On August 29 more than 200 anti-racist protesters held a peaceful protest and march through Pendleton, Oregon, which was met with the vitriol of rightwing counterprotesters.
Tensions have been high in Oregon since the start of the national uprisings against racist police brutality. Pendleton, like much of eastern Oregon and Washington, is a hotbed for reactionary organizing, and is the home base of several white supremacist terror groups.
Before the anti-racist event had even started, rightwing protesters carrying U.S., Confederate, Trump 2020 and Thin Blue Line flags lined the street opposite the site of the anti-racist protest at Roy Raley Park. Among the crowd were members of white supremacist groups, including the Proud Boys and Three Percenters. Many of them were heavily armed and wearing body armor. By 3:30 PM, around 100 counter-protesters were assembled.
As the anti-racist protesters arrived at the park they were greeted with jeers and racial slurs. Despite this harassment and attempted intimidation, at 4 PM the event commenced, with speeches from Black and Indigenous activists from Eastern Washington and Oregon. The speakers remained strong and firm, continuing their speeches even as the counter-protesters chanted loudly in an attempt to disrupt them. The speakers responded by leading chants of “Black lives matter” to drown out the racist chants.
Speakers included event organizers Briana Spencer and Nolan Bylenga, Amber Rodriguez and Eugene Vi of news outlet Blackformation, Carina Miller of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Cia Cortinas Rood (Court Appointed Special Advocate for the Umatilla and Morrow Counties), and local high school senior Max Jean Maddern.
The march began around 5 PM, moving into the street and crossing the 10th Street Bridge. They were accompanied by a motorcade. Event security made up of local organizers, members of Unbound Tri-Cities and the Party for Socialism and Liberation defended the march. A group of counter-protesters followed behind the march, attempting to start scuffles with the marchers. Local police and sheriffs walked between the peaceful BLM protesters and the armed, screaming counter-protesters following them. Many of the peaceful anti-racist protesters found themselves being shoved and having hands laid on them by local law enforcement, while the armed racist instigators were treated with much more respect.
Protesters locked arms and walked backwards down Bailey Ave. As the protest moved out onto Main Street, the protesters were met with armed people standing in front of businesses. Despite this and other antagonisms, the protesters continued their march until arriving back at Roy Raley Park. The planned event concluded with protesters lying on their stomachs in the grass for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time George Floyd lay dying in the streets of Minneapolis, his neck under the knee of officer Derek Chauvin.
Organizer Briana Spencer closed by asking protesters to leave in groups and avoid confrontation with the armed counter-protesters still lining the opposite side of the road. The event peacefully dispersed, with around 30 people on each side staying after the event’s official ending.
The event marked a successful day for the anti-racist cause in a smaller city, with anti-racist protesters outnumbering reactionary counter-protesters even in the home territory of several white supremacist terror groups. A coalition of Black, Indigenous and working class people came out and showed strength, dedication, and positivity in the face of repression.