those spaces clean by collecting garbage and recycling. Jackson, another east-coast transplant, is one of the few cleaning up late at night.
In addition to the supplies and services being offered at these demonstrations, there are numerous individuals volunteering as street medics. They carry expansive first-aid kits and mark themselves with a red cross so they can be easily spotted if they’re needed.
“Regardless of what you agree on, I want people to be safe.” -Chris Wise
Chris Wise is one of those volunteer medics. Wise was working as a linguistic analyst before COVID-19 forced him to find a work from home job. Now he works as a virtual receptionist. He clocks out right around 6 p.m. everyday and then goes out as a field medic till the early hours of the morning. Wise shared his experiences after patching up a young man who was bleeding after being shot with a less-lethal round directly in the head.
Wise has prior medical training which prepared him for the multitude of injuries he’s seen during his nights at the demonstrations. Following the interview, Wise shared he himself had been shot with a less-lethal round in the leg a couple nights before.