Portland State University students joined thousands of other activists in downtown Portland on Friday, Jan. 20 to protest the inauguration of United States President Donald J. Trump. PSU student group Inauguration Day Action Coalition kicked off its call to action that began with a student walkout and rally in the PSU Park Blocks at approximately 2 p.m.
About 90 PSU students and staff members joined the walkout despite the rain while listening to student activists discuss several important issues on campus which, according to rally speakers, emulate the values of Trump’s campaign ethics.
According to flyers placed around campus, the walkout was to protest the “undemocratic election” of an “admitted homophobic, transphobic, anti-immigrant, Islamaphobic [sic], racist, rapist to the office of President.”
Editor’s note: No commas in original flyer text.
The rally was staged beside a large information booth hosted by the International Socialist Organization, an activist organization that promotes socialist ideology as a solution to the current state of U.S. affairs. According to ISO’s website, “ISO is committed to building a left alternative to a world of racism, poverty, war, and environmental destruction.”
The first key speaker, Kaitlyn Dey of the PSU Student Union, discussed the similarities between the frustrations of Trump’s cabinet appointees and the PSU Board of Trustees and how improving student involvement can help to promote change within the larger scale of government operations.
“I open up the news every day and I look at Trump’s cabinet picks and I feel hopeless,” Dey said. “[N]ow that Trump’s being elected, there are a lot of people on campus who are now at risk—including people who may be undocumented.”
Dey acknowledged the success of PSU students for pressuring university officials to declare the campus as a sanctuary campus after the week-long string of protests during November’s election week. In regard to asking the BOT to follow up on its plans for the sanctuary campus, however, Dey described the BOT as remaining indignant to the worries of vulnerable students.
“We [PSUSU] attend all BOT meetings because we want to know that student voices matter and that they care about student voices,” Dey said. “We asked them, ‘What are you going to do about this?’, and they didn’t give us an answer.”
“Many of you might not know who the [BOT] are—I will fill you in a little bit,” Dey said. “The BOT is a non-elected governing body of our university and they make many of the most important decisions on our campus.”
Dey referenced the BOT decision to arm campus security with guns and the recent inflation of PSU tuition. In describing BOT meeting format, Dey depicted board members as treating students with curt and abrupt disregard, citing that up until recently, “They [BOT] didn’t even take notes of what students were actually saying.”
The second key speaker was Hanna Eid, a PSU student and ISO member. Eid discussed the topic of activist suppression both at PSU and throughout U.S. foreign policy and how PSU officials have been negligent in supporting student interests.
“We passed a BDS resolution here at Portland State, but it was not an easy journey,” said Eid. “President Wim Wiewel sent out an email saying the resolution was divisive and ill-informed, and he has made his connections to—inappropriate connections—to the Israeli lobby known at the expense of [Palestinian] students but certainly other students who are advocating for a free Palestine.”
“How this plays into the macro image is—with Donald Trump’s cabinet and their virulent support of the apartheid regime in Israel and many of his cabinet picks are open supporters of settlement building—if not donators,” Eid said. “That’s a tactic that’s been used. It’s essentially neo-McCarthyism and the creation of websites, such as the Canary Mission, that paint activists as anti-Semites and shut down any dialog about the state of Israel because it breaks the status quo.”
“But we are here to let, not only the administration here at PSU now but the Trump administration as well, that we won’t stand for that,” Eid said. “We are going fight for equal rights for all.”
Eid began to finish his speech by quoting activist Lila Watson: “If you are here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’re here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Among other speakers was Jose Padin, president of Faculty Student Union, who spoke on the importance of student organization and how to navigate the upcoming four years with a plan for civil success.
“There’s no question that in the next four years we are going to face a terrible, adverse, policy climate at a national level,” Padin said. “So fighting back is going to require a lot of local and state level action, whether it’s workers’ rights, student rights, family rights, immigrant rights, you name it.”
Padin encouraged the crowd not to diminish the intelligence of Trump and his incoming administration.
“The people taking power today, they might look foolish, but they’re not dumb,” Padin said. “Okay? They’re just not. Don’t underestimate your opponent. And, they have the power. Not dumb, and with power. So we have to be smarter and build power of our own. Let’s not be naïve.”
Padin ended his speech stating, “I will also say that we also have a task that when we say solidarity we need to organize and reach out with patience, empathy and compassion to a lot of the people who voted these fools into office and who are going to be hurt by it, OK? Just because, we can’t afford to call our brothers and sisters who voted for this just dumb.”
“There’s a lot of insecurity out there,” Padin said. “Let’s just have each other’s back.”
In response to reviewing the Inauguration Day Action Coalition walkout was and the turn events for protesters unfolded later in the evening, International Socialist Organization speaker Hanna Eid shared his thoughts:
“The numbers weren’t what we expected, but it still built a sense of camaraderie which is going to be necessary in the years ahead under Trump and the current PSU administration,” Eid said. “When it comes to Friday night’s protest, I think that the almost immediate response from the police was inappropriate and goes to show that [Portland Mayor] Ted Wheeler has a limited set of interests.”
“Saturday is much more complicated,” Eid said. “I believe that the sheer number of people worldwide who protested is amazing and is certainly the first of many steps to build a social movement that has power in numbers and that can achieve radical change in the world.”
“On the other hand, I believe that the large amount of people that were taking pictures with the police, giving flowers to the police, or hugging the police on Saturday is absurd,” Eid added. “Especially given the fact that some of those same officers were, not 12 hours prior, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters.”
Additional reporting by Andy Ngo and Benjamin Ramey.