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July 25, 2020

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A self-described "Wall of Moms" has been color-coordinated and out in Portland day and night over the last week to protect other protestors and remind people that Black Lives Matter. 
Photo credit: Noah Berger | AP
Here's a quick summary as of this writing of the status in Portland (from Time) where, in the wee hours of this morning, federal agents cleared the streets of protesters, using tear gas at close range.

The last few days of protests have included various groups standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and with the city's citizens and mayor:

Veterans: "'That’s an illegal order': veterans challenge Trump's officers in Portland" - from The Guardian

And mothers: According to BuzzFeed News, "Viral videos and photos on social media showed around three dozen mothers — dressed in white and wearing bike helmets — linking arms and chanting, 'Feds stay clear! Moms are here!' and 'Leave our kids alone' at a protest outside a federal courthouse."
"Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan. But all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them..." - Joshua 1:13-14
My daily office lectionary has been deep in the book of Joshua for the last week, and it's full of excitement but also problems. The Israelites, the good guys, are coming through conquering, killing and making deals for indentured servitude with previous inhabitants like the Amorites and the Gibeonites. I wrestle with these texts' honoring of warriors, even as they also lift up the bravery of heroines like Rahab.

At the same time, the city of Portland has been a modern Jericho, under siege - except that the attackers aren't invaders trying to conquer the place, but fellow American citizens who say they're there to help keep peace. If they were really trying for that (hint: they weren't), they've accomplished just the opposite. As Oregon Senator Ron Wyden points out in this Guardian piece, “The violent tactics deployed by Donald Trump and his paramilitary forces against peaceful protesters are those of a fascist regime, not a democratic nation.” Senator Jeff Merkley adds, "This is an all-out assault in military-style fashion on a peaceful-style protest. The way to handle graffiti is put up a fence or come out and ask people to stop doing it, not to attack a peaceful protest, but that’s exactly what happened...This is just an absolute assault on people’s civil rights to speak and to assemble.”

When federal agents are behaving like an invasion force, it's tempting to think that a warrior mentality is a central culprit - and that the only answer is to eschew any warrior-like attitude. So I'm intrigued to find among the good guys in Portland two sets of truly tough customers: veterans and moms.

If you want to see the whole armor of God, look at the intervention of U.S. Marine vet Duston Obermeyer and U.S. Navy vet Chris David. Our country's military academies often instill a toxically masculine authoritarian mindset - but that kind of black-and-white thinking is a power that can also be used for good, as when, "with a cotton mask protecting his face, the 6ft 4in, 275lb man [Obermeyer] walked up to the officers and asked whether they understood their oath to defend the constitution....'Assaulting an unarmed protester who is exercising their first amendment rights is illegal, that’s an illegal order,' he said. That’s when teargas was fired on the two men. When that didn’t deter them, Obermeyer said an officer tried to hit him with a baton, but he caught it and quickly pushed him back."

“We have the ability to see what is right and what is wrong," adds Navy vet David. "And what we both saw was wrong and we wanted to go out there and talk to those officers.”

Other people the feds shouldn't want to mess with: the Wall of Moms. Vets showed up to defend the constitution. Moms showed up to defend - well, everybody.

"We moms are often underestimated," [Wall of Moms founder Bev] Barnum wrote. "But we’re stronger than we’re given credit for." The BuzzFeed article adds that "Barnum, who identifies as Mexican American, and Peattie both said that they didn’t want to take attention away from Black voices during their demonstrations. Barnum said that she was hoping to use the 'privilege' of being 'white-appearing' to shield other protesters, whom officers were more likely to target....'We’ll be out until no protester needs protecting,' she said."
If you're in a position to offer nonviolent defense to others, find a direct or indirect way to do so. One great indirect way: contribute to bail funds or legal funds for protesters who've been arrested - you can take a look at the work of the Portland General Defense Committee in particular - and spread the word.

And contact your representatives to voice support for the Democratic statement - and related action - in opposition to the use of force in Portland.
God, our Mother, thank you for strong humans who use their strength in service to others. Thank you for humans who are less strong but find strength in solidarity with others. Help us to know our own strengths and weaknessness and to use them as you would have us do. We pray for peace in Portland, but only the kind of peace that comes with justice. Amen.
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