A post appeared Friday evening on the social media app Nextdoor in a group called “Protect Our Neighborhoods—PDX” announcing a block party intended to irritate people living in RVs and other vehicles on a North Portland street.
The post, from a woman who lives in the Kenton neighborhood, was a flyer for a Saturday afternoon event. She placed it in a Nextdoor group that has 303 members.
The flyer was adorned with cartoon houses and balloons. It read: “Block Party Saturday—make noise and discourage the new RVs. 1 pm this Saturday, bring snacks, drinks, chairs, loud instruments, stereos—let’s be loud and obnoxious for the campers and say hi to our neighbors while we do it.”
Instead, at noon Saturday, roughly 15 black-clad counterprotesters showed up.
The counterprotesters, wearing clothes typically associated with leftist demonstrations and street clashes, arrived at the stated location of the advertised block party: along North Montana street in the Kenton neighborhood across from the Interstate Fred Meyer and next to the Interstate 5 onramp.
For the next two hours, as more counterprotesters arrived, about 10 neighbors in support of the block party approached at different times, occasionally verbally sparring with the counterprotesters, according to several people who observed the interactions firsthand.
The black-clad protesters remained until late afternoon. They set up speakers, played music and served pizza, ramen noodle cups, water and energy bars.
The tense interactions were a display of how fraught Portland’s debate over visible homelessness has become. Feeling abandoned by City Hall, neighborhood groups sporadically organize their own pushback to encampments, while leftist activists gather to stop camp sweeps. Sometimes those two forces meet—as they did Oct. 16 in Kenton.
One Kenton resident, who arrived in support of the block party and who asked to remain anonymous but has been a peer support specialist for the homeless, tells WW some of the protesters insulted neighbors who showed up.
The resident says his main concern is that the RVs parked along North Montana Street are blocking emergency vehicles from having safe passage. He also says there’s trash and human waste that neighborhood groups have cleaned up.
One of the counterprotesters, who asked that only his first name John be used, says he felt the flyer “framed it as, ‘We need to harass these people so they feel unwelcome in our neighborhood,’ instead of coming from a place of, ‘Let’s address those issues and support homeless people.’”
Another resident, who lives just one block from the RVs, Rebel Sugahbear, who herself experienced homelessness growing up, says she had heard about the block party through conversations and was not aware of the language that the woman used in her flyer. Then she saw another flyer floating around, labeling the neighbors as fascists. She says her understanding of the event was that neighbors would get together, commiserate about the situation, and brainstorm potential solutions.
But when Sugahbear approached a group of the counterprotesters to chat on Saturday afternoon to ask what was going on, she says they were confrontational.
“I felt very marginalized. I felt very, like, my opinion didn’t matter,” Sugahbear says.
She says the two RVs in question were ordered to move by the Portland Bureau of Transportation two weeks ago, but parked again on North Montana Street last week. She says she’s observed people using intravenous drugs, drug sales and Amazon packages stacked outside of the RVs. Her main concerns are what she says is an increase in crime in the area and that the two RVs are blocking the garbage truck and fire trucks from driving through the road.
John, the activist, says the neighbors kept changing their argument about why the RVs had to move during discussions between the two groups on Saturday.
“Both sides were trying to come to solution. ‘What do you think we can do? What are some solutions?’ Neighborhood residents tended to change what the problems were, like, ‘We need to support them, they need to go somewhere, but they’re blocking emergency vehicles,’” John says. “Then the problem would the be crime, and they would change the problem.”
The neighbors largely dissipated around 3 pm, saying they felt outnumbered.
The woman who originally posted the flyer on Nextdoor emailed WW.
She said her flyer was poorly worded: “The joke was not really coming across to all parties.”
“Like I said, it was taken down fairly quickly and I have had to make a lot of apologies to my neighbors,” she wrote. “Our neighborhood is bottle-necked between I-5 and Interstate MAX line so we have very few options to enter/exit our neighborhood and this camp had overtaken almost the entire street at that point—a small sedan could barely squeeze through.”
She says she planned the event because a neighbor “asked to have some presence to show them that it’s not just an empty highway ramp corner.”
“So, being empathetic, I posted about getting together and said let’s be loud but we honestly didn’t even have a stereo and it was going to be maybe 10 mostly elderly people—one older lady said she was bringing a kazoo if they had read any comments before going off the rails with the idea.”