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alking Story 
by Polo


From The Asian Reporter, V28, #5 (March 5, 2018), pages 6 & 13.

Beauty among our broken dishes, broken bones

Nowadays our achy little earth seems she’s slipped a degree or two off axis. City sidewalks seem to be buckling, tectonic plates are rubbing. People already on edge, are tumbling right off it.

Tense times like these, can lock us into tribes. Imagine the other as evil. Check out congress. But human history is inspiring for our new ways of thinking then going about our daily business when our natural or social environs shifted off an accustomed center. Our family for example, is from Indonesia. Our quaking ground and tantruming volcanoes, our awful leaders and those invading armies, one after another, all hungry for our soil and our oil, have shaped us into a very adaptive people. We’ve always had to sort for blessings among our broken dishes and broken bones.

All that, is intended to ramp into my essay about a Saturday afternoon in January. It’s a story about glimpsing a world of possibility, when old adversarial ways will no longer do. It’s a story about us. About Portlanders.

It unfolded at River City’s international airport, under that vaulting arc of glass and tubular iron sheltering PDX’s arrival gates. We were gathering on three lanes closed for a Saturday protest. Chilly Chinook winds were gusting through. That irrepressible Bhutan refugee and American dreamer, Som Nath Subedi had already secured the Port of Portland’s first-ever free speech permit for a demonstration of our affection for refugees. Families our president just banned from flying here. Here, to our generous continent’s northwest corner.

Som had received hundreds of Facebook clicks promising to participate in our protest. Most from civil-society organizations and faith associations (official protest sponsor list set out at the end). A few shrill posts came from a band of local bad boys who’ve earned notoriety for demonstrating against our values. And gotten a lot of press for that.

Gratitude trumps taking for granted

Port of Portland facility managers and public-safety officers had made all the complex accommodations making it possible to balance our free speech against the rest of the public’s important business. This is hard to do. Since the chaotic 1960s when our family resettled here, both the federal and state judiciaries have been refining this balancing of contrary interests. So, while gathering to protest our government cannot be prohibited by cops or courts — we can be regulated by considerations over the time, the place, and manner of our demonstration. Obviously, no early morning loudspeakers in leafy neighborhoods. No parades through public schools. No firing pistols in the air.

As anyone from one of Portland’s 70-or-so newcomer communities will tell you, America’s First Amendment is a beautiful thing. And rare.

So from the perspective of a family from an island archipelago curving along one of our wobbly world’s most geologically active regions — I was moved by Port officials’ preparedness. They were ready to expose their buzzing facility, their working people, and a travelling public already tense over declining airline services — to us. They secured us a very visible protest space. They raised us a stage, they even lined up portable potties.

As extraordinary as respectful government is, in a world of hurt, what happened next is an even more promising human possibility.

As our crowd swelled and packed tighter, as our speakers and performers queued up for the stage, about a dozen anti-us protestors pushed to the front. They were big men. They used harsh words and a squawky megaphone. They were supposed to be sequestered at a distant counter-demonstration space.

This was bad. Our on-stage guys and these off-stage guys were soon shouting at the same volume. Sharing the same tenor and tone.

Collision and a crack of light

I was worrying about how to manage two hours of this. I was watching our crowd of church folk, of grassroots organizers, artists, elders, and youngsters, and a dozen masked anarchistas moving toward those counter-protestors. I was imagining one side or both losing their tempers, Port of Portland police arriving, and all kinds of mayhem on local evening news. But then: Something beautiful happened.

Off the side of our turmoil stood Dr. Baher Butti, an Iraqi refugee and father who with his professional peers, before the disintegration of his entire nation, introduced the theory and practice of communal and familial wellness to the Arab world. He was chatting with a circle of pretty little girls and Bambi-eyed boys. Kids he brought to sing at our celebration. I went to him. "Dr. Baher, can your kids come on stage now? Right now?"

"Now?" Then checking my eyes the way doctors do, he smiled. "Yesss."

I went on stage with a mic. "Fellas, fellas —" I asked those big bad guys, facing down our demonstrators. "Fellas — listen. Listen please." A few turned around.

"Fellas please. Everyone please." More turned my way. "Everyone, please know this. Because this matters a lot. It really does." They listened.

"Coming on stage now are Iraqi kids. Little girls and their little brothers. Really wounded children, they are. Hurt so bad by all that craziness back home. All that anger." They listened.

"Please, let’s give them, let’s give their broken bones and broken hearts, our reverence. Please." They were moved. Those men were. And they moved to the side. Backs against PDX’s arrival driveway railing, they gave their respect to our children.

We went off our planned run-of-show, and our kids sang earnestly. The way sweet little souls do. They danced in folk-step as old as Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and their elegant civilization in between. For that slim moment all of us, pro- and anti-immigrant, went off script. A beautiful departure.

We departed from habits of thinking and doing, from reflexes traditional and modern, from biases left and right. And we turned instead toward instincts simpler and truer.

Our Saturday was all that. Port authorities permitted us a very public place, when they could’ve put our protest behind that mammoth parking structure. Portland Police officers, men and women daily distancing themselves from a legacy of awful excesses, secured protest participants’ arrival on the same eastbound MAX ride that ended with the fatal stabbing of a Portland dad and a Reed grad just last May. Two white men who had shielded two black girls from another’s rage.

Likewise, our pro-Trump protestors permitted our girls and boys their quiet moment. They backed off for long thoughtful minutes. And our kids sang their hearts out. These guys did that, for them. They gave this, to all of us. For which I am humbled. Terima kasih banyak — I offer you our love.

Notas:

To Tiny, Pro-Trumper and Samoan brother, big as a school bus: Mahalo nui brah, for letting me duck behind you.

To Portland Peace Team, thank you all for sandwiching yourselves between troubles. Thank you for your self-discipline.

You kept our peace, our promise to the Port and to Portland.

Event participants:

Unite Oregon; City of Portland, New Portlanders Program; Greater Portland chapter of the National Organization for Women; Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition; Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Portland; Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace; Portland-Shiraz Friendship Community; Veterans For Peace Chapter 72; Portland Peace Team; Cascadia Pacific Peace Professionals; Anarchist Alternative Media Collective; Portland Refugee Support Group; International Socialist Organization; Portland Network Against Racism and Islamophobia;

Oregon Small Business for Responsible Leadership; Jump Jump Music; Terra Incognita Media; Women’s March on Portland; No Lost Generation UO; United Nations Association Portland Chapter; Amnesty International USA Group 48; and Portland Meet Portland.

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