This summer, as Portland saw a boom in social justice activism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Lewis & Clark Associate Professor of History and Department Chair Maureen “Mo” Healy took to the streets along with thousands of other Portland residents.
According to Healy, protesting had not been a large part of her political life prior to this summer. With the exception of popular demonstrations such as the Women’s March and some anti-war activity during the Gulf Wars, her involvement had been minimal.
“I felt like I couldn’t be passive anymore,” Healy said. “Enough is enough. We have to get outside and speak.”
Healy, along with her friends and family, attended several marches throughout Portland neighborhoods that were primarily organized by Black youth leaders in the Portland community.
Healy was particularly inspired by young Black voices telling their stories and organizing demonstrations.
“I was really moved and blown away by the leadership,” Healy said. “Some of these leaders are 16 or 17 years old riding in the back of pickups with speakers and leading thousands of people in marches. I learned a lot.”
One night in July, while peacefully protesting, Healy sustained a head injury from a rubber bullet. The protest occurred during a period of time when federal law enforcement was present in the city. These troops were sent to Portland by the president in an effort to quell the protests. They worked alongside the Portland police before taking their leave in early August.
“I was in a crowd of at least 1,000 people,” Healy said. “(Federal law enforcement officers) were indiscriminately shooting at American citizens expressing (their) right to freedom of speech. As a citizen that bothers me.”
From the perspective of a historian, Healy also expressed concern. She warns about drawing too hasty of a connection between anti-democratic regimes in European history and the present-day U.S., even though trademark tactics of these regimes, such as using state violence to control protests, are being seen today.
“It’s a very bad precedent, and there is precedent for it in other countries,” Healy said. “I’m very careful as a historian not to draw really easy parallels, yet there are parallels.”
Healy’s passion for social justice and draw to the Black Lives Matter movement in particular comes from the roots of injustice embedded in our country’s history.
“Living in a majority white city, in a majority white country, white people must stand up and support in a position of allyship as people of color seek redress for these grievances,” Healy said.
While Portland has been home to movements such as Don’t Shoot PDX for several years, the increase in attendance at protests this summer and the visibility that has accompanied that growth is a change in the Portland community.
“It’s on every street corner, it’s in every window,” Healy said. “And, since (the death of) George Floyd, there have just been more police killings of Black people, or serious injuries in the case of Jacob Blake.”
Healy noted that the reasons for protesting at the beginning of the summer are just as prevalent today. While the behavior of police officers continues in this manner, it is imperative to continue speaking up. Change does not occur quickly, but with the unity of education and action it is possible to make a real difference.