Report from the Land of Snowflakes

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For the last decade my hometown has held something called the “Avenue of Roses Parade.” This is a big deal parade kitted out with marching bands and floats and fire trucks and Boy Scouts and groups of people in all sorts of foreign clothes doing traditional dances, and returned Peace Corps volunteers carrying flags from the countries they served in, and open-top cars with prettily-dressed high school queens from around the state waving mechanical waves, and more floats, and pickup trucks, and rodeo queens on fancy horses, all making their boisterous way along a highly traveled thoroughfare that runs through a mostly immigrant part of town. But not this year. This year the rumor got around that the Group in Position 67 might be sneaking Republicans into the parade.

As everybody in Portland, Oregon, knows, immigrant communities are the exclusive preserve of Democrats. Something had to be done and something was done. Somebody . . . some anonymous snowflake of a somebody who was too scared to sign his name . . . fired off an email to the parade committee announcing that if the committee wasn’t prepared to kick the Republicans out of the parade, and do it now, shadowy groups of masked banditos would, to use the email’s own words, “rush into the parade into the middle and drag and push those people out.”

The email made national news. Here’s part of it:

Their Trump flags, their red MAGA hats and their hate group badges are all intended to normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice against our Muslim, Latinx, Black and Native neighbors. They will attempt to march from the Eastport Plaza to Yamhill, but nazis will not march through our city.

If you missed that, one reason these protesters cite as justification for stopping Republicans on a parade route is that they will otherwise “normalize support” for a sitting president.

I didn’t say that last part about normalizing support for a sitting president; Conor Friedersdorfsaid it in the in the Atlantic so ha! all you Lefty Apologists, it’s true.

This year the rumor got around that the Group in Position 67 might be sneaking Republicans into the parade.

There are a lot of possible reactions to a threatening email. The city could, for example, have inquired into who sent the thing. They could have arranged for police protection. They could have applied to the state for military protection. What they did was dither. “Police? Well, police . . . You know all that bad press the city got when it didn’t do something about stopping the rioters back after the elections . . . Well, we don’t need to get our police mixed up in something like that again.”

Faced with this lack of well, anything, from the people whose job it is to protect the rest of us from criminal assault, the parade committee could have, I don’t know, ignored the whole thing as just one of those things. I think that’s the way I would have handled it. Or bused in beefy rancher Republicans from outlying districts. Or made it known that they’d consulted their mailing list of people with concealed carry permits. Or invited Bikers for Trump to come ride in Position 66 1/2. Instead, they turned just as snowflakey as everybody else and cancelled the whole soiree less than 48 hours before it was supposed to kick off.

At which the Republicans decided to go it alone. “If you won’t have a parade with Republicans,” the Republicans said, ”then Republicans will have a parade without you,” and announced they’d be holding a March for Free Speech along the very same parade route at the very same time the Parade of Roses should have taken place.

The only red baseball cap I could find turned out to have a green pentangle on it, which is the flag of Morocco where I used to live, and gold Arabic script.

Now I’d missed out on the whole marching-chanting-singing experience back in the Sixties on account of being otherwise engaged defending the people who were doing the marching from whatever it was the Democrats-in-Charge-of-Things thought marching-chanting-singing Americans needed defending from in Southeast Asia. So, when I got wind of a Republican Civil Rights march, that was it. My Saturday morning was scheduled.

I dug around in the closet for a red baseball cap. I wasn’t sure what a MAGA hat was but, I was guessing, it would be red and I wanted to look the part. The only red baseball cap I could find turned out to have a green pentangle on it, which is the flag of Morocco where I used to live, and gold Arabic script which, if you read against the grain and know Arabic, spells out “Morocco.” Maybe, it occurs to me as I’m writing this, MAGA has something to do with Make America Great Again. Could be. I’m just speculating here.

Then I spent more time than I’d expected to spend rummaging in drawers and jewelry boxes and the backs of shelves behind books trying to locate the ribbon I’d acquired when the Southeast Asia thing didn’t work out as planned. I figured I’d plant myself at the head of the parade and wanted to look my best.

When I arrived at the park where the march was to form up, there was a green chain-link fence wrapped around something called a turf court. I have no idea what a turf court does during the week but that morning it was a place to cordon off the Freedom of Speech marchers from the terrorists outside. Generally you could recognize the terrorists because they wore masks and dressed in Hallowe’en costumes. The Free Speech people were dressed like people — all sorts of people, including some who might well have been Bikers for Trump in other parts of their lives.

This was Portland. There aren’t that many black people of any sort around and those who could dance had better things to do with their weekends.

A few of the guys inside the fence made the effort to go outside and actually talk to the people outside the fence but, mostly, the people outside weren’t interested. One guy was cynical about being approached. “You won’t let us talk,” he said.

“Sure we will,” the Freedom of Speech guy said.

“Naw,” Cynical Guy said.

“Really. I mean it. We’re on your team about free speech. You should be marching with us.”

Cynical Guy hadn’t been expecting that and started backing away. No way he could march for free speech, not with Republicans there.

One guy who most likely wasn’t a Republican had helped organize the parade. He was tall, late twenties, and the best-dressed person on the scene, including the mayor when he whizzed by. He was wearing neatly-pressed black pants, shiny shoes, a crisp white shirt tastefully accented with a bowtie, and a floor-length American flag draped over his shoulders like Superman, if Truth, Justice, and the American Way had involved accessorizing with Old Glory. He told me he was a lifelong radical who thought free speech was important. Like most Lefties he didn’t have a sense of humor about being called out as a racist.

“They keep tellin’ me white men can’t dance,” he said. “Well I can dance with the best of them. Come on,” he yelled through the fence. “Let’s have a dance marathon. Right here. You scared to dance with me?” But this was Portland. There aren’t that many black people of any sort around and those who could dance had better things to do with their weekends than get mixed up in the political posturings of cosseted white kids.

Professor Guy had the lung capacity of a sperm whale and he kept going for another five minutes with nobody listening at all.

One guy who might have been a Biker for Trump — he was in his fifties, had a graying biker ponytail, biker boots, biker chains, and a faded Harley-Davison jacket — was standing under a tree trying to talk to a tall, professorial-looking guy. The professor guy was spouting a word salad of Lefty hate speech at the biker, who listened patiently until Professorial Guy started to turn blue from lack of air and had to pause for breath. Biker Guy seen his opportunity and he took it, and said in a voice as calm as an airline pilot announcing he was switching off the seatbelt sign, “You might want to check on the definition of fascist before you go accusing people of that.”

Professorial Guy was not impressed and, having found his second wind, ignored the thing about finding out what he was talking about, and started up again. The word salad sprouted into a hedge dense enough to protect his thoughts from any possibility of trespass, then blossomed into an entire Normandy hedgerow a Sherman tank couldn’t have punched its way through. A long time later he had to breathe again and the biker got a second chance. “Seriously, Brother. Try Googling “Fascist’.” But that didn’t cut any more mustard than the first time, and Professorial Guy picked up where he’d left off and set out from there. Three or four minutes later Biker Guy got bored and wandered away but even that didn’t deter the words from spewing out. That Professor Guy had the lung capacity of a sperm whale and he kept going for another five minutes with nobody listening at all.

Somewhere along in there the mayor came by, but his heart wasn’t in it. He cut across a corner of the park at race-walk speed, cordoned off by bodyguards straining to keep up, shook hands with the half-a-dozen cops formed up in a conga line to protect him from whatever it was he needed protecting from, and, without breaking stride, was out of there. A photo op, somebody speculated. A testament to 21st-century technology, I thought. In the absence of modern, high speed photography Hizzonor wouldn’t have had any reason to be there.

Inside the turf court there were a lot of flags, some of them American, some Trumpian. Outside there were juggling and noisemakers, some of them high-powered mechanical bullhorns set on SCREEEECH to drown out the guy inside who was telling us marchers that we were going to obey all the laws. We were going to stick to the sidewalk. We wouldn’t be blocking traffic. We’d be waiting for the lights to change. We’d do what the police said. And we would not start anything.

I didn’t stick around to see what she’d do if I kept coming and violated her personal space anyway. Blow a whistle, maybe.

Around then it occurred to me that if I was going be keeping to the sidewalks for a while, not blocking traffic, waiting for the lights to change, doing what the police said, and not starting trouble, it would be a good idea to visit the portapotties before setting out. That involved leaving the turf court and making my way down a narrow path between the chain link fence and the bleachers where spectators sit and watch turf ball or whatever it is that happens on a turf court. Unfortunately, a couple of young snowflakes with bandanas pulled over their faces like cattle rustlers had positioned themselves on the path so they could better screech their bullhorn at anybody they discovered trying to commit free speech.

When they saw me coming they couldn’t imagine I had anything in mind that didn’t have something to do with them. I think they wanted to beat feet out of there but they were stuck in place against the chain link and formed a defensive perimeter instead. The one in front shoved the bullhorn in my face and screeched me even though I wasn’t trying to say anything. And I mean, in my face. Probably two inches from my nose, where all I could hear was screech and all I could see was bullhorn. I think she learned that in a womyn’s self-defense class. In fact, judging from how ineffective it was, I’m pretty certain that’s exactly where she learned it. When I didn’t stop walking, the unarmed one, the snowflake without the bullhorn, began making gestures to mark off her personal space I wasn’t allowed inside of. In the circumstances that seemed like a lot to expect, especially since I’ve always imagined my personal space extends farther than two inches from my nose. I didn’t stick around to see what she’d do if I kept coming and violated her personal space anyway. Blow a whistle, maybe.

The march got off to a fitful start, then picked up steam. We were a convivial group chatting and making fun of the gaggle of terrorists who got in front of us. They were at a disadvantage, what with having to maintain a coherent mob while walking backwards, watching where they were going through masks, trying not to stumble, and screaming slogans between ear-shattering shrieks from the sirens they were carrying. Sometimes the noise died off enough that we marchers could talk with one another.

The guy walking next to me must have been on some kind of watchlist, because, back during the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Preserve he’d gotten a call while he was driving home from work. The call was from an FBI agent in West Virginia. “When are you going to stand up, Brother?” the FBI guy wanted to know.

“When I get out of the car.”

“When will that be?”

“After I get home.”

“What are you going to do, then?” the FBI guy said.

“Eat dinner, I suppose.”

FBI Guy lost patience with this run-around and asked him, again. “So, when are you going to stand up?”

“What are you talking about, standing up?”

“With your long guns. Out at Malheur with your brothers.”

“When trains start carrying people to the showers.”

That shut FBI Guy up for a while. Then he figured out what my companion was talking about. “Oh, you mean like in Germany?”

“Check,” my guy said. “You going to stand up then?”

“Yeah,” the FBI guy said. “Guess I’ll be doing that.”

“See that you do, Brother.”

We were happily strolling along at the head of the line like I’d planned, enjoying the antics and the beautiful spring morning, when a terrorist snowflake positioned herself in front of me pedaling backwards, and started spouting Lefty psychobabble. There must be a book somewhere, you couldn’t make that stuff up. Then, having pinioned me with the logic of her case, she folded her arms in triumph and demanded to know what I had to say to that. I told her she needed to lose weight, and she evaporated right there on the sidewalk and nobody ever saw her again.

I was motoring along so wrapped up in daring somebody, anybody, to show enough mojo to block my path that I got ahead of myself and everybody else, too.

Now I know that fat-shaming is never appropriate and I apologize right here to all the overfed terrorists in the world who might have been hurt by reading this, and am heartily sorry but you have to understand that I was under emotional stress and needed a safe space and time to recover from all the Nazi-shaming and racist-shaming and, despite the Morocco-flag-with-the-Arabic-script on my head, Islamophobe shaming, and I just lashed out without pausing to consider the lasting pain my ill-chosen words inflicted.

What I was thinking instead was, try and stop me. Just get in my way. Try and snatch me out of the parade. Go on, make me into a cause célèbre right here on national television. The cameras are rolling. Let whoever sent that email come here and physically assault an elderly, disabled veteran wearing his Purple Heart ribbon while standing up for his constitutional rights, the constitutional rights of every American, even the guy trying to snatch him out of line, just like he’d done all those years ago when he bravely marched off to Southeast Asia. See where that gets you, Wannabe Terrorist Snowflake.

I was motoring along so wrapped up in daring somebody, anybody, to show enough mojo to block my path that I got ahead of myself and everybody else, too, and when I snapped back to situational awareness, discovered I’d somehow gotten so far ahead I was marching in the wrong parade. I was the only person walking frontwards in a sea of backwards-looking masks and Mohawks and poorly-thought-out tattoos, and had to sheepishly return to where I came from and start over again.

Toward the middle of the march we passed a building with a yellow flag out front, a yellow flag with three horizontal red stripes. The flag of South Vietnam. The flag of Free Vietnam, as I’ve always thought of it. It occurred to me that the next day was the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Today . . . when I thought about the International Date Line . . . on Saigon time. I don’t think any of the Lefties dancing backwards along with us noticed that flag. Or would have known what it was if they had. Or had a clue about the emotions the people who hung it might be feeling at the sight of masked would-be hooligans spouting commie pap a few feet away from the city they’d found sanctuary in.

About then word began to work its way up to where we were that there was going to be a flag burning and do not react to it. Before we could not react, a scuffle erupted behind where I was and people broke ranks and began streaming into a side street the way you see in film clips about riots. Evidently a guy dressed like a pumpkin had tried to snatch a Republican out of line, but the police took him away before any harm could befall him. After that, the steam went out of the counter-demonstrators and we didn’t see much more of them.

The march wound up in a Burger King parking lot, and nobody knew what to do next. Mostly what we wanted to do was visit the bathroom and down a Coke while we figured out how to get back to our cars, but Burger King wasn’t having any of that and locked the doors. No telling what would happen if rampaging Republicans got inside. Before we could work up a good rampage, a giant Pacific Islander who believed in free speech broke out in a Samoan version of those war dances the All Blacks use to intimidate their opponents before rugby matches. Hands down, it was the scariest thing all day.

A scuffle erupted behind where I was and people broke ranks and began streaming into a side street the way you see in film clips about riots.

The guy who organized the march tried to reorganize us for a march back to our cars, but the police had had enough adrenaline for one day and called in reinforcements from the bus company, and we all got free rides back, except me. I left early on foot when a definitely-out-of-the-closet woman who believed in free speech got speaking freely with a skinny guy sporting a Mohawk braided into dreadlocks: a twofer in the cultural appropriation department, if you ask me.

MAKE FASCISTS AFRAID AGAIN, that was the slogan of the people who weren’t going to give one inch, not a single inch, to Republicans wanting to parade through the streets of our city. After the riots in November the police finally found the spine to bust a guy in a pumpkin suit and the rest of the masked terrorists evaporated. Home of the brave? Ha!

Thing is, though, when we quit being the Home of the Brave we’re no longer the Land of the Free. I already miss that.

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