Love Overshadows Hate in SE Portland
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.
A History of Hatred and White Supremacy
Hatred, violence and white supremacy are not new to the United States. White people have abused our power many times over. Consider genocide of the first peoples. Stealing African heritage people into slavery. Interning Japanese people. Using water hoses and fierce dogs to keep people from defending civil rights in the 1960s and then again this last year to deter people from defending their rights to clean water. We have committed, and continue to commit, horrendous abuses of power.
There has always been racism, white domination and the threat of violence. So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when white supremacy hit closer to home, upending the comfort, safety and privilege I experience as a white, cis-gendered, middle class woman living in inner SE Portland.
From Numbness To Grief
When I first learned that my neighbors woke to swastikas painted on their cars, fences and the side of their home, I was incredulous and numb. But then it sank in and I felt sick to my stomach. My gut ached as I considered the millions who have been abused, tormented and killed with swastikas leading the way.
I held my grandparents’ story close, grieving my Grandma Sadie’s and my Grandpa Harry’s early experiences with anti-semitism. At ages seven and eleven, their families fled pogroms--the massacres of Jewish people in Russia. Terrified, they left their home, their country and all that was familiar to them. The reality sunk in as I considered the swastikas painted around the corner: My grandparents left to avoid being murdered.
The swastika symbolizes genocide and it marks the dehumanization of both those who have been targeted (Jews and queers alike) along with the dehumanization of those who have internalized the twisted belief that they are somehow separate and better than another group of people. I share the widespread concern that the current administration’s stances have emboldened forces of hate and bigotry in our country. Swastikas have no place in 2017 and
no place in our hometown.
From Grief to Action
As I spoke with neighbors and friends about the hateful graffiti, there was consensus that this was one small example of the rising visible intolerance of targeted communities in our city. It quickly became clear that simply talking about our concern was not enough. I wanted to create an opportunity to come together, to take a public stand against any form of hate, and to act in support of our shared humanity.
I reached out to Pastor Sara Rosenau (of Waverly UCC on SE 33rd) to invite her to co-facilitate a community event and together we planned “Fierce Love: Standing Up Against Hate in SE Portland.” I invited a few people to share their experiences about standing up to being targeted. I reached out to a few Jewish leaders in town; to Callie Quinn-Ward who wrote a salient piece responding to the homophobic graffiti in Grant High School’s gender neutral bathroom; and to Mitra Anoushiravani, a mixed heritage Muslim, who is a powerful thinker, writer and speaker. And since I wanted this to be a joyful, family-friendly event I invited the amateur singing group, the Jingle Janglers, to participate too.
Exactly one week after the swastikas were detected and removed, over two hundred people gathered to reject indifference and silence, refusing to be numb. We placed these recent acts of anti-semitism in the larger context of institutional oppression--racism, Islamophobia, heterosexism, sexism, ableism and xenophobia. Following a speak-out and sing-along, we paraded along the SE 33rd corridor where someone spray painted swastikas in the cover of the night. We came in stark contrast, blowing bubbles, carrying signs, chanting and singing. We stopped at several of the spots where neighbors' personal spaces had been desecrated, infusing love where hate had been left.
Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” I am deeply grateful to all those who boldly “take sides” to stand on the side of love and in the protection of our shared humanity.
A special thanks to Pastor Sara Rosenau (Waverly UCC), Shannon Berger-Hammond (Families for a Peaceful Protest), Kirsten Brown, Elizabeth Bryant, Margaret Gerlt, Chad Jacobsen, Jennifer McIlhenny and Belinda Miller for the invaluable roles you played to make this event a success. Thanks to Mitra Anoushiravani, Aron Borok, Dana Buhl, Callie Quinn-Ward for publicly sharing your stories, experiences and advocacy.
News Coverage of Event
Susan Eisman is a founding member of NWGSDPDX, Director & Teacher at the Hawthorne Family Playschool, and an anti-bias curriculum educator.