During the weekend of January 20th, many women’s marches took place around the country—an annual tradition since Donald Trump became president after being caught on tape years ago saying as a famous person he could do whatever he wanted to women, “grab them by the pussy. You [famous people] can do anything.”
However, due to controversy surrounding a lack of inclusivity from the National Women’s March organizers and similar concerns here in Portland, the organization connected to national movements had previously decided to dissolve its Portland organizing efforts. Women’s March on Portland sprung up in its absence opting for the “Womxn’s March & Rally for Action Portland.” The “x” in women refers to how movements have shifted to include all people who identify as women.
The afternoon of Sunday, January 20, 2019, was another day of protesting, this time in North Portland. The 5th annual Children’s March For Social Justice was held at Peninsula Park and started at 1 p.m. This event has been hosted for 5 years by Don’t Shoot PDX; this time a multitude of other groups joined them, and the event had both a food and clothing donation drive.
The event page read, “The 5th Annual Children’s March for Social Justice is our most important action of the year. Once again children lead with parents, community, and neighbors supporting the promotion of free speech and social change. The Children’s Art and Social Justice is joining forces with several community groups, unions, sponsors and partner organizations. This event is a protest, meant to include everyone as we support and uplift the voices of Black people. We are unapologetic in our movement for Black Lives and we use this event to center the voices of our children, who are most vulnerable to the systemic violations of civil liberties.”
Jeesamyn Johns attended the event with her children. Before heading over, Johns read her kids a book about the March on Washington. Her daughter asked, “Why do we have to go?” Her daughter believed that people know better now. Jeesamyn had to explain to her daughter that there are still issues with racial inequality. At the event her children chose to hold some of the handmade art protest signs. One chose a sign that said, “stop killing us, #Human.” The sign has a picture of a tree with Nia Wilson’s picture and a heart. Wilson is Black, she was stabbed to death by a white man at a BART station (like the MAX but for the Bay Area). Johns’s other child picked a sign that simply read, “Keep Families Together”—a slogan typically referencing an opposition to the Trump administration’s family separation policies.
In the past, the marches were scheduled to coincide with Trump’s inauguration, however this year the group opted to move its event. The group cited efforts by Don’t Shoot Portland to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and national holiday. The Womxn’s March organizers cited Oregon’s past problems with racism and erasure of the efforts of people of color as one reason it chose to move the date of its march. The group also encouraged its followers to attend Don’t Shoot Portland’s event, the “Reclaim MLK Annual March for Human Rights and Dignity.” Don’t Shoot Portland is led by 2020 mayoral candidate and community activist Teressa Raiford. The MLK march, however, was led by children.
Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front also was planning to hold a “No KKK, No Fascist USA! Student march against Trump” on the 20th. However that group also opted to “show solidarity with Occupy ICE PDX and Don’t Shoot Portland” by encouraging its followers to attend the Reclaim MLK March instead.
In preparation for the event, Don’t Shoot Portland made protest art signs that they displayed at Peninsula Park and later carried. The signs made visible many of the march’s ideals as the marchers walked to MLK, then headed south toward the convention center. By 2 p.m., hundreds of people filled the northern end of Peninsula Park. Attendees lined up on N Rosa Parks Way. Children stood at the front carrying banners. Even though the event started in fairly substantial rain, as attendees assembled to begin walking, the rain largely subsided, making the march infinitely more manageable. The march featured chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Dr. King had a dream. Reclaim the dream.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is commonly cited, however, many people encourage those who honor Dr. King to examine all of his philosophy. In 2015, The Root wrote about reclaiming MLK’s dream from the watered down message it has largely become. “Somewhere between his assassination and today began an MLK-neutering campaign meant to turn the famed agitator’s holiday into a national Day of Service, a generic mishmash of good feelings that contorts King’s social-justice legacy into a blissful Hallmark card of post-racial nothingness.”
The #ReclaimMLK movement has been led by young people involved with Black Lives Matter who hope to shine a light on all of MLK’s message. MLK’s message went beyond simply hoping that children of all racial backgrounds could grow up in a society where they could all be friends. MLK criticized the racially oppressive structures of our capitalist society and war. MLK supported workers’ right to strike for better working conditions. MLK was radical then, and would probably be considered radical now. Part of Reclaiming MLK’s dream hopes to show that you can’t cherry-pick what parts of the Civil Rights Hero’s message you want to keep, MLK is an entire package.
The group was well over 500 people and stopped several times to reform. One stop was at a mural by local artist Isaka Shamsud-Din titled, “Now is the Time. The Time is Now.” The mural depicts Dr. MLK Jr. and other prominent figures in the African American civil rights movement. Despite minor incidents with irate drivers, the event was peacefully observed. One of the organizers kept reminding attendees that the event didn’t tolerate violence of any kind and that despite drivers who often grow impatient with marchers all attendees must remain peaceful and not engage or escalate any situation.
Kofi Franklin is one of the young people who helped to lead the march. At various times throughout the day, Franklin could be heard on the megaphone calling out chants for the crowd to join in with.
“I feel really brave and proud that I’m here supporting my people and my brothers and sisters. I feel good about it,” Franklin said. “I also feel good that I’m helping other people. I’m helping other people becoming who they really are.” Franklin wanted people to know that the day’s event should encourage people to “Be positive, and to support what you support; when things get hard, to not give up; and to march for your rights.”
Due to construction around the convention center, the MLK statue that the group normally marches to was covered. The group stopped at the corner of MLK and NE Stanton St. in front of a mural of an inclusivity flag used to fundraise by Nasty Women Get Shit Done PDX that encourages viewers to vote. After speeches by Teressa Raiford, Kofi Franklin, and others the group opted to head their separate ways.
Additional reporting by Cory Elia