PORTLAND, Ore. – On the night Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States, protesters took to the streets of Portland to demonstrate against the election.
Thursday will be the third night in a row the protests are expected to disrupt traffic. We talked to Gregory McKelvey, the 23-year-old Lewis & Clark law student who is leading the demonstrations.
McKelvey started the protest group Portland’s Resistance in response to Trump’s election. He is also a spokesperson for Don’t Shoot Portland, which has helped organize Black Lives Matter protests in Portland on a nearly weekly basis.
McKelvey told us why he is protesting Trump’s election, what protesters hope to accomplish, what he thinks of the police response and why they keep marching onto the highway.
We think that because Trump is president, it becomes even more urgent for our city to become what people want it to be. It’s an anti-Trump protest but also a call for change in our city because we need to push for progress here.
We do other ways for change. I’m becoming a lawyer. It takes people going at it from all angles. I think protesting is one of those angles – there’s nothing more patriotic than using your first amendment right to push for change.
How are the protesters feeling right now?
It’s generally sadness. Sometimes it comes out as anger but I think most people are just sad that this is our country right now and they’re looking for a little bit of hope and I think Portland can be that hope. It’s all we got.
What progress do you want?
Rent control, police reforms, more transparency in the government, better-funded schools to where we don’t have lead in the water, no more tax breaks to major corporations, increased mental health funding. It’s the stuff people talk about all the time. We need to stop talking about it and working towards it and just do it.
The city needs to begin meeting with our group, especially Ted Wheeler moving forward, so we can enact these changes. These protests give us more leverage in our talks with the city because they don’t want us to continue to be in the streets.
What do you think about how the police are handling the protests?
[They are handling it] well. I think that if they confronted us, it would just all go bad. Because they can’t stop us and I think they know that, when we have that many people.
If I were the police I would be playing this exactly how they are.
What do you think about them letting protesters onto the highway?
It’s more that they can’t stop protesters from going on the highway. They can line up with 50 cops but we have 3,000 people. It’s easy to get past 50 cops with 3,000 people. I think that police should, and are, avoiding a confrontation and that’s the best way to go.
What is the goal of shutting down the highway?
I’m not the number one person directing the routes but I think it is important to show people that you in your community have the power to do what you want in your city, if you come together. I think if we just protested on the sidewalk, nobody would talk about us.
I understand being stuck in traffic is inconvenient but it’s also inconvenient to be black, or be Latino, or Muslim, or LGBT in Trump’s America.
What about people who are stuck in traffic and frustrated?
I’d say if you care more about your commute than black lives or standing up for justice, you should reprioritize.
What about reports of violence, dangerous activities and vandalism?
I hope that everybody stays safe and I don’t condone anything that isn’t safe but at the same time, it’s not my job to censor anybody’s activism. It is my job to lead by example.
Largely, there hasn’t been any violence, I don’t believe. There has been vandalism; there has been a little bit of destruction. My group won’t condone any of that.
There are always going to be individuals who are like this. It is their first protest and they’ve never seen a group of people take the streets and they think they can do whatever they want. They’re not really here for the movement; they’re here for themselves. They don’t last. The people that do destructive or unsafe things are usually the ones that are there for one night.
We’re not going to fizzle out into nothing and we’re going to evolve into a political action group but now we have to get the protesting out of our system.
The protests are going to continue for a long time.