Oregonians marked President Joe Biden’s first day in office Wednesday with celebrations and protests of the nation’s 46th president.
Fears of armed riots in Oregon’s capital never materialized amid heightened law enforcement presence and the fortification of buildings including the Capitol.
Yet protests continued to unfold late Wednesday in Portland as demonstrators pushed for more rapid policy changes than what Biden has promised.
On Wednesday night, a crowd of at least 100 gathered in South Portland’s Elizabeth Caruthers Park with plans to march to a nearby Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. Around 9 p.m. the crowd began to move, chanting slogans protesting the United States’ detention and caging of migrant children. Protesters also decried Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and President Joe Biden and chanted, “Abolish ICE.” Upon reaching the building, several people spray-painted “Reunite families now” onto the wall of the ICE building.
The gathering was declared an unlawful assembly around 9:30 and the crowd was told that those who trespassed on federal property with weapons or “other dangerous items” would be arrested. Federal officers used tear gas and munitions several times; at one point, the air was so thick with gas and smoke that it was difficult to see. As of 10 p.m., Portland police had arrested at least one person.
Earlier Wednesday, a crowd of about 200 people, including self-described anarchists, marched in the city’s Central Eastside area and smashed windows at the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters. Some of the demonstrators carried a sign that read “We don’t want Biden, we want revenge!” in response to “police murders” and “imperialist wars.” Portland police said they arrested eight people.
The Democratic Party issued a statement expressing the group’s disappointment at the damage to its headquarters.
“None of this should take away from the fact that today is a joyous day for America,” the group said in its statement.
Gov. Kate Brown called the inauguration of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “a new chapter for our country” and praised the new administration’s diverse cabinet nominees, as well as Harris’ historic role as the first female, Black and Asian vice president.
Some demonstrations in Portland also struck a more celebratory chord. On Northeast Broadway from 14th to 15th avenues, roughly a dozen people held signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The noontime crowd was met with almost constant honks of approval — the only breaks coming when the streetlights turned red.
Betty Scholten, 86, said she has been demonstrating at the site almost daily since August, every time holding the same Black Lives Matter sign. She said she feels joyful and hopeful because she expects equal rights for Black people to be more of a focus for Biden and his administration. “I’m hoping,” she said. “He said it would be.”
Still, she recognizes change won’t come overnight — even under a new administration that she said is a step in the right direction.
Scholten said she and others will keep demonstrating along Broadway “until we don’t need to anymore.”
Still, she thinks that day “is a long way down the road.”
Many Oregonians cheered both Biden’s inauguration and Trump’s departure from power, while making it clear that they would continue to push the new administration to make major reforms.
An “Inaugurate Justice” car caravan started at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus Wednesday afternoon and proceeded to Irving Park on Northeast Fremont Street and 10th Avenue, for a rally and march planned by groups including the Defend Democracy Coalition.
About 150 people, including volunteers and media, were at the event around 5 p.m.
As the event started, people chanted messages in support of Black Lives Matter and a drumline played, cheering the day while calling for more progressive changes.
“This is such a monumental day,” a speaker told the crowd. “Because today is the day we dump Trump. But we need to embrace resistance too. The fight is just beginning.”
One of the event’s organizers, Ray Austin, called for the total abolition of police.
A veteran who introduced himself as “Vietnam Don” told the crowd that the people who rioted in the national Capitol on Jan. 6 represented a regressive way of thinking.
Suzie Kassouf, an educator at Grant High School and a founder of the climate justice organization Sunrise PDX, asked the crowd if they thought Biden wanted to see rapid movement for climate justice — to which they responded “no.”
“All movements for justice are one,” she said. “It’s no accident that the people that are hurt first and worst by the climate crisis and environmental injustice are Black and brown.”
Destiny Houston, one of the organizers, said the goal of the rally was to focus on various issues on the progressive agenda, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration and climate change.
“We’re really hoping that on Inauguration Day, we’ll be able to celebrate the new administration, while simultaneously making it clear that we’re going to hold them accountable,” Houston said.
As speakers addressed the crowd, a car flipped over about a block away. Several demonstrators gathered around the car to see if anyone was hurt, and protesters pulled a little girl and her mother out of the car before the fire department arrived. Neither were seriously injured.
The car accident on Fremont Street, within earshot and eyesight of the Irving Park event, highlighted tensions between protesters and law enforcement. Protesters who rushed to help the family who flipped their car were adamant about not wanting officers to respond, saying they inflict more harm by being there. Protesters at the event called for defunding police.
“No matter if we believe ‘Black Lives Matter,’ if we see something that’s supposed to be done, we stand to action,” said Reese Monson, 31, a member of local protest group Black Unity PDX. “We’re glad the firetruck came instead of the police. We really don’t like the police coming and being involved. Last time the police came they brought a big tear gas canister for an individual who was mentally ill.”
Monson said he thought the driver was attempting to avoid hitting a car driving in the opposite lane of traffic, swerved into a car parked in the street and flipped her car.
PROTESTS AND POLICING
Earlier in the day, a crowd gathered at Southeast Portland’s Revolution Hall on Wednesday for “J20,” an event decrying the government, including Biden’s presidency, and focused on various cries for justice, including reforming policing and improving education and foster care. A poster for the event called for “Land Back” — a movement to return land to Indigenous people.
The event, which had about 200 people at its peak, was described as a “direct action” march, a term that in recent months that has described demonstrations that ended in property damage, such as broken windows or graffiti.
Shortly after the event began, about a dozen police officers on bicycles showed up and began questioning protesters, raising tension.
As marchers headed toward the river, they chanted, calling for an end to the sweeps of homeless camps and decrying both Biden and former President Donald Trump. They ended up at the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters, where some smashed windows. Protesters were met by police at Benson High School. The mayor’s office confirmed that as of 4 p.m., police had arrested three people suspected of using crowbars to smash out windows at the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters.
Before the crowd started marching from the hall, some demonstrators reflected on why they were at the event.
Two demonstrators from Black Unity PDX said the new administration has a lot of work to do.
“With this Biden administration, I don’t want people to forget that Black lives still matter — they never stopped mattering,” said Princess Warner, 20.
Teal Lindseth, 22, said the new administration needs to focus on improving things like education and foster care.
“My child should see Black history stuff, she should be able to understand everything that’s going on and be told. We don’t even learn enough about that stuff,” Lindseth said. “There’s so much wrong with this world and it needs to change.”
CAPITOL STAYS QUIET
Only a handful of demonstrators — including both Trump supporters and critics — turned out in front of the Oregon Capitol Wednesday.
One pro-Biden demonstrator toted a pair of signs, one of which read: “Lock Trump up!!!” in all capital letters.
The Capitol’s windows remained boarded up, and the entrance was protected by a chain-link fence.
The heightened sense of alert came after a right-wing insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump extremists tried to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election results. Far-right demonstrators also breached Oregon’s Capitol and allegedly assaulted police and journalists during a Dec. 21 special legislative session.
The scene at Washington state’s capital in Olympia also remained calm Wednesday afternoon.
ELSEWHERE IN PORTLAND
Earlier Wednesday, about 20 demonstrators gathered outside a South Portland U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building as part of a vigil for detainees.
The group stood against the backdrop of a large white cloth with “Abolish ICE” written on it in red and black letters. A collection of candles and chalk markings on the sidewalk promoted the same slogan.
One of the vigil’s organizers, who asked to not be named for fear of right-wing retaliation, said ICE was committing “genocide” and that demonstrators’ ultimate goal was to abolish the agency.
“We have to fight for that no matter who is president,” she said.
A second “Abolish ICE” protest was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. at Elizabeth Caruthers Park, which is near the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement building.
The Democratic Party of Oregon hosted a virtual inauguration party streamed on Facebook and the party’s website at 4:45 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland was holding a 5:30 p.m. virtual service to celebrate the peaceful transition of power, by reading, among other works, the poetry of Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou and Emma Lazarus and singing Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”
The “Rhythm Nation Inauguration Celebration” had an hourlong public policy panel scheduled to start at 7 p.m. A livestream dance party with DJs at Holocene bar and nightclub was to follow the event.