The news out of Portland, Oregon was shocking: the federal government, describing a city under violent siege, sent in federal troops to confront demonstrators. Meanwhile, photos of Portland show a peaceful town, with largely peaceful protests contained in a twelve-block area around the courthouse.
Supposedly the troops were there to guard a federal courthouse that had been defaced with graffiti in the last couple of weeks. To be sure, some damaging activity has been going on for a while—illegal fireworks going off on July 4th, that sort of thing. But the purpose of the federal troops immediately morphed into combating peaceful protestors exercising their right to free speech—much as protestors did in Michigan, with anti-mask and anti-social distancing refusals, though no federal troops were sent in to Michigan to confront those protestors. As one reporter described what happened during a peaceful demonstration: “…feds came out grabbing people seemingly at random and beating people with sticks. There was the kid who got shot in the head and his skull was fractured.”
In Portland, mothers wearing yellow tee shirts linked arms to protect the protestors behind them. What bravery. They have all my support and admiration. Troops tear gassed them anyway, and even broke the hand of a veteran trying to talk to them.
An authoritarian performance from this administration: staggering, degrading, and dangerous. It is hard to know how or where it stops, given bullets usually have the final say. Our democratic check and balances suddenly seem quite flimsy. We are informed that federal troops will be sent into Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and other Democratic cities too.
We stand with those Portland moms. We stand with moms everywhere, fighting for Justice in Every Breath. That means an end to climate and air pollution for everyone, and an end to sacrifice zones, sacrifice communities, sacrifice people — an end to asking low income and communities of color to die under the brunt impacts — of pollution and climate impacts. No rich congressperson, or CEO of a coal plant, gas company, petrochemical complex, or an executive at Fox News, would agree to live in the conditions we have forced on millions of Americans.
The spectacle of armed forces driving into town and marching with guns through city streets strikes me as a speeded up version of exactly the same thing that has been happening, in slower — but unprecedented — motion, over at EPA. A takeover by people with a radical agenda: to cripple the Clean Air Act, to remove and weaken protections from pollution, a thorough rejection of the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency: to protect human health and the environment.
We are in grave danger of normalizing this unconscionable assault. We are so tired, so jaded, by weekly reports of new rollbacks, planned rollbacks. We are wearied by the endless distortions, lies, manipulations of data, the plans to marginalize and silence the voices of communities that will again bear the brunt of pollution, by the attacks on scientists, and on the very act of collecting and assessing the best data possible to protect public health. Even there, we do not share the same values. This EPA wants to undermine and exclude the very scientific data that shows us how pollution affects our health. By huge margins, the American people do not want this to be happening. But it is hard to stay focused on it, when people are dying of a virus out of control, fighting about masks, and facing tear gas in the streets. Fighting for Justice in Every Breath means fighting for clean air.
We won’t stop fighting this, of course. Across the country, for years now, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, have been fighting fossil fuel polluters. I think about Standing Rock. About pipeline battles. People physically putting themselves on the line, braving bulldozers and guns and now state laws that prohibit the right to free speech against the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.
And now we must raise the level of alarm higher than we ever have before: we are heading into the territory of doing irreversible damage — to our lungs, to our hearts, and to the breathing, beating heart of our democracy.
Photo via Twitter