PORTLAND, Ore. — Protesters in the Pacific Northwest smashed windows at a Democratic Party headquarters, marched through the streets, and burned an American flag Wednesday in a strident challenge by racial-justice protesters to the new administration of President Biden, whose promised reforms, they declared, “won’t save us.”
In Portland, lines of federal agents in camouflage — now working under the Biden administration — blanketed streets with tear gas and unleashed volleys of welt-inducing pepper balls as they confronted a crowd that gathered outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building near downtown. Some in the crowd later burned a Biden-for-President flag in the street.
Another tense protest in Seattle saw dozens of people push their way through the streets, with some breaking windows, spray-painting anarchist insignia, and chanting not only about ICE but about the many other issues that roiled America’s streets last year under the administration of former President Donald Trump.
“No Cops, Prisons, Borders, Presidents,” said one banner, while another proclaimed that the conflict over racial justice, policing, immigration, and corporate influence in the country was “not over” merely because a new president had been inaugurated in Washington, D.C.
“A Democratic administration is not a victory for oppressed people,” said a flyer handed out during the demonstrations, during which protesters also smashed windows at a shop often described as the original Starbucks in downtown Seattle. The communiqués used expletives to condemn Biden and “his stupid” crime bill, passed in 1994 and blamed for mass incarcerations in the years since.
Hours after Biden’s inauguration, federal agents in Portland used tear gas and other crowd-control munitions to disperse demonstrators who had gathered to protest the harsh arrest and detention practices wielded by federal immigration authorities under the Trump administration.
Biden has signaled that immigration is going to be a key issue of his presidency, using some of his first executive orders Wednesday to end construction of the border wall and bolster the program that provides deportation protections for immigrants who were brought into the country without authorization as children.
The conflict in Portland capped a day of demonstrations in the liberal city, where different groups of protesters either decried Biden or called for activism to pressure the new president to take forceful action on immigration, climate change, health care, racial justice, and income inequality.
Earlier in the day, about 200 people — a mix of racial justice, anti-fascist, and anarchist activists — marched to the local Democratic Party headquarters, where some of them smashed windows and tipped over garbage containers, lighting the contents of one on fire. “We don’t want Biden — we want revenge,” said one sign, referring to killings committed by police officers.
In a city that has seen months of demonstrations over racial injustice, economic inequality, federal law enforcement, and corporate power — and some of the harshest law enforcement responses to such protests — protesters have vowed to continue their actions no matter who is president. “We are ungovernable,” one sign in the crowd said.
In Seattle, about 150 people marched through the streets. Some spray-painted buildings with an anarchist symbol and broke windows, including at a federal courthouse. They chanted both anti-Trump and anti-Biden slogans.
One member of the group handed out flyers to people on the street that said, “Biden won! And so did corporate elites!” The flyers explained that a “Democratic administration is not a victory for oppressed people” and that “Biden will not save us.”
“I came out here because no matter what happens, Biden and Kamala aren’t enough,” said one of the protesters, Alejandro Quezada Brom, 28, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris. He said the new president needs to know that “the pressure’s not off” for progress on immigration and policing reforms.
Seattle police officers followed the group and began to surround it as night fell. At least two protesters appeared to be arrested.
At yet another demonstration in Portland, people gathered to hear speakers who celebrated Trump’s departure but also called for continued pressure on the new government.
“The fight has just begun,” said Ray Austin, 25. He said that the damage done by Trump could not be undone by the likes of Biden and that the nation needed a groundswell of people demanding more.
Speakers at the event called for a Green New Deal to fight climate change, a “Medicare for All”-style health insurance system, overhauls of police departments to address racial disparities, and other fundamental changes. But that event was more subdued than others around the city.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last May, protesters in Portland mobilized on the streets nightly, much of their ire targeted at the mayor and the police force that repeatedly used tear gas to subdue them. The crowds swelled during the summer after Trump issued an executive order to protect federal property, and agents wearing camouflage brought a crackdown to the city.
Those conflicts have since subsided, but protesters in Portland have continued to mobilize.