Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Beautiful Day for Protest

One of CANDO's favorite cops, Sgt. Jason VanMeter
Spring was in the air today, as Oregonians gathered at the Capitol, on the front steps, and over in Willson Park along Court Street near the WWII memorial.

As couples and families with small children strolled along the Capitol Mall among the blooming cherry trees, they could hear the voices of 70 or so people at the southern end, insisting that love trumps hate, and that homophobia has got to go.  "Jesus hates Fascism", according to one of the many hand-made signs, and does not care particularly about making America great again.

The crowd on the Capitol steps were there for one primary purpose:  to prevent the MAGA (Make America Great Again) March from occupying them. And a beautiful
day it was for a protest.  Even the State Troopers and the Salem Police bicycle patrol seemed happy and relaxed as they stood watchfully nearby.  The only unhappy people we could see near the Capitol were a dozen or so black blok types, presumably not from around here, who, after hovering in front of the steps awhile, made off in a westerly direction, toward Willson Park, where the MAGA Marchers had set up tents at the WWII memorial, behind a "fence" of police bicycles (and police).

We noticed as they left that the police were following, so we followed, too.  That's where we ran into the former head of the Downtown Enforcement Team, Jason VanMeter, who was happy to chat with us, despite needing to hold his bicycle in position as a part of the fence.  In recent years, Jason's been behind a desk, promoted from the DET to admin, which he was very happy to abandon in January, in favor of patrol duty.  He's now working with the mobile crisis response team (we think that's the right name, but we'll update if we find out it's something else), which he helped create. 

"Fence" between the east and west crowds
As most readers may know, Willson (two 'l's, people) Park belongs to the state.  And there were a lot of state police there to protect it  today.  That's how we like to think of them, anyway, as protecting the park, even knowing they were really there to protect us from each other.

It was kind of hard to hear our conversation with Jason because of all the yelling behind him.  We couldn't make out what the argument(s) was/were about, but it's fairly safe to assume it wasn't about who was likely to prevail in the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament.

There was one arrest while we were there; it was one of the younger MAGA Marchers wearing a black III% hoodie (anyone know why it's III% instead of 3%?).  Don't know what for, exactly.  Nothing serious, it would seem.  [Update: T. Oregonian reports it was for illegal possession of a firearm.)

Arrested III%er at far left, Daniel Bejamin in the red MAGA hat
The crowd dispersed a bit after the arrest and the fence reformed in a slightly different location.  The yelling having subsided, we chatted with some of the MAGA Marchers.  A woman with lipstick to match the red MAGA hats asked us if we were tourists, saying she was from Tigard.  She said the Love people (meaning the crowd on the Capitol steps) were nice, but the young men in black (meaning the black blok types) didn't believe in anything, "they just want a fight."  We wondered later if she was aware the guy who was arrested was a III%er on the side of the MAGA Marchers.  (We had to look it up, but if you don't know, the 3% is a reference to the percent of colonists believed to have been "active in the field" of what's commonly referred to as the American Revolution.) 
A fellow MAGA Marcher joining our conversation, a man, said "those guys are Bernie burnouts."  He said that they feel betrayed, hate Hillary Clinton, and don't believe in anyone or anything.  He agreed with the woman that they "just want a fight." 

The crowd (which was about the same size as the one on the steps of the Capitol) fixed their sunglassed eyes on us, sideways, as we wandered through their midst without signage or identifying colors.  "He's the only one who can do this", said the man with the microphone on the steps of the obelisk.  "He's a maverick."       
We ran into Jerry Moore, in civvies and shades, over by the fountain that was turned off a couple of years ago on account of the drought, and is now just a chlorinated duck pond.  He seemed a little surprised at the size of the turnout, although it was well within SPD's predicted total of 300.  We agreed the weather likely brought more people out.

Former Salem City Councilor Daniel Benjamin wandered over to greet  the Chief, saying it was good to see him, though he wished it were under different circumstances.  He was not, we think, referring to the fact that they were meeting at a pro-Trump rally, but rather to his having been forced recently to resign from the Salem City Council.  The conversation was the briefest.  He wandered away again, almost as soon as we had introduced ourselves.

As we chatted with Jerry about the need for people to forego their iPhones occasionally and talk to one another, sit on front porches if they have them, and risk actually talking to their neighbors about their barking dogs, the black blok types disappeared somewhere, and gave us a clear shot of the bicycle fence.

Was the ardor for argument chilled by the arrest, the warming sunshine, or was it just time to start thinking about lunch?  We don't know.  We said goodbye to Jerry, and continued our walk.  

[Update:  for a different perspective, check out Cameron Whitten's live stream video.  I think we must have arrived shortly after he stopped filming.  Thanks to Cameron, we got some nice pics of our friend Sarah Rohrs.]


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