The following post is from Eric Blaire.
It was revealed this week that the Portland Timbers Front Office will be engaging in a form of soft censorship around a storied and powerful image flown by antifascists around the globe since the 1930s, the Iron Front. Though the club has spent weeks broadly alluding to a campaign of solidarity with fans who support our club and community under the banner of antifascism, we now see that these empty gestures by the Front Office were a farce and in fact are the beginning of a brewing conflict around so-called political “neutrality” and a community who are on the front lines of confronting rising fascist movements on the streets of our city.
The Iron Front was an explicitly antifascist organization formed by social democrats in late Weimar Germany as a network to combat the rising threat of violent fascist movements who would terrorize Jewish people, trade unionists, socialists and anyone else they deemed a threat to their growing power. It is not a stretch of the imagination to find similarities between the violence and extremist rhetoric of the fascist gangs that marred pre-Nazi Germany and that of the far-right social movements we are witnessing in the media and streets of America in 2019.
It is just two years since Portland watched in horror as avowed neo-nazi Jeremy Christian murdered two heroic bystanders and critically injured a third who had intervened in defense of two young women of color facing his tirade of hate speech and threats. The men did what any decent members of the community must do, act in defense of the most vulnerable against racist threats. They died at the hands of a local fascist (emboldened by his affiliations with regional far-right organizers) in the middle of broad daylight in one of the most progressive cities in the United States. This has been followed by a wave of far-right violence across the country and on the streets of our city, backed by political figures that rather than condemning and confronting hate, are nurturing a politics of xenophobia, homophobia, and racism; or as we see here locally, denying the severity of the threat posed by these fascists. The MAX heroes did not die in vain: Our city united behind the everyday Portlanders standing up against hate, and the antifascist movement in Portland is stronger and more dynamic than ever before. Regular provocations by far-right groups (mainly from outside of our city) have attempted to make Portland into a battleground over the future of America but thousands of community members have come out to shut them down, despite the risk to their lives and personal safety.
And then there is the politics of censorship and threats by the Portland Timbers against fans here in Portland who would stand up to hate and bigotry. Most of us are well aware of the fact that the league has been absolutely incompetent in confronting the situation at New York City FC ignoring the violent neo-nazi members who have attempted to take over the supporters’ crew at Yankee stadium. Neutrality has become a lazy policy of repressing the activities of fans fighting for equality while turning a blind eye to fascists quietly gaining ground on football terraces in other parts of the country and world.
Long before the current owner bought the club, the Timbers Army built a culture of anti-racism, antifascism, and inclusivity. The current pressure coming down from the top tiers of MLS to keep the stadiums “free of politics” is laughable at best, but also sets a dangerous precedent. We are facing repression, stadium bans (from a club that we the supporters have built!) and possible legal troubles for expressing an idea that we are, in fact, antifascist. The idea that MLS, a multi-million dollar enterprise is politically neutral is simply a myth. The profit driven culture poses as a “neutral ground” for a sporting event, but this negates the politics of immigration, race issues, discrimination based on national origin, not to mention the politics of the lives of all the working class people who scan our tickets, cook our half-time snacks, and pick hops for poverty wages so that we can enjoy our beer.
We have had players representing dozens of cultures at our club. Darlington Nagbe came to this country at 11 years old after enduring the life of a refugee in Sierra Leone. Under the current political administration, he may very well have never crossed that line at customs to one day lead the Portland Timbers to MLS Cup Champions. There is nothing politically neutral about racism, homophobia, nationalism, or xenophobia. These are topics that unfortunately appear more and more up for debate in these uncertain times, but when it comes to arguments for and against bigotry, we must be clear that there are not "very fine people on both sides." While it is good that the league pushes for policies of equality with their “soccer for all” campaign, we cannot deny the fact that antifascism is the baseline stance we must take if we want a future that is multi-cultural, vibrant, and successful for our city and our club.
We are living in volatile times, unparalleled in recent history. A study last year revealed that 24 million Americans identify with the fascist politics of the alt-right. 24 million. This is no longer a problem that can be talked about in hypotheticals. Synagogues and mosques are being attacked, immigrant children are dying, and the LGBTQ community is facing attacks even in our "peaceful, liberal utopia" of a city.
The great American historian Howard Zinn once said, “You cannot be neutral on a moving train.” The Timbers front office needs to decide: Will they remain “neutral” despite their stated ethos of inclusion, or will they work hand in hand with the Timbers Army to create a culture of love, solidarity, and antifascism at Providence Park and on the streets of Portland? We will bring a thousand more messages of antifascism to the park, whether sanctioned or banned, because the Timbers Army will always be antifa.
For love of our club, our city, and our community: The time is now. Pick a side.