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Amid Election Uncertainty, a Small, Armed Crowd of Leftist Protesters Marches Through Portland Neighborhoods

The calm was unexpected—but it reflected a protest movement that in recent months has largely rejected institutional reform and demanded overthrow of the political system.

As a nation waited in suspense for election results that may not be settled for several days, a few hundred Portlanders did what they have routinely done since the Trump presidency began: They marched.

But the crowd that circled through residential neighborhoods and business districts in Southeast Portland did not engage in the property destruction that Oregon elected officials and law enforcement had braced for. Instead, they mostly played music and chanted—even as reports circulated news that the Electoral College was too close to call and Mayor Ted Wheeler would likely win a second term.

That calm was unexpected—but it reflected a protest movement that in recent months has largely rejected institutional reform and demanded overthrow of the political system.

"We want to tear down the system," said Mac Smiff, a Portland-based activist. "We don't want to just throw rocks at the system."

Oregon voted for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by a persuasive margin Tuesday: 58% to 39%, a wider margin than polls had predicted. Meanwhile, the protests in Portland streets were limited to the most dedicated activists against police brutality.

About 200 protesters gathered outside Revolution Hall, continuing demonstrations against police brutality on election night. The rain was sparse, but the mood cold, as speakers reflected on recent deaths of Black Americans.

Protesters later echoed a chant for freedom: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains."

Outside Revolution Hall, activists at several tables handed out free food like pizza and vegan pasta, while others gave out free helmets and goggles, continuing a monthslong practice of mutual aid for demonstrators. Many were dressed in black bloc. Others sported everyday suburban wear. And with armed right-wing counterprotesters having shown up at recent demonstrations, several demonstrators open-carried rifles, shotguns and pistols.

"We're always prepared," said a man clad in black from head to toe with a shotgun slung across his chest and extra ammunition in a bandolier. He declined to give his name.

Before they marched, an activist reminded them that President Trump has no control over the strength of the community.

"It doesn't matter who the president is if we have community," he said.

From Revolution Hall, the large group marched through the Belmont neighborhood, chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go!" Demonstrators were escorted by an armed patrol as a flock of reporters and photographers followed closely along the sidewalk.

"Out of your homes and into the streets!" demonstrators yelled at residents in their Belmont homes, calling for them to march with the crowd. Some residents continued to watch from their windows. One yelled back, "I've been out before, I promise!"

As the march continued, the mood switched from somber to angry, as demonstrators voiced their frustrations over police violence.

"She was sleeping in her bed!" they chanted, referencing the way Kentucky resident Breonna Taylor was killed by police in March.

And with the large media presence following the crowd, some activists and demonstrators were hostile to photographers and journalists taking photos and videos. Some journalists were asked to leave. Others had their cameras or phones blocked as they tried to capture footage.

"Don't photograph the motorcade!" a demonstrator yelled at photographers who were ahead of the marching crowd.

Dan Steinle, a Portland-based freelance reporter, was walking in the crowd of protesters when he was asked to leave. So he did, but said he had no problems doing so.

"It's a respect thing," he said. "If they want me to move, I'll move. I'm a minor player in this game."

Activists seemed frustrated that more people weren't joining them. The several hundred in the crowd were a far cry from the thousands who jammed the streets after Trump's election in 2016, or who gathered on bridges and at courthouses this summer.

As protesters marched by The Sweet Hereafter and Straight From New York Pizza on Belmont Street, several outdoor diners cheered them on. Though they cheered, activists implored them to do more.

"We don't want performative action," an activist said. "Don't put Black Lives Matter in your windows and not march with us. I don't have the luxury to eat right now, I'm marching for my life."