The call went out in Portland on Thursday, summoning the people in the Rose City to the streets.
“It’s now or never,” read the Facebook posting from a group, Portland’s Resistance, that was announcing a protest for that night. “We need to resist the Trump agenda!”
Since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the presidential election on Tuesday, protests had emerged in Portland and other major cities across the country, as thousands of people poured onto the streets to rail against the ascension of a man who had, at various points, belittled women, immigrants and numerous other groups.
These rallies, which largely have been both organic and peaceful, have been the sharpest physical manifestation of the anger, shock, fear and unease felt among many following a brutal, divisive election, and it shows no signs of abating after President Obama and Hillary Clinton both called for unity this week. On Friday night, people began marching in Miami and Washington, and other gatherings were planned through the weekend in scattered cities.
The gathering in Portland late Thursday descended into what police called a riot after demonstrators said an outside group showed up and began smashing car windows and turning violent. In Portland and through cities such as Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, the people massing nationwide have offered different reasons for heading out. Some say they want to voice their unhappiness with Trump and his proposals, while others express a desire to be with like-minded people.
“This is just a way of everyone getting together and feeling like they can protect each other from whatever policies the president-elect is going to enact that will be oppressive to women, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, basically any marginalized group,” said Janette Chien, 27, of Philadelphia, during a Thursday rally there.
Confrontational, physical protest ranging from mass gatherings and vigils to disruptive direct actions has for decades been a staple of grass-roots political activism, specifically among Americans on the center-left of the political spectrum, from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s to the contemporary Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter protest movements.
And, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, many civil rights, environmental, immigration, labor rights and LGBT activists — all of whom have frequently deployed street marches and disruptive protests during the Obama years — saw taking to the streets as the clear first step in collectively registering their opposition of what they fear is to come.
“We can be certain that these protests portend far larger ones in the future as social movement groups prepare to resist any policies of the new administration that threaten people stigmatized by Trump or that scientific evidence suggests will hasten environmental catastrophe,” said T.V. Reed, a Washington State University professor and author of the book “The Art of the Protest.”
“Blocking traffic and other such tactics are meant to symbolize that the new administration’s policies will be vigorously and massively resisted if they seek to institutionalize the bigotry, racism, xenophobia and misogyny they see as rampant in the Trump campaign,” he said.
Some demonstrations appeared spurred by social media and word of mouth, with some people seemingly joining groups in New York and Los Angeles because they saw the rally in person or online and wanted to join in.
Others were more organized, with MoveOn.org, a liberal group, calling on people to gather in cities nationwide Wednesday. Ben Wikler, MoveOn’s Washington director, said different people organized events in 275 cities and communities across the country, noting that many were candlelight vigils and group discussions rather than the sprawling marches.
“Just knowing that you’re not alone in this country is a powerful salve,” Wikler said Thursday.
In Portland — a place still tied to the nickname “Little Beirut” for its history of protests — the first two nights of rallies were largely calm, with just a few scattered issues since people began marching before the Associated Press even declared Trump the winner late Tuesday.
But on the third night, as activists and organizers say the crowd blossomed through people learning of the gathering on social media, the unrest took a violent turn. Police said late Thursday that the protest was “now considered a riot” due to what officials called “extensive criminal and dangerous behavior.”
Authorities said there were “anarchist groups” among the crowd and sought to divide the peaceful demonstrators from those they said were destroying property, smashing electrical boxes with baseball bats and spray-painting buildings, prompting authorities to use pepper spray and fire rubber rounds.
The crowd a couple minutes ago on SW 5th Ave. Police in riot gear appear to be moving parallel to protesters, one street east. pic.twitter.com/AP75wZq63m
— Jim Ryan (@Jimryan015) November 11, 2016
Gregory McKelvey, who has organized Black Lives Matter events in Portland, said he is behind the Facebook posting announcing the “Portland’s Resistance” event, and he said his group was unaffiliated with those who turned violent.
“We think Portland has the opportunity to be a beacon of light during a dark Donald Trump presidency,” said McKelvey, whose group has issued a list of demands calling for rent control, abortion rights and safe streets. “It’s because he got elected that we feel are unsafe, so we want our city to be a safety net.”
McKelvey said that once protesters learned there were violent people among the demonstrations, “we attempted to separate.” Teressa Raiford, a community organizer in Portland, said these other people were unaffiliated with peaceful protesters and were “not coming to show solidarity; they’re coming because they know there’s going to be a big crowd.”
“I’m saddened by the destruction of our public spaces and local businesses caused by rioters,” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said in a statement. “Although the majority of over 4,000 protesters last night were peaceful and followed Portland Police safety instructions, anarchists shut down these voices by spreading violence and fear.”
Pete Simpson, a spokesman for the Portland police, said these anarchists “aligned with the black bloc groups” infiltrated peaceful demonstrations “covered head-to-toe and carrying weapons.”
“Their tactic is go out and destroy property,” Simpson said. He noted that while peaceful demonstrators tried to stop the violence, they were “not having any luck.”
These “black bloc” groups rely on a tactic of wearing masks to cover their faces and dressing in black so they can identify each other, said David Gomez, a former senior FBI counterterrorism official in Seattle, a city that has seen high-profile issues with such groups.
“What they’re doing is they’re taking advantage of the legitimate protesters to destroy things and emphasize their anarchist roots,” Gomez said. “So you’re not going to see them at a tea party protest, except maybe as counterprotesters. But you will see them where you have very progressive political movements, [like] Seattle and Portland.”
Similar groups have been a fixture of political protests across Europe for decades, with others becoming more leaderless bands. In recent decades, Greece has seen numerous confrontations between police and self-described anarchists who are often dressed in black and wearing motorcycle helmets and face masks against tear gas and batons.
The Portland police said they arrested 25 people during the unrest, largely for disorderly conduct and interfering with peace officers. Police departments across the country say they have arrested at least 350 people during the protests this week.
More than half of these reported arrests occurred in Los Angeles, where protests have also remained largely peaceful as people have marched down the streets, halted traffic, launched fireworks and, in some cases, threw bottles at police officers.
Still penned in at Olympic/Olive. LAPD has separated protesters and driven off some who were throwing bottles but still At least 100 here pic.twitter.com/jIDLX7tjgR
— James Queally (@JamesQueallyLAT) November 11, 2016
In Santa Ana, Calif., about an hour from Los Angeles, Naui Huitzilopochtli said he got motivated after the election. The Mexican indigenous rights activist knew he couldn’t stand by idly after Trump, who vowed to deport millions, was elected. So he posted an event on Facebook, calling people to protest.
A few dozen people showed up to the event, which was held on a sidewalk near a gas station in Santa Ana, after it began Thursday afternoon. As the evening went on, it ballooned in size and moved down a main street. About 650 people ultimately got into a standoff with police, and 10 were arrested.
“I project this may become the new normal,” Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, a spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department, said after demonstrations there.
For more than an hour they continually crossed a four-way intersection, walking in a square from the gas station to an auto-parts store to a food stand and back again. They then walked down the street and clashed with police, who fired bean bags, and authorities said people threw bricks, bottles and other objects and damaged four cars and two businesses in the early hours Thursday.
“Our population is growing, and we are the sleeping giant. We just need to wake up, and if we do that, Donald Trump won’t be able to do nothing,” Huitzilopochtli said. He added: “This is a Mexican community.”
A 15-year-old who came to protest said she fears Trump will deport immigrants, while her 2-year-old sister held a sign that read, “Stop white supremacy.”
Anti-Trump protesters marching in Santa Ana, Calif pic.twitter.com/BUmr7q5C93
— Katie Zezima (@katiezez) November 10, 2016
The demonstrations have played out across social media and on cable news networks, with some channels showing four or six gatherings simultaneously.
In many cases, police said they encountered few if any issues. Boston had about 4,000 people during a rally Wednesday night, and it was “orderly and peaceful,” a police spokesman said. Other cities have seen confrontations, including between two men — one identified as Trump supporter — who argued with demonstrators on a Chicago street outside Trump Tower.
“This could be the beginning of a revolution,” said Johnathan Hahn, 19, during the Chicago demonstration late Thursday. “This is a moment that will echo in time. No one knows what the future holds. But we need to organize, to spew love, caring, harmony and equality, the things that will make Trump lose his lunch.”
Jessica Orman, 24, said at the same event that she hopes the electoral college opts to pick Clinton rather than Trump. “I don’t think it will happen … but we have to fight. We have to protest,” she said.
“I see people differently now,” Orman said. “I don’t smile at people on the street anymore. Because you never know.”
While demonstrations continued Thursday night, Trump posted on Twitter: “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”
It was one of his first comments about the protests, and followed just four years after he responded to Obama’s reelection by writing, “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.” By Friday morning, though, his tone had changed, and Trump then wrote: “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country.”
Some left-leaning groups are already looking ahead to the day when Trump is set to stand in front of the Capitol and take the oath of office. The ANSWER Coalition — a left-leaning group that has organized protests against the Iraq War, drone attacks in the Middle East and the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians — announced plans for a demonstration in Washington on Inauguration Day.
They urged people to gather at Freedom Plaza, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Trump hotel in Washington, hours before his inaugural parade will travel down that road.
“Donald Trump is a racist, sexist bigot,” reads the group’s announcement, which has thousands of RSVPs on their website and Facebook. “We believe that tens of thousands of progressive people will be in the streets on Inauguration Day and in the weeks and months afterward.”
Brian Murphy in Washington, Leah Sottile in Portland, Bobby Allyn in Philadelphia, Kari Lydersen in Chicago and Katie Zezima in Santa Ana, Calif., contributed to this report.