Portlandia Forever

Having spent a lot of time in Portland (I probably acquired a quarter of my rather too large library at Powell’s City of Books, where I’ve been coming out the front door with heavy full bags since 1977), I always regarded the TV show “Portlandia” as a documentary rather than fictional satire. Clearly the show needs a gritty reboot, with an episode that tries to lampoon the “Wall of Moms” that has been trying to shield “protestors” (the Portland euphemism for anarchist rioters). It might be hard to lampoon the Wall of Moms (WOM for short, though if you want to use WOMbats, that’s okay too) since the WOM is so successfully lampooning itself.

Wall of Moms was supposedly formed to protect black people from . . . something. (I’ll come back to this.) But it has fallen into infighting reminiscent of the crucial split between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. (Primer here if you don’t know the reference.)

It’s been playing out on Twitter like this:

Now, I don’t know exactly what is going on here, aside from that Bev Barnum isn’t woke enough, but it really doesn’t matter for a simple reason: This is all playacting.

I haven’t looked at the Census figures for Portland for a long time (probably the 2000 Census is the last one I looked at), but I have seen a few references in the media suggesting that its demographics haven’t changed: Portland is the whitest major city in America. Portland is over 90 percent white. It is freaking Stockholm. There aren’t many “black voices” to defer to, and I’ll bet an accurate census of the rioters will find them to be 98 percent white. I’m not aware of any police controversies in Portland like Minneapolis, Baltimore, Ferguson, New York, etc.

I love to tell the story of Bobby Kennedy coming to Oregon for the 1968 primary, with a full head of steam off his big win in Indiana. There he’d played up his poverty-schtick with visits to black slums in Gary, Indiana. He was hoping to put away Gene McCarthy in Oregon, and thought he’d do the same Gary, Indiana schtick in Portland. So the first morning in Portland, Bobby and his campaign entourage, media in tow, set out from the Benson Hotel downtown to find a slum for some “spontaneous” stand-up appearances. The campaign hadn’t done any advance work—they wanted it all to be truly “spontaneous,” since Bobby was an early avatar of performance art—so they didn’t know quite where to go. But how hard can it be to find a slum in a major American city?

Actually, in Portland, the answer is: quite hard indeed. It’s not that there aren’t poverty-stricken neighborhoods; they just don’t look like Detroit or Baltimore or Chicago or Gary, Indiana. The small poor black neighborhoods in Portland are sequestered across the Willamette River from downtown in the northwest quadrant of town. And the density is not as high, so it is hard to gather a crowd. Neither the Kennedy entourage or the eastern press corps recognized them.

It was after this futile stunt that Bobby went out to the beach and captured the “iconic” (because everything is “iconic” these days) photo walking on the beach, head down with his jacket thrown over his shoulder. He knew he was going to lose to McCarthy (and did—the first election contest a Kennedy ever lost), which set up the climactic showdown in the California primary a couple weeks later. The rest is history, as they say.

But one footnote has some resonance today: After he lost, Bobby said, “I don’t get Oregon. It’s like one giant suburb.” He didn’t mean that as a compliment. And Oregon pioneered the leftist war on the suburbs a few years later. Perhaps this is connected with the unrest in downtown Portland today?

Meanwhile, this old clip from Portlandia seems prescient just now, since the self-indulgent virtue signaling depicted in this “satire” is precisely why Portland is experiencing nonstop rioting without even the pretext of police misconduct. (Though I don’t want to sign off without noting Seattle’s “hold my beer” moment: Seattle’s city council did in fact vote today to abolish its police force and replace it with some kind of social work brigade. Good luck with that.)

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