November 14, 2016
Dear Mayor Hales,
The ACLU of Oregon joins the calls urging those few who have been engaged in violence and vandalism during the protests to stop. However, we fully rebuke both your calls for the protests to end and your statement that protest cannot effect change in our democracy. American history, indeed world history, is full of stories of protest that opened the path to change.
Peaceful assembly and protest is at the heart of our democracy. It may not always be convenient or pretty, but we think it is powerful. Protest is:
‣ a means of expression when people feel unheard through other methods;
‣ a beacon of solidarity and connection to people who resonate with the message of the protesters;
‣ a way to spark conversations and debate about important issues; and
‣ an opportunity to form community and connections, which can lead to further organizing and action.
In a democracy, our government officials should not retreat in the face of raised voices and protest. Rather, it is their duty to listen and harness those voices to move our community toward the realization of liberty and justice for all. No doubt it is hard work, but that is what we elected you to do.
Since Election Day, thousands of Oregonians have taken to the streets in protest. Mr. Mayor, you do not get to decide when their protest is done.
You have noted that you believe the outcome of the presidential election did not reflect Portland’s values. One of Portland’s values is to come together and take to the streets when there are fears, sadness, and anger over political events. And should the Trail Blazers win a championship, rest assured Portlanders will take to the streets in celebration.
So please, Mr. Mayor, do not dismiss the protests. Empathize with your constituents’ fears, and if you cannot give them hope for change, at least respect their right to ask for it.