Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jul 27: In beginning the first phase 3 clinical trial to examine a vaccine candidate against COVID-19, Moderna announces that the Trump administration increased funding by $472 million to expand the trial to 30,000 US participants. In beginning the first phase 3 clinical trial to examine a vaccine candidate against COVID-19, Moderna announces that the Trump administration increased funding by $472 million to expand the trial to 30,000 US participants. John Lewis becomes the first Black legislator to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda.  The Trump administration sends more troops to Portland while Portland protestors file a lawsuit accusing the Trump administration of excessive force. 

Jul 28: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube take down a viral video showing people wearing lab coats and identifying themselves as “America’s Frontline Doctors” saying “You don’t need a mask. There is a cure.”  (You can find their website here:  It was first posted by right-wing media outlet Breitbart News and then reposted by Donald Trump Jr. Trump Jr’s Twitter account is temporarily suspended. President Trump shows open support for a Houston doctor, Stella Immanuel, who also says sexual visitations by demons and alien DNA are at the root of Americans’ common health concerns. His belief that hydroxychloroquine keeps you from getting COVID-19 remains undiminished.

Jul 29: The Trump administration says it will withdraw troops from Portland. FDA grants Truvian Sciences an EUA for its Easy Check COVID-19 IgM/IgG antibody test after it was shown to exceed EUA requirements, including a sensitivity rate of 98.44% and a specificity of 98.9%. 

Jul 30: Republican Presidential candidate, Herman Caine, dies of COVID-19. President Trump floats the possibility of delaying November’s presidential election, citing unfounded concerns about voting by mail.*

From the Cutting Room Floor ...

Tonight, I finally have a chance to speak with a researcher who moved back to Portland in May and has been working as a medic in the Justice Center since the protests began. Trained as an anthropologist, she is an Indo-American woman who joined the protests to support the Black Lives Matter movement. “Portland has been in the news a lot and people have a preconception about what is happening here,” she says between sips on a cup of coffee. The picture of Portland that she paints is markedly different from what I have imagined.

I ask her is to tell me about the violence. “All that the protestors have are their bodies and signs, while the police are heavily armed. It is an uneven confrontation.” When I marvel at the use of tear gas against peaceful protestors, she pauses. “Let me be frank, the protests are not always completely peaceful. What you hear on the news is that Portlanders are provoking the police. And sure, people are throwing things at the barrier that the police have put up, but that does not warrant being sprayed with a chemical that blinds you and makes you cough in the middle of a pandemic. Not only that, but people are tired. They have tried non-violence and been met with violence anyway. One thing that hascome up in my research is that there is no consensus onthe right way to protest.”

This is not a new question, admittedly, but her comments raise the possibility that this experience has changed the way that people understand protest as it has existed in the mainstream since the 1960s. “Is there a time and a place when it is okay to cross the peaceful protest barrier?” I ask her. “Are there moments when violence is justified, and is this one of those moments?

“We have to remember that the Black Lives Matter movement has been happening for years and years, but this wave of BLM protests has garnered global attention. I honestly don’t feel like I am in a place to tell you whether or not the protestors’ actions are justified. I am not a Black woman or Black man who has experienced systematic discrimination and murder for most of my life. I think that Black people are the only ones who can decide whether or not it is time now to answer violence with violence. When I talk to my parents in India, which is a place that gained its independence through non-violent protest, they do not support any non-peaceful response to the police. But people are fed up first with not seeing any change and they are shocked and angry about the murder of George Floyd and the brutal killing of Breonna Taylor. In Portland, there was also the killing of Jason Washington in 2018. I think that people just feel pushed to the brink.

“But let me ask,” I say, pausing to get my thoughts straight. “The reason why peaceful protest is something that your parents push for, and something that MLK demanded, is because it refuses tothe “law and order” justification for violent response by the status quo. If you, the protester, are always peaceful, then any violence coming from the state becomes explicit and unjustified.”

“I hear you,” she stops me, “but let me give you a description of what was happening on the ground as opposed to what you saw in the news stories. There was a picture that I am sure you saw of police officers kneeling alongside the protestors. I was there for when they took that picture, but two seconds after those pictures were taken, the police threw tear gas at us. I acknowledge your point, but people have seen countless videos of protestors who are just standing there and are met with violence. “What else can I do?” they ask themselves. “How else am I supposed to act? How else am I supposed to show my frustration?”

We pause. I nod. There is a reason why these questions have no easy answers.

“Also,” she continues, “not all of the people at the Justice Center and at the marches were doing the same things. There was a big group that was advocating for non-violent protest. They were called Rose City Justice, which was run mostly by Black organizers.[1] They unfortunately dissolved. I think they fell apart in part because it was not clear where their donations were going and in part because there were some ethical questions about some of their leaders. But there were lots of groups that were only committed to nonviolence. At the same time, there were also people who congregated at the Justice Center whose perspectives on non-violence ran the gamut. That was where the majority of the violence took place. These groups were not mutually exclusive, obviously, with some of the Rose City Justice leaders coming to the Justice Center to speak to the police and urge restraint.

And let’s not confuse these people with the looters, who were there in the early days of the protest. I did not see that the people who were looting were connected to the BLM movement. I say that because, when you see a protest, people make up a rectangle as they move down the street or they congregate around a speaker. Protestors had signs and were dressed all in black to show solidarity. They looked and behaved markedly different from the people who were looting.”

“Okay,” I say, “So, describe Justice Square for me.”

“At the beginning, as a medic, we helped protestors at the Justice Center. My friends and I put together PPE kits with masks and eye wash solutions to hand out at the protests. People would set up camp with lawn chairs during the day. Then around 10 or 11 PM, they would gather all dressed in black with signs.” The sun sets at around 9 PM in Portland in the summer. I imagine the search lights casting an unearthly profile upon the protestors dressed in black, with their signs flashing. She continues: “A barrier was placed between the police and the protestors. People would start to slowly gather and chant. Then around 11:30, you would hear a message from the police over a loudspeaker saying, “This is the Portland police. You have five minutes to disperse, and if you don’t you will be forced to leave.” That message would come up every ten minutes.

“Wasn’t there a curfew?” I ask.

“Yes,” she smiles“but there was a collective belief that this issue was too important for a curfew. Most nights, the barrier would be broken down and police would gas you. Right from the beginning of the protests, the police were using tear gas. Later on, they threw pepper balls and flash bangs. The gas would start and people would run backwards and then when the gas had cleared, they would surge forwards again. It was like a weird dance.”

She looks down at her coffee, now cold. “It hurts and burns when you get tear gassed. I eventually wore these big swim goggles to protect myself. Ironically, as protestors got better at managing the tear gas, the police violence escalated. Eventually they were throwing flash grenades and pepper bombs into the crowd and threatening to use an LRAD sonic device that can deafen you if you are near it when it goes off.

“Wait. They used tear gas on the first day?!?”

She nods. “Maybe the police used the tear gas early on because there was looting on the first day, but I question whether there is ever a justification to use tear gas on protestors who don’t have weapons. Of course, the BLM protestors were the ones who were attacked, even if they were not the ones doing the looting. And even when the looters were gone, the tear gas remained.”

“I have one more question,” I say. “Trump has sent federal troops into Portland in what they have called “Operation Dilligent Valor.” Have you seen a change in how things are happening on the ground?

“The unmarked officers and vansare easy enough to pick out,” she smiles.“The Portland police wear police uniforms. But there are also these people in full military grade outfits with no name tags, big gas masks, and heavy weapons. There was no warning that they were bringing in unmarked officers, by the way. No one that I surveyed knew that they were coming. The critical thing is that the presence of these soldiers has changed the protest.” she pauses, sitting up, “I have started to see a shift in the movement where it has gone from being less about BLM and more anti-cop and anti-fed. These two causes are connected to each other, no doubt, but you don’t hear people shouting George Floyd’s and Breanna Taylor’s names as much anymore.Now the phrase, “Get the Feds Out” has taken over.

“And I have to be honest, this is the reason why I have been lessening my time at the Justice Center. It doesn’t seem like everyone is there for the right reasons. Don’t get me wrong,” she says quicky, “I do see people of color who are there to protest for Black Lives Matter. But my last Friday there, I asked someone what their reason was for being at the Justice Center, and his answer was “You know, I just got off work and I thought why not come here and fuck shit up.” People were pulling up in their cars and listening to music, and I think it maybe is becoming, at least for some people, the trendy thing to do, as opposed to being a serious protest.” I am struck by the thought that the introduction of the federal troops may have been successful in achieving the Trump administration’s goal of undermining the BLM protests—not because the federal troops stopped the protests by force, but because they redirected and diffused the energy of the protestors. People like my researcher, who were there to fight for the Black Lives Matter movement, are stepping away because the protests have become a kind of entertainment, performative. 

She continues, “Think of the naked woman, for instance, who was all over the news. Doing yoga in the middle of the street as a white woman where you know that if it had been a person of color or particularly a Black woman, or especially a Black trans woman… the police would not have backed off. Her performance was just exacerbating the differences in privilege and taking attention away from why we are supposed to be there. I had similar problems with the Wall of Moms. They are almost all white women, and it is great that they are supporting the cause, but you have to remember that Black moms and Black women and those identifying as women who are Black have been putting their bodies on the line for so long, and they were not given this attention. Even the three Black women who started Black Lives Matter in Portland weren’t given this much attention.”

We talk some more about the role that white people should play in the protests, and the sad fact that the media, both on the left and the right, are always more likely to tell a story about white sacrifice than they are about Black. I am not the first person to say this, I am reminded after our conversation has ended that, while racism is definitely a white problem, white people cannot be the leaders of this movement. We can work every day to be allies, which means giving up power, giving up center stage, and walking away from the spotlight. But as long as white people are the ones running the show and getting the media attention, the structures of marginalization will remain unchanged.




Read more

“At John Lewis’ Atlanta funeral, a legacy of heroism and hope,” PBS NewsHour, July 30, 2020,

CNBC Television. President Donald Trump: I Happen to Believe in Hydroxychloroquine, July 28 2020.
Alexa Welch Edlund, “Richmond Confederate Statues: Then and Now,” Richmond Times-Dispatch (July 14, 2020),

“Former President Barack Obama Eulogy at Rep. John Lewis Funeral,” C-SPAN, July 30, 2020,


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Lewis, John. “Opinion | Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.” The New York Times, July 30, 2020, sec. Opinion.
Dam, Andrew Van. “Analysis | Did a Third of the Economy Really Vanish in Just Three Months?” Washington Post, July 30, 2020.
Eban, Katherine. “How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan ‘Went Poof Into Thin Air.’” Vanity Fair, July 30, 2020.
Harris, Shane. “DHS Compiled ‘Intelligence Reports’ on Journalists Who Published Leaked Documents.” Washington Post, July 30, 2020.
Hetherington, Marc, and Jonathan M. Ladd. “Destroying Trust in the Media, Science, and Government Has Left America Vulnerable to Disaster.” Brookings (blog), May 1, 2020.
Lind, Dara. “‘Defendant Shall Not Attend Protests’: In Portland, Getting Out of Jail Requires Relinquishing Constitutional Rights.” ProPublica, July 28, 2020.
Lynch, Sarah N., and Jan Wolfe. “U.S. Attorney General Barr Fends off Democrats’ Attacks over Protests.” Reuters, July 29, 2020.
McBride, Kelly. “NPR Let The US Attorney General Tell A Falsehood On The Air.”, July 16, 2020.
Siegel, Rachel, and Andrew Van Dam. “U.S. Economy Contracted at Fastest Quarterly Rate on Record from April to June as Coronavirus Walloped Workers, Businesses.” Washington Post, July 30, 2020.
VanderHart, Dirk, and Conrad Wilson. “Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Announces ‘Phased’ Removal of Federal Officers from Portland.” OPB, July 29, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.