All reasonable people understand that black people have faced oppression in North America since their ancestors were brutally imported as slaves. Liberals can be justly proud of our role in fighting this evil, from abolition to the civil rights movement and beyond. But as the current situation in Portland demonstrates, “the right side of history” has now been ceded by voices of reason on the Left to extremists who deliberately conflate a demand for racial justice with a desire to burn civilisation to the ground.
On the face of it, Petunia’s bakery in Portland epitomises everything progressive about the city. Its pies and pastries are wheat-free, look pretty on Instagram and, more importantly, taste delicious.
But take a moment to read the sign on the shop’s window as you enter, and it soon becomes clear that Petunia’s has been drawn into a far darker chapter of the Portland story; one that tells of a city in free fall due to an almost accidental anarchist takeover, where residents have as much to fear staying home as going out and even the most harmless of shops is liable to have its windows smashed in.
The sign is Petunia’s special take on a Portlandian phenomenon that my wife Heather has come to call a “don’t-hurt-me wall” — a now-widespread attempt by local business owners to make anarchists think twice before vandalising their shop or café.
“We are a small, women and locally owned business,” Petunia’s sign pleads. “We are struggling like so many of us in this hard time, and love our community. Please don’t cause us any damage.” Welcome to Portland; the progressive dream that has turned into a nightmare.
When Heather and I moved to the city three years ago, after being spectacularly driven from our jobs at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, there was little to suggest that municipal embrace of anarchy was on the horizon. We considered moving to more than a dozen cities across the US, Canada and Europe — but in the end Portland won. With the city’s proximity to nature and world-class food culture, it seemed to provide the perfect balance. And then suddenly last summer, with the confluence of the George Floyd protests and the Presidential election, Portland came unmoored.
For what it’s worth, Petunia’s “don’t-hurt-me wall” is more explicit than your average Portland business. It has, for example, resisted the urge to simply and loudly proclaim that BLACK LIVES MATTER, presumably because its owners know that Portland is entirely composed of people who already agree with this obvious decree — including the police.
But its attempt to reason with the anarchists — by highlighting how it is a struggling small business, locally owned and run entirely by women — speaks volumes about day-to-day life in my home city, where negotiating with vandals has become an essential skill. Indeed, Portland is full of signs in windows and on lawns pleading with anarchists to move on and hurt someone else. These residents know they cannot depend on the police to either prevent crimes or arrest those who commit them, and who can’t manage to come together and face down a small but violent mob of misanthropes.
The streets of downtown Portland, once a bustling home to independent boutiques, are now lined with boarded-over windows and closed businesses. No neighbourhood is secure from the current wave of terror; the breaking of shop fronts, arson and harassment of sleeping citizens in their homes are all commonplace.
Rioting has occurred like clockwork, and often anarchist “direct actions” are announced in advance, so the police are never taken by surprise. And yet the city’s officers, under the command of our cartoonishly liberal mayor (who is also our police-commissioner), have stood by and — night after night — allowed the city to descend into chaos. Last September, rioters even targeted the Mayor’s own apartment building, breaking in and setting a fire in the lobby. The Mayor’s response? To announce that he was moving out of the building to keep his neighbours safe, a move any competent parent would recognise invites more terror. The anarchists have gained a strange kind of control over the city in their fight against Nazis and white supremacists they appear to have conjured in a quest to give their anger meaning.