When Fran Bittakis founded Snack Bloc three years ago, she never imagined the protest support group would end up providing snacks and supplies for an uprising that's continued for more than three months.
Around Day 45 of Portland's protests against racism and police brutality, Bittakis realized she had been working and protesting nonstop. She hadn't even been out for a walk, other than to attend marches.
"It's really easy to disassociate," says Bittakis, who handed Snack Bloc over to its current president, Masyn Wade, last year but still organizes with the group. "What does it look like now when I'm like, 'Hey, ya'll, want to go out?' Before, that was like, 'Let's go to a show, let's go to an art gallery, let's go get dinner.' Now, 'Hey, you want to go out?' means 'Hey, we're going to bloc up and go be chased around.'"
So in early July—out of a concern for the well-being of herself and other activists, and out of nostalgia for pre-pandemic movie nights—Bittakis and Snack Bloc started hosting weekly screenings, starting with Disclosure, a documentary about transgender representation in the media. Held in Scapegoat Tattoo's parking lot on Southeast Stark Street, the roaming duo Mobile Projection Unit provided the AV equipment and Snack Bloc provided vegan burgers for a handful of mask-wearing attendees who arrived with lawn chairs and blankets.
It's been happening every Tuesday since. By the third screening, the audience was too big for Scapegoat's small parking lot.
Now held at Da Vinci Middle School, the ad hoc infrastructure has grown with the crowd. There are medics, porta-potties and activists who give speeches and safety training for protesters. Bittakis, a filmmaker herself, helms the movie programming, but she's also tapped the help of beloved local programmers like Church of Film and Fuck Film School, which have screened the documentaries like Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square and The Infiltrators, a docu-thriller about young immigrants working to stop deportations. Equitable Giving Circle gives out free plants to BIPOC attendees, Dial R for Revolution makes zines for the event each week, and Fingers Crossed provides American Sign Language interpreting. The newest collaborator is Herb Bloc, which gives out teas, tinctures and balms to frontline protesters.
But the screenings aren't just recovery for activists, they're also a form of activism on their own—and not just because most of the movies so far have been documentaries about an international history of resistance. The guerrilla, permitless screenings also stand as an example of the community care and resource pooling that prison and police abolitionists advocate for.
"It gives us a moment to be together and not always be trauma bonding," says Bittakis. "It's some little normal thing that we can all do together that's not being on the streets together. We can't just be grinding every single day."