So, I’m sure the people reading along have been wondering about my take on Ted Wheeler. This is part of it.
As we all know, the protests in Portland are important. They’re about Black lives. They’re organized with absolutely the best of intentions. So there couldn’t be any racism right there at the protests, right? Right????
Aw, fuck. You know the answer.
As I have done on other nights, I’m gonna provide you with a dose of reality: the protests could always be better. There’s always something fucked up going on. When I was there on Saturday night, I was accused of being a pedophile and, by an entirely separate person, threatened with death. That’s not fun, but the protest isn’t about me. What was much more disturbing was that the same (Black) person who threatened to kill me, told a Black queer named Princess that being gay or trans (either or both) made Princess “not Black”. This was a heavily Christian Black man who thought his religion made it acceptable to dehumanize others. It was bad enough when it was me, but other Black folks? Ugh. So someone stuck up for Princess and jerkface literally knocked that friend of Princess the fuck out. Like unconscious. Like violently hit that person in the head so that person collapsed. Out.
We can ALWAYS do better.
But the theme of “do better” moments from Wednesday night wasn’t queerness or transness. It was fucking racism.
Now, Ted Wheeler announced earlier Wednesday that he was coming down to the protests. That’s not bad, although he also announced that he would “solve” them and that he would “bridge the gap” between protestors and the feds to “end the stalemate” that had been going on for 54 days.
Now, for those following along, the feds had only been here in Portland for 14 days (-ish?) as of Wednesday. If there’s a “stalemate” that had lasted 54 days at that point (56 and counting now), it’s between protestors and whoever is in charge of the city budget and whoever is in charge of the Portland Police Bureau, because that’s the person who has the power to reinvest money into community care, growth, and development and disinvest in tools of violence, literal weapons of war, and militarized patrols of the neighborhoods where marginalized people live.
OH, HAI, TED WHEELER, MAYOR AND POLICE COMMISSIONER, I DID NOT SEE YOU THERE!
So, holy fuck there’s a lot to unpack about Ted Wheeler coming down to the protests to “solve” the “stalemate” when he literally is the person creating the stalemate by refusing to act to reduce violent policing and increase human flourishing in the city that he runs. But, and here’s the important part, he contacted some BLM folks who were organizing the speakers for tonight and asked them if he could speak. They talked about it and said yes, sure, come down and tell us what you have to say.
So, while Holy Rampant Racism, Batman! the giant gonads this guy has to present himself as white savior when he is literally the problem from which people of color need saved, nonetheless he was a speaker assigned a time slot to speak, using what shitty amplification resources the organizers had, by black people.
This is why the response of the largely white (Portland, remember?) audience was so problematic. Love or hate Ted Wheeler, and the crowd was at least in the “strong dislike” column for well over 50% of the people there, Black people decided that they wanted to hear what he had to say, and white people decided to boo and shout every single time he spoke.
And let me make this perfectly clear: I was one of those people the first time the “Fuck Ted Wheeler” chant started up. I thought it was valid and needed to be said, I said it, and then I tried to listen. I couldn’t hear squat, but I didn’t keep yelling to make it worse. There were obviously people trying to listen and I thought that it made sense to at least hear what he had to say, douchey as his move Wednesday might have seemed to me. But as the efforts to shout down Ted Wheeler continued, I started to get concerned. Something was just off. I couldn’t put a name to it, but I knew it was wrong.
After another minute, one of the speaker-organizers took the megaphone back and did put a name to it: racism. He asked the crowd, “Whose lives are we here for?” The crowd shouted back, “Black lives!” “Whose lives matter?” “Black Lives Matter!” “Whose voices do we need to hear?” “Black voices!”
Then the hammer fell, “Well Black people thought we should listen to Ted Wheeler tonight. Why don’t you respect Black leadership and let the speakers that Black people thought were important to hear be heard?” So, yeah. that. When Black people organize a demo and those Black people think we should be listening to a white speaker – for whatever the fuck reason – maybe trust their leadership on issues of anti-Black racism? I need to better learn that lesson, and other white people there need to learn it from fucking scratch.
A much better response was the silent projection of a graphic on the justice center building behind/above Ted:
If you cannot recognize Wheeler, and why should you be able to, look for the triangle of a US flag in the lower-middle of the photo, just above the heads of the crowd. Immediately to the right of that, there’s a white guy who looks like he’s wearing a blue sweatshirt. That’s Ted Wheeler.
As for the graphic, if you can’t read the text, it says,
Theodore, fancy seeing you here!
These are our demands:
1. Defund PPB [Portland Police Bureau] by 50% at the least and reinvest into the communities,
especially the Black community.
2. Free all protesters from jail.
3. Feds out of Portland, now.
4. You, Ted Wheeler, need to resign.
This was a fabulous response that did not take anything away from the ability of the audience to hear what Wheeler was saying.
Of course, all they had for amplification were megaphones with insufficient power, and Wheeler couldn’t even speak into the mike properly, so even after the crowd quieted to hear what the mayor had to say, we still didn’t hear shit.
There was also a great sign up that expressed something I had been saying since Saturday: there’s way too much fucking attention on the Wall of Moms. Don’t get me wrong, I like them. But they are also, like Portland, majority white. From their first appearance I was wondering, “why the fuck can’t the Black organizers get that kind of attention?” Turns out I wasn’t the only one feeling annoyed:
Now, obviously at the protests themselves the Wall of Moms aren’t nearly as prominent as the media reports would have you assume. They aren’t, by and large, part of the organized speakers each evening (though one Black mom wearing yellow was the other day – I assume she later stood with the Wall). They aren’t there to decide on agendas or lead in chants. They stand in the front rank of people on the southwest corner of the courthouse building, which is a brave act, but they aren’t the ones who are provoking a response from the feds by setting off fireworks or pounding on the courthouse door. They don’t dismantle the fencing. They aren’t even as close to the epicenter of the cops as the people standing across the street from the main door, much less those standing in the front rank outside the door. They’re in the front rank where they are, but they’re still half a block down from the door, on the corner, giving them time to react to the violence that always breaks out first in the middle of the block.
Look, I’m not trying to take anything away from them. They do good work and they have a good message. But when we send pictures of the Wall around and their largely white membership, we make it seem as if white people are the story.
We are not the story.
And, again, it’s not the protestors, by and large, who are making this mistake. The shouting down of a speaker that Black organizers chose to feature, that’s on us protestors.
But the focus on white moms in yellow sundresses instead of the people of color who have been showing up day after day for 56 days now, who coordinate, network, and plan, who fucking lead, well that’s on the fucking media.
So if you’re reading media about the super great Wall of Moms and you’re not reading about the priorities and stories of the speakers or the agenda of the organizers or the demands of the movement, then you need to let the people who created that coverage know that this is not merely insufficient, it’s distracting and ultimately runs counter to what the protests aspire to be: a movement that puts Black faces, Black ideas, Black priorities, Black leaders, and Black lives first.
Also, too, the original version of this story (written in the middle of the night while half-dead and commenting over on wonkette.com) ended with a post-script adding that now that my speech wouldn’t interfere with hearing a speaker Black organizers wanted to hear, it was time to add FUCK TED WHEELER. But the thing is that in this particular environment, where he’s getting criticized for going down to the protest, I do not want to say FUCK TED WHEELER.
Why? Because going down to the protest was the right thing to do. What was wrong of Wheeler, besides just not hacking the police budget and getting on with the work of improving lives, was really the press conference before he came down, and the framing he used of “bridging the gap” and “ending the stalemate”.
White people coming down to the protests is great! It’s amazing! I don’t want you to forget that you can make a powerful contribution. But what white people do forget, what we should remember, is that this is not about us! If Black lives win this fight, white people will benefit. We do have a stake in this. But we are not the saviors Black lives are waiting for, and Ted Wheeler tried to paint himself as that.
If you’re going to say FUCK TED WHEELER, and I for one would never gratuitously say FUCK TED WHEELER, although a non-gratuitous FUCK TED WHEELER might occasionally slip and fall onto my keyboard, you should still respect his willingness to come downtown at night when the gas grenades are flying and save those FUCK TED WHEELER comments for the times when we’re discussing what a dick move it is for the primary obstacle to police reform paint the out-of-towners as the bad guys and himself as white savior.
THAT is when you should say FUCK TED WHEELER.