At the Global Youth Climate Strike I attended on March 15, the main focus of the strike was the incredible amount of students who missed class to speak on and fight for climate justice. I went into the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20 expecting a similar dynamic. Yet, my expectations were proven wrong, as The Youth Liberation Front, a youth-led chapter of Anti-fascist Action (Antifa) was present and very vocal.
Most Antifa members in attendance were dressed in all black and had some kind of face covering, such as a ski mask or a bandana. Members also walked around the crowd of attendees trying to give people masks to wear to conceal their identities, which seemed a bit unnecessary for a peaceful protest.
The lot of them stood towards the front of the crowd, near the stand in which the youth activists spoke. Yet, they did not try to blend in whatsoever with the rest of the attendees, with their attention-grabbing attire and the giant flag with their logo on it, which they waved throughout the event. They stayed for probably half of the pre-march rally, then from across the way I saw one member signal to the others to leave, and they filed out.
While they were present, there was a general air of unease among the members. Personally, as I had never been to a protest where Antifa was present, I could not help but think about my safety and the safety of those around me.
The culture in which we live where mass shootings are normalized makes it difficult to attend any large public event without the smallest semblance of paranoia. For me, the presence of Antifa, an intensely polarizing group, only intensified this fear.
In my discomfort, my attention was taken away from the youth activist speakers, who were one of my primary reasons for attending the protest. In retrospect, my memory of the speakers, before Antifa exited the crowd, is hazy at best. Only after they left was I able to fully direct my undivided attention to the speakers and allow myself to absorb their messages without distraction.
Not only did the presence of Antifa distract the crowd from the speakers, but it has drawn negative attention to the Portland strike from right-wing news outlets. In particular, Fox News has broadcasted a clip of Antifa members “terrorizing” police officers and reported on multiple citizen arrests made. (Of course, they forgot to mention the unnecessary police force used against teen protesters of color, which has been criticized by City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.)
By focusing in on the group, these sources have created a dialogue centered around violence, which has overshadowed the dialogue that should be highlighted surrounding the powerful messages spoken by youth activists at the event.