This is the Timbers Army blog, where members can submit blog posts.
The following is a post from Rich Ybarra.
I was disappointed to read recently in print media and social media that the Portland Timbers owner and management had taken an active position to silence anti-fascism displays in Providence Park: in particular, the ban against Iron Front displays. I find this to be a particularly ill-conceived position. The last major organization to ban the Iron Front displays and eventually the Iron Front itself was the organization the Iron Front was created to oppose. Perhaps you have heard of them? The National Socialist German Workers Party, more familiarly known as the Nazi Party.
During the Nazi Party’s reign from 1933-1945, they imprisoned and murdered over 11 million Jews, socialists, liberals, homosexuals, gypsies, Christians, and any members of other groups that opposed them or did not meet their ideological standards of race and nationalism. As the primary antagonist in World War II, the Nazis bear a great deal of responsibility for the tens of millions of wartime deaths in Europe during this conflict. All this senseless violence was driven by an ideology of race, nationalism, and totalitarianism. Race, nationalism, and totalitarianism … Man, those ring a bell for me, do they for you?
Our current federal executive has repeatedly made racist statements, has banned entire countries made up of people of color from immigrating, has separated families of POC without cause, and has denied disaster relief to US citizens based on his racism (Puerto Rico), all while encouraging and accepting election interference help from a dictator (Putin) and repeatedly praising the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, leader of a country in which 2 in 5 people go hungry and 400,000 citizens are locked up in internment camps for expressing unhappiness about their leader. He has also praised de facto dictators in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
As a veteran of the Iraq War, I can tell you from experience what it is like to work with people who grew up in a totalitarian state. One example was the manager of a granary and bread factory in Baqouba, a town of 40,000 in which the majority of the citizens were malnourished. He was provided with money to pay his employees, several hundred tons of grain, and a list of local outlets where he was to deliver the bread. For over a month, he did not start production or even call his employees in. When confronted as to why he was not providing for his starving countrymen when he had all the means necessary, he replied, “No one from Baghdad has called to tell me to start operations.” The man had grown up in a totalitarian state and was absolutely mortified of making a decision on his own or taking any kind of initiative.
A second gentleman was from the town of Mosul; he was our interpreter. He was a rare breed, he was fearless to the point of recklessness; one time taking a round to his chest, his body armor was ruined. The man volunteered and went out on another mission the SAME DAY. In a quiet moment, when I asked him why he took so many risks, he simply reached into his blouse and pulled up a golden chain. On the chain was the Star of David: the man was a Jewish Iraqi. He said he would do whatever he had to do to live in a society where one was not persecuted based on their race and beliefs. These are the extremes of human existence, which is what this ideology produces.
I deeply fear that by stifling Iron Front signage, our club are making a safe space for fascism. Fascism is not congruent with our supporter’s culture or our city. At a time when our city and nation are being pressed by nationalism, racism, and fascism, it is not time to cede ground. Now is the time to plant our flag in the ground, stand fast, and do the right thing. This will not be the end of this fight, regardless of the outcome. It will be the first of many instances in which stand together, protect the rights we’ve won, and continue to fight for the rights of the oppressed. This time, this struggle, is bigger than football. But football will be the vehicle which we use to further our cause.
This is not a political struggle, it is a human struggle of good versus evil. As it stands right now, the Portland Timbers and MLS are standing shoulder to shoulder with Nazis. It puts the club we love in a very poor light and it makes my heart hurt to see it so. I have urged them to repeal the prohibition on flying the Iron Front flag, eliminate the term "political" from the fan code of conduct, and work with international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code of conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination. You should too.
The following is a post from Greg Donnelly.
I used to be a lot different than I am today.
In just a few short years, I have reconsidered my place in life, those I want to surround myself with, gained new hobbies, questioned my core values, moved to a new city, and, perhaps the most gasp-inducing of all … started enjoying soccer. If nineteen-year-old me were here he’d thoroughly kick my ass. Well, he’d try, anyway. I have about 25 pounds or so on him by now.
One of the things I’ve been exposed to via soccer is the image of the Iron Front. For me, the symbol represents so much more than anti-fascism. Its purpose and what it stands for can be applied to how much I’ve grown as a person. Just as the first circle-and-arrows were used to stamp out the visceral image of the swastika, what it represents can be painted over a part of me that I am glad is long dead. Here’s a little story...
First, I think it’s important to briefly state what the Iron Front is and how it came to be. Don’t worry, this won’t be a history lesson, just a brief summary of its evolution. In its original iteration, its intent was to cover the image of the swastika of Nazi Germany; able to be swiftly painted over them. In the early 1930s, it was used as a type of civil disobedience in defiance of the growing authoritarian and hypernationalist rule of the Nazis. Imagine a no-smoking sign, except the cigarette is a swastika and the red line is the three arrows. It was graffiti used by everyday people, not soldiers, as a way to loudly and peacefully speak up for what they believed in.
Back to my story … I grew up in Los Angeles (yeah, I’m that guy); the majority of my formative years taking place during the 90s. There’s a saying that no one is really from LA, and that’s true for me as well. The city I grew up in, a dozen or so miles away from LA proper, is a mostly white, middle-class, and relatively safe municipality wedged between the disgustingly rich estates of the peninsula, the busy, diverse streets around LAX, the famous beaches, and the LA strip. It was like we were the middle section of the Venn diagram of social inequality. I grew up in a Baptist church (also all white), and was excessively active in ministries, often spending at least a couple hours there as many as four days a week, not including multi-week camps. I was taught to be deeply ashamed of my “sin,” and therefore those who sinned were detestable. We were taught to stay away from gangs, while being in one of the safest cities in the region. My classmates and I watched Cartoon Allstars to the Rescue, most of us never being offered drugs.
It’s not a stretch to deduce that I grew up insulated from many realities of life. I had genuine hesitation and even fear of leaving the boundaries of my turn-key hometown. Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, at least to this young, sheltered, white kid, were dangerous; the dark and cursed forest we were forbidden to enter lest we lose our very lives … That may have been a bit dramatic, but you get the point.
In my early twenties, I began listening to conservative radio. I began to believe the narrative that people crossing the border illegally were taking our jobs. I called them “border-hoppers.” I’ve used the word “beaner,” rationalizing it by saying I’ll call those deserving of the title “white trash” just as easily. I looked at groups of black people sporting baggy pants as potential “gang-bangers,” and would cross the street or take another one entirely to avoid them. I assumed every Latino was Mexican, illegal, and making our country worse. I voted on a measure to define marriage as one man, one woman. I looked at LGBTQ people as the ultimate sinners and abortion as an unforgivable travesty.
The good news is: I didn’t stay this way.
I don’t think I need to go into details about how and why I changed. There was no real “aha” moment. What’s important is that all these things that I am ashamed of — all these incorrect, racist ways of thinking – I’ve corrected. I realized LGBTQ people are just people, no different than I. I know that most migrants are either refugees escaping a life of fear or simply wanting to make their families’ lives better. I’ve stopped using discriminating terms. And I’ve come to believe that all people are deserving of a fair chance at life.
The Iron Front was painted over fascist symbols. It was used to cover the hateful ideology. It pains me to admit it, but those things I once believed in were hateful ideologies. I see the symbol as a stamp covering that horrible person I once was. For me personally, the Iron Front is a symbol of liberation. It means acceptance, tolerance, love, and a defiance of those who stand against these values. I am a better person today than I was all those years ago, and the three arrows encapsulates my transformation into a person I can be proud of.
That’s not political. That’s not ideological. That’s not partisan or an agenda. It’s treating people like people. It’s winning the fight against hate, one person at a time. It’s inclusion. It’s rejecting racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and oppression. The Iron Front reminds me of how I’ve made my life better and, hopefully, others’ lives as well. That’s not political. That’s being a good person.
Rescind your ban on the Iron Front.
The following is a post from Nash Drake.
My grandfather was a paratrooper in WWII. He dropped on D-Day, fought through the difficult-to-traverse French countryside, and made it back to his unit and eventually back to England. From there he was sent to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. As the war ended, he was sent to help provide support to an entirely new assignment. He had no idea what to expect when he walked into a concentration camp just a week after it had been liberated. What he witnessed there changed him forever. He refused to speak of it unless he had one scotch too many, and even then, the most he could do was cry and mumble to himself about how he couldn’t tell us about what he saw because he didn’t want us to feel the deep, overriding despair it had brought to him to witness the aftermath of the atrocities that had occurred to millions at the hands of the Nazis. He was adamant that no fascist should be allowed to live their life without being ridiculed, hassled, and forced back into the cracks and crevices that they hid in after being defeated. He passed away nearly a decade ago, but his blood runs through my veins, and what I am calling for is going to be in his voice as much as in mine.
The Iron Front symbol was created to make it clear that fascism was not welcome and that the bearers of it were committed to defending the rights of all humans. Human rights are not political and not up for debate. It’s that simple. MLS has decided to attempt to keep the Iron Front symbol from being flown in stadiums (including making that decision for NWSL) as it has always been, deeming it a political symbol. If they aren’t anti-fascist, they are fascist. Here it is, everyone, the time to decide how you would deal with fascism if you were staring it right in the face.
The things we are asking MLS for are not complicated and support the rest of the MLS code of conduct in regard to human rights and will mark our stadiums as safe spaces for all who wish to gather peacefully:
I will be writing letters, making calls, and taking part in any protests. I will not be spending money in the stadium in any way. I am asking you to join me in these actions.
We are the Riveters and the Timbers Army. We are radically inclusive. We stand against discrimination of any kind. We are on the side of human rights. We are the Iron Front.
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.
Since our inception by the original Council of XI in 2010, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust has been the engine behind mostly one supporters group: the Timbers Army. This meant that a message from, for, or about the 107IST was more or less also from, for, or about the Timbers Army. But we’ve grown over the past nine years. In 2013, we celebrated the arrival of NWSL to Portland — and the formation of the Rose City Riveters.
We’ve been working together in recent years to develop strong and independent voices for each of the entities in our organization: the 107IST, the Rose City Riveters, and the Timbers Army. The Riveters have done an excellent job in ensuring their messaging and “voice” is distinct and represents their supporters group. The Timbers Army and 107IST messaging and voice have remained fairly closely coupled, however. It’s time to fix that.
Eventually, we will have three distinct web presences for the two supporter groups (Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters) and for the nonprofit engine that fuels them both (the 107 Independent Supporters Trust), even though all of us in the 107IST work closely together and many members belong to both supporter groups. But it’s worth it at this point to make it clear which group is speaking and which set of readers we’re trying to reach.
As we continue to roll out changes this year, here’s what you’ll see:
As a first step, we’ve created a new blog for the Timbers Army on the current 107ist.org/timbersarmy.org site. Here, we’ll post opinion pieces, articles, and other content that relates specifically to the Timbers Army.
With that, enjoy your first post: an op-ed from member Matt Shields! We’ll have others over the next several days.
As a 107ist member, as a season ticket holder, and as an Oregonian, I would like to express my concern with the Timbers/Thorns front office’s plans for enforcing the updated MLS Supporter Code of Conduct. I am especially concerned about the decision to permit displays that support a specific political ideology, and which are often used to belittle, humiliate and dehumanize a significant part of our citizenry.
I refer of course to the Timbers/Thorns front office’s continued turning of a blind eye toward the display of the American flag by both supporters and the organization, and to its tradition of performing the national anthem before games.
Let me be the first to acknowledge that the American flag had a long history of standing for many of the values that the Timbers, Thorns, and their fans continue to espouse to this day – especially our shared beliefs in political freedom. However, it has long been obvious that this symbol has been appropriated by partisan political operatives, and that it has ceased to be a symbol of American unity. Today it is, unfortunately, primarily used to advocate for specific political purposes. If the Timbers as an organization are sincere about enforcing the Code of Conduct as written, it is difficult to see how the use of this symbol could be permitted.
It is well documented that not only is the flag used far more often to support candidates of one major political party than the other, but that the flag has been co-opted by numerous far-right political movements in the United States. Groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, who have frequently incited violence at events in Portland, deliberately use the American flag as a symbol to suggest that other Portland residents are less than welcome.
The American flag is also widely used by militia groups and by anti-immigrant advocacy organizations, not only in their own branding, but as a specific attack on non-citizens. Events sponsored by and supporting immigrant groups are frequently counter-protested through deliberate use of the American flag, again as a statement that immigrants are unwelcome. The national anthem has likewise been staged at events as a specific form of protest targeting citizens and non-citizens alike. We have even seen these hateful displays used in public schools as a form of targeted harassment against both non-citizen children, and those of non-European descent.
In all of these cases, the deliberate message expressed by the use of the American flag and the national anthem is the same: “We are real Americans, and you are not.”
The use of the American flag to attack values of tolerance and inclusion and to specifically support anti-immigrant candidates and their political agenda is widespread and very well known. It would strain credibility to suggest that the American flag is not an explicitly political symbol that is used to express a variety of political – and often overtly partisan – views.
The Supporter Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits “political...or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.” According to the presumably well considered reasoning expressed by the Timbers/Thorns Front Office in their letter to the 107ist banning the use of Iron Front symbology, it is clear that the continued display of the American flag likewise should not be tolerated, and for the exact reasons that the letter points out:
…But of course…
The truth is that it is not all political speech is targeted by the Supporter Code of Conduct. An enormous amount of signage at MLS games – both by supporters and by the league itself – is unquestionably political and always has been. The real purpose and effect of the rule is not to ban all political speech – it is to allow the league a pretext to prohibit specific political speech that it or its sponsors do not like. It is a content-based restriction, and indeed we have seen so far in 2019 that the league appears likely to use this power to target specific political viewpoints. (And, conspicuously, does not intend to use it to target others.)
The suggestion in the letter that the rule is intended to ban “any signage that’s political” from matches is transparently false, as was essentially admitted when noting, “there is still a fair amount of local discretion teams can apply.” There is no intention to ban *all* political signage, only some of it.
It is undoubtedly true that Iron Front symbology makes some fans uncomfortable, as do numerous other symbols used around the stadium – including the American flag (and those of numerous other countries.) Of course for many fans, and perhaps most, the American flag is a very positive image, symbolizing hope and our aspirations to be better than we often are. As with all political speech, different listeners are going to react to it differently. Our reaction to those differences should be based on our shared belief in freedom of expression, and not to simply ban that speech with which we do not agree.
Major League Soccer is a private entity that may set whatever rules it sees fit. However, the City of Portland has a constitutional obligation to ensure that any restrictions on speech at city owned property are viewpoint neutral and as narrowly tailored as possible to avoid injuring the First Amendments rights of its citizens. The City of Portland does not escape this constitutional obligation when it leases city owned property to a private entity, and Major League Soccer and the Portland Timbers chose to accept this limitation on its management of the space when it opted to run a franchise in a publicly owned stadium.
In framing the question as political v. non-political speech in the Supporter Code of Conduct, MLS has been deliberately deceptive. The Timbers, the TA, the league and you yourself have all routinely engaged in political speech during matches and other events. The team has taken stands on explicitly political issues, and expressed political viewpoints that have made some fans uncomfortable because the team – and you yourself, I imagine – believed it was the right thing to do. I hope that tradition continues, because we should want our civic institutions to stand up for what is right when they can. But make no mistake, just because we agree with a statement supporting our shared humanity, the statement is no less political. It’s just a political statement we agree with.
Today, unfortunately, Major League Soccer and the Timbers seek to prohibit speech with which they apparently do not agree. That is not just disappointing; it is deeply problematic.
I sincerely hope that both MLS and the Timbers’ front office reconsider their decision to ban specific political speech from matches while clearly allowing in others. Such decisions are disingenuous, are counterproductive, and break with the trust of supporters who have helped build the league into what it is today.
- Matt Shields, Section 104