Lake Oswego to host dueling political rallies
Lake Oswego will host two political gatherings on opposite sides of State Street this Saturday, with residents and other Oregonians rallying in support of — or in opposition to — President Donald Trump.
Participants in a "March 4 Trump" will gather at noon in George Rogers Park before heading down State Street toward A Avenue. The event is part of a series of marches planned in cities throughout the country and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Lake Oswego event is one of two in Oregon, with a march also scheduled to take place in Hood River.
"This event is all about a group of people meeting up and marching in support of our fairly elected president," March 4 Trump organizer Carol Leek wrote on the event's Facebook page. "It's a place for us to come together, hear from our local officials and march in peace."
Meanwhile, a variety of counter-events organized by local and regional activist groups, including a "Rainbow Parade," appear to have merged into a single event called "Stand for LOve" that will take place in Millennium Plaza Park alongside a locally organized "Lake Oswego Love-In." The family-friendly rally from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. is scheduled to include information tables, music, face painting, speakers and its own march up and down State Street.
Like their pro-Trump counterparts, Stand for LOve organizers promise a peaceful event.
"We're not there to be mean or yell at them or do anything," said Rainbow Parade organizer Jacob Bureros. "They're there to support what they believe in, and we're going to support what we believe in, and we're going to show up in greater numbers than they are."
Plans for the March 4 Trump in Lake Oswego first emerged last week and quickly drew media attention, thanks in large part to the involvement of local business owner Kevin Kerwin.
Kerwin has made headlines in the past for the large, provocative signs that he routinely displays in the front window of his computer repair store on State Street, typically containing pro-Trump or anti-liberal messages. He presented himself as the main public face of the Lake Oswego event, calling it "my little march" and contacting City officials and media organizations to promote it.
But Kerwin's involvement quickly drew a firestorm of criticism from activist organizations, not only for his window signs but also for a series of posts on social media that used racial epithets and vulgar language in reference to women, African Americans and Muslims.
In one Facebook post, Kerwin used images of a burning Quran. In another, he wondered why no one had created a video game "where you shoot liberals in the streets."
Almost immediately, Portland-area activist groups joined local officials and Lake Oswego residents in calling for a response. Oregon Students Empowered, Direct Action Alliance and Independents for Progressive Action (IPA) all urged their members to gather in opposition, including one invitation to attend a Rainbow Parade that would walk alongside Trump marchers.
"Bring your tutu, fairy wings and unicorn suits," Direct Action Alliance posted on its Facebook page. "There might even be a marching band! Glitter and Mexican flags are highly encouraged!"
Alliance member Bureros told The Review that the group was working with other activist networks to encourage people to head for Lake Oswego on Saturday. A later post on the group's Facebook page asked its members to help coordinate ride-share options for people who want to attend.
At the local level, Lake Oswego resident Erin Lee created a Facebook page to promote a Lake Oswego LOve-In at Millennium Plaza Park that she said was specifically intended as a peaceful, family-oriented event rather than a direct counter-march or something more confrontational.
Lee said she decided to create the event after reading about the March 4 Trump and looking at some of the comments on the event's Facebook page. She said it came as a surprise that such an event would be held in Lake Oswego.
"I'm a parent of a child in the Lake Oswego School District and I grew up here, so I'm a longtime participant in this community," she said. "We're a small community, so for someone to plan something like that — especially with some of the blatantly racist messages that (Kerwin) is putting up there — it was really alarming to me."
Kerwin's involvement also alarmed former Lake Oswego City Councilor Jon Gustafson, who posted a public message on his Facebook page declaring that "Kevin (Kerwin) does not speak for Lake Oswego." State Rep. Ann Lininger responded as well, supporting Kerwin's right to march but declaring that "the strong majority of Lake Oswegans reject bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia."
"This is a politically mixed community of tolerant, thoughtful people," Lininger said.
Kerwin calls it quits
Kerwin's fellow March 4 Trump organizers took notice of the controversy surrounding his involvment, too. On Saturday, Leek posted a notice on the event's Facebook page, stating that Kerwin had been removed from the event because of his vulgar social media posts, which she said other planners had not known about until late last week.
Leek, who lives in Salem, told The Review that she was the original creator of the local event. She brought Kerwin on as an organizer in order to leverage his media contacts and his "enthusiastic support for the president," she said, but she disavowed his posts as "disgusting" and called for the event to have a more positive atmosphere.
"This is upsetting to me — I'm not a racist, and I don't like that and I can't support it," she said. "I don't know if Kevin is racist or not. I would hope that he's not, but I can't control that dude. He is who he is."
Leek said she had become concerned that Kerwin's notoriety was overshadowing the march itself and confronted him last week about some of his provocative statements.
"We might have your sentiments and views as far as how we feel about Trump and the liberals — we obviously don't agree with their agenda," she said she told Kerwin, "but your ongoing war with the liberals, that's your business and has nothing to do with the event."
Despite the warning, Kerwin put up a new public Facebook post over the weekend in which he used vulgar language to refer to Hillary Clinton. At that point, Leek said, she asked him to withdraw his participation and removed his name and contact information from the event's Facebook page.
"I just decided I can't do this with him," she told The Review. "I have Trump supporters saying, 'I'm not coming, I don't want to be a part of this.' And I thought, 'They're right.'"
Kerwin publicly announced his departure on Monday morning, declaring that the group was being politically correct and "bowing down to liberals," and that he refused to be "a slave to tyranny."
A pair of marches
Despite Kerwin's departure, Leek said Saturday's March 4 Trump will go on as planned, following a route from George Rogers Park on State Street to A Avenue (but skipping a previously scheduled stop at Kerwin's store) before skirting the edge of Millennium Plaza Park and looping back to State Street.
"This is not Kevin's march — this is a national event about President Trump and supporting him all around the country," Leek said. "We have a great day planned. There are people coming from all over the state for this, and it's going to be positive. That's our agenda."
The gathering is scheduled to feature several speakers, including state Rep. Mike Nearman of Independence and Multnomah County Republican Chairman James L. Buchal.
"It's going to be fun, it's going to be positive — and it's going to be rainy. But that's OK," Leek said. "There will be a lot of cars in town that day, I'm sure."
Some of those cars will no doubt be headed for Millennium Plaza Park, where Stand for LOve organizers are planning their own "peacful celebration" that's scheduled to start an hour before the March 4 Trump and include its own foray onto State Street.
Planned speakers include Gustafson, Lininger, Lee, Bureros, John Kevin Hunt of IPA, Greg McKelvey of the group Portland's Resistance, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, Clackamas County Commissioners Martha Schrader and Sonya Fischer and others.
"I think this Saturday will be a great bonding experience for the community and a reminder of the values that so many of us share," Gustafson told The Review. "While it's unfortunate that these demonstrations are often sparked by incidents of negativity, it is at the same time reassuring to see and be surrounded by so many individuals standing up for what they believe in."
Lee's Lake Oswego Love-In will be held in the plaza at the same time, but will not inclulde a march and will avoid any direct confrontation with the Trump rally.
"Ours is non-partisan, a safe space and a home-grown group," Lee told The Review.
Preparing for Saturday
The scale of both events has grown considerably in the past week — the March 4 Trump's Facebook page listed more than 300 planned attendees as of Wednesday morning, and the primary "Stand for LOve" page listed more than 130. But Lake Oswego Police officials say they're prepared for both events and aren't expecting any issues.
"We're anticipating a very peaceful exercise of everybody's First Amendment rights, and we encourage that," Capt. Dale Jorgensen told The Review. "We have plans, just as we do for a concert or anything else with a large amount of people. But we're anticipating it will be a peaceful gathering."
Jorgensen said the LOPD has been in repeated contact with the organizers of both events and has been assured that each group intends to make its march "a family event."
Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker echoed Jorgensen's comments, telling The Review that the City was prepared to deal with a large group of people but that he didn't think it would come to that.
"I just hope they keep it in perspective and stay on the sidewalks," he said.
Before his ouster, Kerwin had expressed concern about potential disruption of the pro-Trump march by "anarchists." Leek disavowed Kerwin's more confrontational statements on the subject, but she said her event would feature "an awesome security detail, the best we could get."
"We know there are going to be rioters there. I'm not going to call them counter-protesters, because we're not a protest. We're marching," she said. "But we know they're coming, we're ready for them, and they will not be allowed to disrupt our event as far as what we've got planned. We will be marching, we will be staying on the sidewalks, and it will be peaceful."
Leek said that her group's security detail was working with law enforcement officials in preparation for the event, although Jorgensen told The Review on Tuesday that the LOPD had not yet been in contact with the group about security issues.
"We're trying to meet with them in the next day or two," he said, "to try to figure that out."
IF YOU GO
MARCH 4 TRUMP
Where: George Rogers Park (611 S. State St.), with a march along State Street and A Avenue. Note: Route is subject to change.
When: Noon-4 p.m. Saturday
STAND FOR LOVE, LAKE OSWEGO LOVE-IN
Where: Millennium Plaza Park (200 First St.), with a Stand for LOve march down State Street; the Lake Oswego Love-In will remain in the plaza.
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; march from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.