It was in a place of mourning that we Portlanders learned an all-star line-up of the worst White America has to offer would soon decamp in our mild-mannered city. The new knowledge promised to transform the pain into something more useful. But what? All anyone knew is that the need for remedy was strong.
Roughly 1,000 of us, more brown and foreign-born than normal for this town, were expressing our collective sorrow, candles in our hands and hurt in our eyes, on the green, grand yard outside Hollywood Station on Saturday, May 27. We mostly stood a strong stone’s throw from where a worst-case scenario white male, Jeremy Joseph Christian, had stabbed three differently iconic American white males the day before. Christian killed a 53-year-old veteran, Ricky Best, and a crunchy Ashland scholar, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23; he also severely wounded 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher. All of this for the crime of defending two young, nonwhite women—including one who wore a hijab—from Christian’s torrent of hate. They defended their fellow Oregonians on the car of a Tri-Met light rail train.
Portland is arguably the most transit-friendly town in the West, and the Tri-Met attracts all manner of resident, car culture be damned. The low-wage workers who serve up the city for Portland’s demographic desirables share space on the same train with early adopters, and we all commiserate in huddling from the rain. On the Tri-Met’s rails, the whitest big city in the United States is briefly peppered a darker shade of pale.
This freely mingled ridership distilled a profound cross section into the vigil: the bantam-like black basketball coach in a backpack, the horrified white grandma from Beaverton. Sitting in the center, amid a tableau of tears and flowers, were Fletcher’s mother and a couple of brown women wearing hijabs. White Oregonians all about them were finally grasping the problem—a knot that could not be undone by the “Black Lives Matter” signs looking out from neighborhood windows and lawns. They were owning their reality, and to watch the ownership play out on this lawn provided a vaguely pornographic pain.
The mourning swelled, and just when it felt the wave would peak, we learned they were coming.
A blond member of Namkai-Meche’s family had been weeping to the very edge of complete breakdown when another vigil attendee announced on a microphone the forthcoming racist infusion: “A Patriot Prayer Portland Trump Rally,” she read from her phone. Much like a recent alt-right getdown in enlightened Berkeley, the event scheduled for the next Sunday, June 4, was billed as a celebration of “free speech.” The line-up promised appearances by the Northwest’s biggest names in white supremacy. “Thor Odinson,” the so-called mystical racist, and “Based Stickman,” a heavy on the Berkeley protest battle scene, were both expected. Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a libertarian-turned-far-right troll and Milo Yiannopoulos sidekick, was set to speak.