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Portland mayor gathers civic leaders in continued push against protest violence

Mayor Ted Wheeler convened a broad coalition in Portland’s so-called living room Wednesday to promote the city’s progressive self-image and liberal free-speech tradition, and to denounce the prospect of violence during rival political demonstrations scheduled this weekend.

The gathering, unprecedented in recent memory, brought together Oregon’s federal prosecutor and law enforcement critics as well as prominent labor and business organizations to Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Even the Unipiper, an icon of the city’s offbeat culture, and Timber Joey, the brawny mascot for Portland’s major league men’s soccer team, joined the array of around 100 civic, religious and elected leaders.

[See the entire list of participants here]

The display of solidarity comes as right-wing activists from throughout the nation plan to hold an event Saturday at Tom McCall Waterfront Park to condemn self-described anti-fascist activists, or antifa, and push to have their political adversaries labeled as domestic terrorists.

Hundreds of people, including anonymous black-clad leftists, are planning to counter-protest, prompting fears of physical clashes like the ones that repeatedly have erupted at dueling demonstrations in Portland.

“Right now, we’re all witness to a national rhetoric that has whipped racialized violence into a frenzy, causing harm, causing pain, causing fear for many people in our community,” Wheeler said.

“We stand in opposition to the rising national tide of hate, intolerance, bigotry and white supremacy, especially rhetoric aimed at women, people of color and immigrants.”

More than a dozen speakers followed the mayor’s remarks.

While the news conference aimed to deliver a unified message against members of rival protest groups who have rioted and waged bloody battles in Portland’s streets over the past 2½ years, the participants often diverged in their views.

“It’s extremists across the political spectrum who come not to demonstrate but to engage in criminal acts of violence and property damage,” said Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Billy Williams. “The actions of a few, who include masked cowards and marauding thugs, have tarnished the reputation of Portland.”

But Rabbi Debra Kolodny, representing the group Portland United Against Hate, offered a defense of counter-protesters who have physically confronted those espousing hateful or bigoted views.

“Creating false equivalencies between violent white nationalists and those willing to defend our city against their violence is unacceptable,” she said to an eruption of applause. “Pandering to a climate that accuses Portland of being soft on antifa is unacceptable.”

The gathering marked the latest move by city leaders and police to publicize the work they are doing in anticipation of Saturday.

Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw have promised a larger turnout by police and vowed to use the full force of the law against those who commit acts of violence and vandalism.

City officials have been working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to secure the officers and equipment necessary to respond, Outlaw said.

The mayor and chief also have gone on video and given interviews, pledging to do what it takes to keep the city safe during the demonstration and urging trouble-seeking participants to stay away from Portland.

Some of those who joined them Wednesday spoke of the moral imperative Portland faces during this tumultuous political time.

“We come as peace-makers and peace-keepers,” said Avel Gordly, a longtime civil rights leader and the first black woman elected to the Oregon Senate. “We Portlanders stand together for peace, love, fairness, justice, harmony and reconciliation. Words and intent matter.

“I come to you today with a plea,” Gordly continued. “Let’s be more kind with our day-to-day dealings with each other. All we have on this planet — while we still have this planet — is each other.”

— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632

Email at skavanaugh@oregonian.com

Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh

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