Photo by Robert Scherle

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire

An intense protest in Creswell leads to concern of unrest following the election

They arrived in swarms, Creswell Black Lives Matter rally organizer Amber Garrett says of the rally’s counter protesters, carrying large American flags and a variety of guns. They blocked the street with their flags, yelling “Make a wall,” slamming the flags into the BLM solidarity group, pushing them towards the line of police officers ahead, she says.

“They started pushing us back further and further,” Garrett says. “The cops watching were not doing a damn thing.”

The Nov. 1 protest, which was organized to advocate for Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) in the town of Creswell, was intended to be a stationary and educational event. In response to the BLM event, local Trump supporters organized a flag wave. But when counter protesters from a nearby Trump rally in Springfield showed up, the BLM rally was forced to flee. During a contentious week in U.S. politics, both community members and local leaders share concern for the unrest and potential violence following the results of the election.

Garrett says the demonstration was peaceful, and that the small group of initial counter protesters were engaging in conversations with them, until the Trump caravan arrived. The counter protesters grew more aggressive, while she says law enforcement stood by without intervening.

Oregon could potentially see more action from right-wing organizers. A recent report by Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) listed Oregon as one of the top five states that could see right-wing militia activity following the election. 

In Creswell, the BLM protesters decided to leave for safety. Martha McReynolds Jr. is a former Creswell City Councilor who resigned in September. She says she was also on the street corner as the Trump supporters attacked protesters with their American flags.

“All we were saying was something they didn’t want to hear,” McReynolds Jr. says. “Why is it okay that I was just attacked?” She adds later that if there had been any sort of pushback from her and other Black Lives Matter people, they “would have been eaten” by counter protesters. 

McReynolds Jr. says she considered the protest a “win” until the Springfield rally group showed up, which changed the entire tone of the event. She says around 27 miles of cars arrived, many of their drivers armed, and forced them out of downtown. The Lane County Sheriff’s Office was unable to confirm the length of the caravan, but videos showed an overwhelming turnout in the small town.

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Photo by Robert Scherle

The counter protesters came from a nearby Springfield rally at Willamalane’s Lively Park in Springfield, Garrett says. There were also allegations of voter intimidation at the park’s official ballot drop-off box.

In a statement, Willamalane says the parks organization did not organize the Trump event and said they worked with several local partners to ensure the group renting the space followed park rules. Willamalane also says that staff established a clear path to the ballot box and were monitoring it, even though the Trump rally was nearby.

“Willamalane staff saw no instances of obstructing access to or intimidation at the ballot box during the event,” the statement says. Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection wrote in a letter to the Oregon Secretary of State and Oregon Attorney General that they had received complaints of voter intimidation from a hotline.

Oregon state Representative Marty Wilde, whose district includes Creswell, says that although he was not at the event and does not want to make judgments, he was discouraged by the videos and photos he saw of what happened. He says everyone has the right to protest, but he doesn’t condone violence and direct contact with opposing sides.

Wilde says that his concern is that law enforcement takes these incidents seriously. He adds that locally there have been some attempts to intimidate voters by guarding ballot dropboxes.

“It’s important to not to intimidate or interfere with that,” Wilde says. He adds that in the past he has been trained to be a part of election efforts to protect the ballot boxes from intimidation.

Creswell citizen and protester Sarah Bratsch says that after this event, she is concerned for what follows. During the Creswell BLM rally and counter protest, Bratsch says that from some of her personal conversations with Trump supporters, many of them are in denial if Biden wins. She explains that if Biden does win, they think it’s a lie and that he cheated.

“I feel like I hope things don’t get crazy, but from my experience dealing with these people for many months now there is really no telling what could happen. And I’m worried,” Bratsch says. 

Wilde says that moving forward, it’s important to stay calm and respect rights to protest.

 “I think it’s important to remain calm and patient,” Wilde says. “There are a lot of forces both internally and externally seeking to divide us. I think it’s important to remember we are all Oregonians and we are all protesting for our version of a better future.” ν