How Portland’s Wall of Moms Collapsed — and Was Reborn Under Black LeadershipHistorians in the News
tags: racism, womens history, Protest
Wall of Moms began as a response to the federal law enforcement officers who began patrolling the streets of Portland in early July, forcibly snatching anti-racism protesters off the street and detaining them in unmarked vehicles. The incidents, sometimes recorded on video, caused much confusion across the country before the Trump administration announced that it had deployed officers from Border Patrol and other agencies to protect federal buildings amid ongoing protests.
As Vox’s Alex Ward reported, Trump administration officials defended the aggressive tactics, claiming they were necessary to dispel protests led by a “violent mob” of “lawless anarchists.” But demonstrators, who had been on the streets protesting for Black lives for more than 50 days, recognized the presence of the federal officers as a further impingement on their civil liberties. Portlanders, many of whom had never protested before, took to the streets to push back against the federal troops. It was during this moment that the Wall of Moms was born.
By July 19, a group of a few dozen mothers, most of them white and wearing white, were seen being tear-gassed by federal officers.
By July 21, the group of mothers would grow to include thousands of women who showed up at downtown protests clad in yellow shirts and masks, helmets, and goggles, and carrying yellow roses and sunflowers. In videos, the women can be seen marching toward Portland’s Justice Center chanting in favor of Black Lives Matter. In one early video of the group, the women proclaimed, “No cops, no KKK, no racist USA.”
The protest crowds in Portland continue to grow in response to the arrival of the feds.— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 21, 2020
There are probably about 2,000 people here right now in front of the Justice Center, with moms in yellow lined up in front, stretching across a whole block. pic.twitter.com/oCuO7Lx7pP
Keisha N. Blain, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, told Vox there are many factors that go into what images capture the public’s interest and attention during social unrest and that it is not uncommon for white activists to receive greater attention for their work, particularly in Black spaces.
“Because many people are still struggling to get people to accept Black Lives Matter, the media often privileges the appearance of white protesters in these spaces. Part of this has to do with the perceived novelty of white participation,” Blain told Vox. “We must also acknowledge that anti-Black racism helps to explain why members of the general public are often more enthralled with white activists in social justice movements — even when Black people are at the forefront of these movements. We should also be mindful of the way the media fuels these racist narratives when journalists choose to focus on the efforts of some and not others.”
According to Blain, groups like Mothers of the Movement, a collective of Black moms whose children have been killed by police officers or by gun violence, “are constantly pursuing this work” but “don’t receive the same kind of visibility and certainly not for a sustained period of time.” In Chicago, for example, Black moms formed Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings in 2015 to build community through violence prevention and other measures like food security and housing, but have not received the national attention in five years that Wall of Moms did in 10 days.
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