Cheerful and merry cries filled the night sky outside the Moda Center Saturday night. Having successfully demonstrated their support for the Trail Blazers and the LGBQ community, hundreds of Portlanders rejoiced and danced into the night as a live DJ spun a celebratory post-protest set.
The freewheeling Blazers’ bitter rivals approach a wall of thorns
The notorious Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, convened at the Rose Quarter Saturday afternoon to protest the Portland Trail Blazers. The ministry has gained notoriety nationwide for their controversial picketing of funerals and brandishing of incendiary messages like “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”
Earlier Sunday, WBC had appeared at the Oregon Convention Center in response to both the Gay Christian Network Conference being held there and the state’s 2013 legalization of gay marriage. Their objective, according to their official website tastefully named godhatesfags.com, was to “Picket the Portland Trail Blazers to remind this nation to turn from these false idols they set up and obey the one true God.” Which, admittedly, is quite vague reasoning that is awfully similar to other protests they stage.
What likely encouraged WBC to come to the Rose garden on their recent picketing tour was the Blazers’ public support of gay marriage. Back in October of 2013, the Portland Trail Blazers became the first NBA franchise to publicly support the proposed constitutional amendment that would recognize same-sex marriages thus believing homosexuality to be against the will of God, the WBC took it upon themselves to picket the Trail Blazers on their home court.
Rose City’s response
Once news of WBC’s picket schedule broke, a movement among the many quickly formed via Facebook. The group was composed of over 300 members under the moniker “Blackout #nothingtoseehere.”
As we saw with the Ferguson protests last month, the Portland public showed once again that they stand behind their convictions. They proposed a nonviolent counter-protest that would black out WBC’s message. The group’s turnout was quite impressive, many of them wielding signs and dressing up in various costumes. Soon after the counterprotesters arrived, the WBC members quickly packed up and dispersed in their small convoy of white minivans.
The blackout was successful in its intended purpose of nonviolent engagement. According to Sergeant Phil Blanchard of the Portland Police Bureau, no arrests were made or citations issued.
“Given what you know you read online and what everybody has posted, it didn’t seem hostile; everybody wanted to get their message out but we didn’t expect anything like people throwing blows,” Blanchard said.
The mood of the crowd was hopeful and lively as they exercised their own First Amendment rights in support of their city. Blanchard also expressed his sentiments regarding the night’s events.
“The message from us has been constant to everybody: it’s your right to free speech no matter what the message,” Blanchard said.
Portland resident and Blazers fan Michael Cathcart believes the city embraces its residents’ First Amendment rights.
“For the most part I think the right to protest and the freedom to sort of, you know, be who you wanna be is pretty solidly protected in this city,” Cathcart said.
The WBC protestors reportedly picketed outside the Moda center for just about 20 minutes before retreating. Their early departure did not end the excitement of the evening, however, for so much goodwill in one place is bound to erupt if it has nowhere else to go.
A pregame victory dance
Once the WBC had taken leave, the counter-protest turned into a celebritory dance party. Hundreds of counter-protesters engaged in revelry outside the Moda Center, waving banners of their own and throwing in the occasional raunchy, sex-positive chant. Bodies were laid as bare as inhibitions and articles of clothing disappeared into the crowd.
When asked what kind of statement was intended by the sudden nudity, the topless Araleyah Rojas stated “We don’t care, we have freedom to love who we love and wear what we wear, freedom of our bodies.”
Rounding up the sore losers
About a half hour before tip off, a new group of religious protestors arrived. They were unidentified, but one carried a sign reading “Fear God and Keep his Commandments.” They set up across the street from the dance party and requested that the protests stay separate, but the raucous crowd had other ideas.
Over 100 revelers crossed the street and surrounded the two protesters. They began several chants directed at the two starting with “God loves butt-plugs.”
The two men attempted to move away from the rabid counter-protestors but were followed throughout the Rose Quarter. Portland Police and Moda Center event staff stayed close on hand to monitor the interactions.
The crowd continued to chant at and dog the heels of these two protestors— these two Christians in the lion’s den. One of them carried a megaphone, but every time he attempted to speak through it the bellows of Portland’s collective outrage shouted him out. The man claimed they were not associated with WBC or even opposed to homosexual equality. The ethical debate of the counterprotester’s actions in silencing these two remains unresolved, but one thing is clear: In Portland, you say something nice or you don’t say anything at all.
Finally, game time
About 10 minutes before Blazers tip-off, the incident had died down and most participants went inside to the game or left to home or to bars. The chant, never dying, had officially shifted from “Shame on you,” to “Let’s go Blazers, let’s go.”
Any animosity soon subsided as the counter-protest ended and the game began. Fans entered the building to bear witness to even more glorious victory, as the Blazers defeated the Orlando Magic 103-92. Though not exactly worshipping them as idols, the arena roared with excitement as their beloved Blazers secured a hard-earned win. The night came to a close with everyone in high spirits knowing that their city had shown what it was made of.