Dan Linn couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.
For nearly two months now, the lifelong Portlander and small business owner had been supporting the Black Lives Matter protests from a distance, concerned about exposing elderly family members to coronavirus.
But last week, when Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported that federal law enforcement troops were snatching protesters at random off the streets and shoving them into unmarked vans, then detaining them without charges, Linn, his wife, and his brother had had enough.
Even his 60-something father has now joined them in protesting the presence of federal law enforcement and their brutal tactics in the city they love, Linn said.
All weekend long, some member or another of their family was being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed, just as thousands of younger protesters—many of them young Black, Indigenous, and people of color—have been enduring for months at the hands of Portland police officers. The original marchers are still the ones at the center of this movement, but now as never before, there is an older generation at their backs.
“I didn’t know how it would go,” says David Linn, Daniel’s brother, a neighborhood activist who estimates that he’s been to perhaps 30 protests over the course of his life, but has never before needed to purchase a gas mask. “When the wave of gas actually hit us is when we couldn’t see and couldn’t breathe. If I hadn’t had people to help me, I would have been blind and trapped. I couldn’t think about anything, it burned so bad.”
Last Friday night, David Linn fumbled his way to a medic station, he says, to be able to rinse his eyes and then, still bleary, tried to walk the 15 blocks to his car. Along the way, he says, he was almost hit by a Portland Police Bureau SWAT convoy, with officers packed together, hanging off the sides.
“Anyone who saw me would know that I was in distress,” he says. “And all [the police on the convoy] did was yell to us, ‘It wasn’t us!’ As if that exonerated them. It was 45 minutes until I could open my eyes and see out of them."
He’ll be back out there in nights to come; as far as the Linn family is concerned, it’s their turn to step up.
Turns out, a growing number of Portlanders feel the same way. Independent journalists on the scene the last few nights have noted that the crowd was both noticeably larger and older than it has been in weeks.
Judging by the number of people in street clothes without helmets, gas masks, or goggles, I’d say a lot of these folks are joining for the first time. Distinctly more middle aged and older folks tonight, too.— Tuck Woodstock (@tuckwoodstock) July 20, 2020
A young child is here in a pikachu shirt and I’m stressed for them.
By Monday morning, the so-called Wall of Moms, some of them women whose children had been protesting for weeks, were going viral online. The group of mostly white women dressed in yellow and linking arms at the front of the protesters, pledging to use their privilege to protect others in the crowd from the brunt of the harm.
"I got to the breaking point," says Eloise Hoatlin, a SE Portland fitness coach, student, and mother. She says she had attended only smaller neighborhood protests thus far, wanting to protect her elderly parents, but on Sunday night was at the front of the crowd facing down the police, separated only by the fabled fence in front of the Justice Center. "I can make all the excuses I want to make. It is fear of a lot of things, but what I am most scared of is fear if we don’t do this. It is a numbers game. We need to start coming out in numbers. And I can be one of those numbers."
Should the president try to use footage from Portland to gin up campaign donations or strike fear into the hearts of swing-state voters, she says, she hopes people will see a line of "dorky moms. One thing that most women and parents and people can agree on is that when it comes down to the safety and the future of our children, having this government patrol our streets is not the way to do it."
By Monday afternoon, not to be outdone, a call went out over social media to dads all over the city, asking them to show up in orange and form their own line. “Let's put our dad bods on the line and stand against this ridiculous brutality,” the call-out read, “What to bring: mask, eye protection, ear protection, knee pads....basically pretend you’re working on finally building that deck.”
Also Sunday, a Navy vet named Chris David, who told reporters he’d been moved to attend the protest by the presence of Trump's troops. He wanted to ask them how they felt about violating the oath they’d taken to protect constitutional rights, which include the freedom to assembly. He tried, but was beaten with batons by federal police, in a video captured by the Portland Tribune that quickly spread worldwide. David, 53, barely flinched, though he’ll require surgery on his hand as a result.
“They are playing me up as an Iron Man and a Superman,” David told KOIN-6 News. “I’m a 53-year-old overweight man on blood thinners and I have a lot of physical damage from the military. So I’m not made of steel at all. They could have killed me last night.”
Both David Linn and Daniel Linn, and Daniel’s wife Brooke, a trained psychologist who works in health care, stressed that the protests, so far as they could see, were peaceful, with music and dancing and shared food and goodwill. Far from the image that President Donald Trump has painted to his followers of a city under siege, they said, food carts and restaurants were open as normal and a feeling of camaraderie prevailed. That is, until federal officers got involved, with little to no warning.
“Their strategy seems to be to storm out, assault everyone in sight, and then retreat back into the building,” Brooke Linn says. “It serves no purpose. They do it again in an hour or so. Macing people, shooting pepper balls. You can’t see, you can’t breathe. They throw out a flashbang, and it is terrifying for everyone.”
Terrifying it may be, Daniel Linn says, but his family will keep showing up to protest, determined to prove that Trump’s actions have made things worse not better, in Portland (and now apparently Kansas City, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, and other cities that have seen lasting Black Lives Matter protests to demand an end to police brutality and systemic reforms.)
“We can’t not,” he says. “More and more people are contacting me. Our city and our citizens are being attacked. We have to go support them. An older generation is coming out. It is having the opposite effect of what they thought.”
Hoatlin too, says she'll return as often as her schedule allows, until the federal troops leave Portland. She was touched, she says, that the young organizers who've been leading the protests for weeks in Portland were welcoming, offering earplugs, and hand sanitzer, joking that the line of moms had likely come prepared with snacks, per mom code.
"I want to take ownership of the fact that a lot of white women are now doing what black women have been doing for years and years," she adds. "We are doing this with the intention of using our bodies but not our voices. We are putting our bodies before them so they can use their voices."