As a unionist and socialist feminist activist in Seattle, I’ve faced off against the Proud Boys in anti-Nazi demonstrations. These self-called defenders of Western Chauvinism are really fascist street brawlers who live to terrorize communities of color, women, immigrants and queers. But experience and history teach that strong, disciplined, united confrontation is the best policy whenever they rear their heads. So, when things were heating up in Portland, Oregon, I worked with the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and others to go down and help fight the right.
Rebellions for racial justice have filled the streets of Portland daily since the late May murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis cop. The city landed in the crosshairs of President Trump who demanded the mayor call in the National Guard. He refused, so Trump sent in federal troops who tried to disappear protesters into unmarked vans. These storm troopers were repelled by Black Lives Matter activists, walls of moms, and organized labor — with actions that allowed the daily rallies to continue.
Trump then declared Portland an “anarchist jurisdiction,” and the fascist Proud Boys, easily hearing the dog whistle, announced a national rally to be held in September in Portland to “End Antifa.” Outrageously, their rally was set for the city’s Delta Park, where Black families’ homes were destroyed in a flood after World War II.
Media reports predicted a thousand right wingers would attend the event. We contacted Portland anti-fascist organizers who were already strategizing for the Proud Boys’ arrival. We also worked with Labor Against Fascism/Labor for Black Lives, a group that shares FSP’s analysis that unions are key to stopping the fascist threat.
The organizing effort was a cross-border affair. Portland comrades joined local organizers to find the best place for a picket line. Notices were posted in the Delta Park neighborhood to alert residents of the resistance to the coming danger. In Seattle, FSP and Radical Women and others publicized the plans to labor unions, anti-fascists, and anti-racists across Washington state.
The response was tremendous. Supporters sent money, face shields, goggles, and homemade trail mix for the journey. Volunteers made picket signs to send the Proud Boys a message with slogans like “Hit the Far Right with a Feminist Left” and “White Supremacy is the Enemy.”
The two dozen people who traveled from Seattle to Portland arrived at Peninsula Park, the location of the counter rally. Seattle’s Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) made the trip as well and proudly held their banner. We were joined by dozens of picketers from a wide array of unions — electricians, carpenters, iron workers, nurses, postal workers, educators, grocery workers, city, state and county employees, and more. Chants like “when Proud Boys come to town, union labor tears them down” helped withstand the rain and drew in people from the neighborhood.
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists, socialists, anarchists, anti-fascists and folks walking by enjoyed rally speeches, music, and solidarity. At a nearby rally, Black demonstrators defiantly waved flags at a monument near Delta Park commemorating the Black neighborhood that was first lost to a flood and then forgotten by the city. A miles-long car caravan circled both rallies, horns blasting in solidarity.
Our goal was to demoralize the ultra-right by outnumbering them. We succeeded handily, by five to one! The few hundred Proud Boys who did show up were a fraction of the turnout they promised. Unwilling to face the massive opposition that showed up to confront them, they turned tail and went home early, escorted as usual by the Oregon State Patrol.
The day marked a huge victory for our side. We demonstrated that uniting all the targets of bigots is the key to success. It also showed the critical role that labor plays. The purpose of unions is to be disciplined bodies to defend workers on and off the job. Fascism can only succeed if it breaks the labor movement by coupling divide-and-conquer tactics with brute force. Big business then has a free hand to crush any remaining resistance. That is why unions are so important to this fight.
When we organize and defend all fascism’s targets — like Black folks, Jews, immigrants, women and queers — we build unity and strike a blow against the system. Together we can make the fascists “stand down” for good.
The author is a shop steward and activist with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21. Contact him at email@example.com.