When thinking of the most liberal cities in America, Portland, Oregon sits near the top of most people’s lists. With a reputation for weirdos, hipsters, and granola loving hippies, it’s not hard to see why it inspired shows like Portlandia. But recently the City of Roses has found itself in the news not for its quirkiness, but for some political situations that shed a negative light upon it.
The biggest story was the terrorist attack on a train by a white supremacist against two women in hijabs. The attack left two people dead and another wounded when they tried to intervene, and the fallout nationwide has added to the already rancorous debate surrounding domestic terrorism and hate crimes. The diversity of those standing against the attacker stood out — a retired Army veteran and a recent college graduate died and a poet was wounded standing up for muslim women against a white supremacist — and has become a symbol of hope for future unity against other attacks.
The attacks were tragic, but they could have been much, much worse. Still, they have opened the debate back up regarding how violent the political situation has started to become in the United States, be it Antifa on the left or white nationalists on the right. Radicalization has become a real threat, and Portland appears to be a ripe place for it.
With Oregon’s highly polarized nature, extremists have already begun popping up in places. The Bundy rancher standoff partially took place here as Cliven Bundy and his gang took over a wildlife refuge in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest no longer receiving free use of government lands.
The northwestern part of the state, which contains Portland and most of the population, has a decidedly leftist bent. There is a certain amount of radicalization among many of these groups as well, as recent riots and acts of vandalism during protests against President Trump indicate. Conservative rallies have been shut down due to threats of violence by anarchists and Antifa groups, and there is a standing threat by many to punch anybody they believe is sympathetic to fascist or Nazi tendencies.
The one thing the movements on both the left and right have in common in Oregon, aside from their willingness to get violent, is that they are focused on government abuse of citizens, perceived or real. And because this is Portland, they have much to push back against.
For starters, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s first reaction to the attacks was to lay the blame at the feet of the First Amendment. Vowing to restrict freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly, he called for a stop to issuing rally permits for groups he disagrees with. And while the city’s civil government has been largely ineffective at basic services, an anarchist group has begun taking to the streets to complete road repairs and trash cleanup on their own. And there was the time Oregon fined a man $500 for doing math. Seriously.
Throwing the Bundys in the mix, pushing back against what they perceive at onerous grazing regulations, and the Antifa types angry with the decidedly rightward turn of the federal government, and you have a city and state rife with dissatisfaction with their leaders.
While these complaints range from fairly mild to egregious abuses of citizens — and some are open to interpretation at that — the sense of frustration is palpable. In addition to all of these political factors, economic concerns have begun to strain citizens as well. The city is growing faster than its infrastructure can bear, and gentrification is very present as rents and cost of living continue to rise exponentially, putting strain on middle class and poorer residents.
Portland appears to be a city on the brink of a major showdown between factions, and the sense of frustration and anger is palpable nearly everywhere you go. With the political situation growing more and more rancorous nationwide as well as locally with no end in sight. Still, there is hope that the Rose City’s counterculture attitude and residents’ tolerance for those who are different from themselves may lead to a bridge yet.
After all, when push came to shove, three strangers who couldn’t be more different sacrificed their own safety to help others against a madman in Portland, and that wouldn’t happen in just any city.