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There's been a protest in the city nearly every day since Trump's election. What happens when protests drag on and on?

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Police and protesters square off in downtown Portland on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. There has been a protest in Portland almost every day since the election of President Donald Trump.

Protest leaders, police, the media and others in Portland are all — in their own way — trying to decide what this new level of political activity means for them.

"I haven't felt like things have been normal since November," says Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson, whose bureau has frequently been stretched to cover protests despite 59 vacant positions. "I guess it's the new reality."

"We're in a remarkable moment in terms of active communities in Portland," says Jules Boykoff, a political scientist at Pacific University who studies leftist movements. "The national government is giving reasons each and every day for protests."

Portland's Resistance, a nearly 20,000-member group that formed out of frustration with Trump's election, lists 64 public protests and related events on its Facebook page since Nov. 10. Some events — such as last Wednesday's North Dakota pipeline rally in the Lloyd District — aren't on the list, indicating that the true number is even higher.

This week, a citywide workers' strike is set for Feb. 17 and a President's Day protest Feb. 20 will meet at a downtown federal office building.

"Ironically, Donald Trump keeps giving us fuel, and I don't think that's going to stop," says Greg McKelvey, a leader of Portland's Resistance. "A lot of these are flash protests, because we don't know what our president is going to do today."

A law student at Lewis & Clark College, McKelvey says he juggles a packed schedule of school and protesting by not having any free time.

"I go to everything I have the time for, as long as I don't have school," he says, adding: "Because I organize protests, I understand that the biggest thing you want are bodies there."

To McKelvey, the exact messaging of the protest or how many people are there or how they plan to protest isn't a consideration to him.

"I don't 'decide,' " he says. "I just go to any one that I can."

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Protesters make their way along Southwest Fourth Avenue in downtown Portland as part of the Portland Women's March on Jan. 21.

Media weighs coverage, balance issues

It's a different story for Jason Stevens, interim news director at KOIN 6 News. (KOIN 6 News is a news partner with the Portland Tribune.)

Stevens has to weigh a lot of factors to decide which events to send his team to and how they will cover it.

The biggest factor?

"Is it newsworthy for our viewers?" Stevens says. He defines that as whether the event will have an impact on the public at large, such as traffic delays or risks of injury, property damage or other violence.

Another difficulty he's found in the heart of deep blue Portland is finding people with opposing perspectives willing to talk publicly. Stevens says he had to send a reporter to Corvallis to find a pro-Trump event to cover.

"We had a devil of a time finding somebody," he said.

Stevens says his newsroom is also aware of how television cameras can themselves affect the situation and he has to balance that, too.

During the Nov. 10 riot that ended up making international headlines as some protesters broke windows and burned property, KOIN 6 News broke rank with other local stations and didn't provide "wall-to-wall" live coverage without commercial break.

"We made a conscious decision not to do that," Stevens says. "I felt like, what good are we serving by it? Are we pouring fuel on that fire?"

But he stresses that each newsroom makes its own decisions on which protests to cover, and each has its own reasons and approach.

"I don't like the media being painted with a broad brush," he says.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - A protester puts his hands up while being chased by police in downtown Portland the night of the Inauguration Day protests.

Overtime pay could be in the millions

But Simpson, the police spokesman, says he does see commonalities in the way the press reacts, and protesters also take notice.

"The protest community is not wrong when they say: 'When we behave, nobody will cover it,'" he says, noting that requests for comment spike considerably when there is violence. "They're probably right. But that doesn't make (the violence) right."

The police also have decisions to make about whether or not they will go to a protest — and in what form.

"It's not the content that drives what we do; it's the actions that drive what we do," Simpson says.

But the response also seems to be based on what police see as threats of actions. Simpson says police often rely on social media posts to determine what the tenor of the event is going to be.

Prior to the Inauguration Day protests, for example, Simpson says police saw clear statements of intent to damage property and break laws, so they felt justified in taking stronger action upfront.

Simpson says the bureau supports free speech, but officers also want to ensure the safety of the city's infrastructure and lessen the impacts to non-protesters.

In addition to overtime away from their families to possibly stand and take abuse from protesters, officers are called away from other beats, which means those stolen car reports, house break-ins and other lower-priority calls get processed more slowly.

"From a logistical standpoint, it's a challenge for us to serve the community as a whole when we have to dedicate a lot of resources to a small group of folks acting a certain way," he said.

The Portland Police Bureau spent $563,139 on overtime pay between Nov. 3 and Nov. 16, a period around Election Day that saw many protests. Overtime figures for the major events since then — the J20 Inauguration Day protest, the Women's March, and the Portland Airport travel ban protest — were not available by press time.

Simpson says the bureau has fielded many emails from Portlanders who fear for their safety or that of their property, despite supporting the protesters' general anti-Trump sentiment.

Protest leaders are aware public support for their cause could wane if disruptions continue.

"It is a worry, and if we lose the city, then our movement will suffer," says McKelvey, who says that's why he stresses nonviolent disruptions.

To him, the stakes for the success of this wave of political activity are very high. "This time that we're in is basically two options: the end of America, and the world as we know it. Or, it's the moment we were all waiting for."


Shasta Kearns Moore
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EDIT: This story has corrected the spelling of Gregory McKelvey's name and where he attends school