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A few words from the Editor, November 2002

The authorities are calling them the Portland Six. Their faces are showing up on every news program, talk show and newspaper in the country. Here they are, Ashcroft and company proudly announcing, the terrorist beast lurking within our midst.

Never mind the fact that none of them actually made it Afghanistan to wage war against the United States. Never mind that none of them appeared to have engaged in any truly criminal acts in the United States. Never mind the fact that had their skin been white and they had been wearing John Deere ballcaps rather than turbans when they went target shooting in a Washington gravel pit that local police would have ignored their activities there.

We aren’t supposed to ask those questions. Nor are we supposed to ask to see the smoking gun — not the legal ones they fired in the gravel pit — that justified their arrest, villification, and potentially long prison sentences for “conspiring to wage war against the United States.”

Our war on terrorism has produced too few results for the government. The misdirected young man who actually made it to Afghanistan has proven to be a rather pitiable character, even to some hardliners. The muslim cleric who reportedly had traces of TNT on his luggage has slipped through the network — his only offense allowing a federal agent with TNT traces on his own hands to handle the cleric’s bags.

Which is why we need to be concerned about the newly named Portland Six. Ashcroft and his pals want an auto de fe so bad it hurts and they seem to think the Portland Six may just fit the bill for a little barbecue.

Stopping the fires won’t be easy. Information won’t be forthcoming from either quarter. None of the six or their families will be speaking any time soon. Friends of those arrested and their families are understandably fearful that they will be next.

So, what can we do?

For starters, we can recognize that this is a struggle in which those most at risk must lead and support them as they take on that responsibility.
We can exercise as much understanding as possible. The incredible pressure that has been applied to Portland’s muslim community has and will understandably produce statements and actions that may seem to go against our progressive grain. Our government’s poisonous actions are bearing equally poisonous fruit. Contemplating violent acts is not irrational when one has been marked as a pariah capable of the most horrible deeds.

Perhaps the most important act of solidarity we can perform for the Portland Six is to finally get serious about making our own movement truly multi-racial and anti-imperialist. Every progressive organization in Portland has a diversity plan and includes diversity within its mission statement. Yet we see the same old dominant culture in charge defining the struggle in its own terms.

By truly opening up our organizations to diversity and expanding our own definition of the struggle to embrace the underlying force that has been battering away at the Portland Six’s ancestors for centuries we can take a giant step forward towards building a real mass movement. The repression of the Portland Six, after all, is one and the same as the repression African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other people of color endure every day. While the latter may experience repression that flies under the radar if you will, in the end, it proves just as humiliating and deadly as the more overt acts. At the same time, we can use the privilege so many of us enjoy to deflect government attacks on those who are more vulnerable.

This strategy won’t be easy. Our progressive community prefers to take action: set up a defense fund, organize protests, carry out all the usual activities. These are things which will need to be done. But if we move forward on our own, in isolation, than such activities become mere gestures which may make us feel good, but which will do little to move the powers that are threatening the Portland Six and the communities they come from.

Over the past several months, as we’ve faced repeated war threats and the unfolding of the new repressive state, there has certainly been progress within the white progressive community in looking to others to lead. Now that the struggle is becoming more intense and the stakes are getting higher, we need to build on those successful experiences.

If we do that, we may be able to not only turn back this new assault, but position ourselves for going on the offensive with more power than before when the time is ripe.

Dave Mazza is Editor of The Portland Alliance


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Last Updated: January 27, 2003