In the face of police repression and confiscation of art, ILPS-PDX demand Rights of Artists

 
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Activists in the Philippines have a long history of making monumental cultural work for protests, rallies, and marches. In 2017 we saw a 13-foot tall Trump fascist spinner, with Duterte crouching beside him, go viral after debuting at a massive protest in Manila. The spinner was built as a response to the ASEAN Summit conference, the same week Trump visited the Philippines. Portland-based organizers and artists looked admirably on and felt inspired to take art to the streets.

A month before Trump’s inauguration anniversary on January 20th, ideas started to float around about creating something for the nationwide protest, March for Impeachment. A group quickly formed and for a week painters, woodworkers, and a metal worker created the “Jackass-in-the-Box” featuring a 7-foot tall clown-faced Trump popping out of the box, holding a bomb and a bag of money.

As the rally and march began to unfold, members of the Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP), GABRIELA Portland, Anakbayan Portland, People Organizing for Philippine Solidarity (POPS), Showing Up for Racial Justice - Strategic Direct Action Group, and Glitter Squadron, member organizations of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle Portland, flanked the clown-faced Trump at Terry Schrunk Plaza in downtown Portland. Within minutes, a handful of Portland police officers came and asked that the structure be removed, citing concerns of the clown-faced Trump being used as a weapon or a shield.

Stephanie Mullen, a PCHRP member, recalls “The police came up to me and asked to speak about the art piece, telling me it could be used as a weapon and that they were concerned about people's safety. When our liaison appeared and started to talk with them, they made it seem as though they might be willing to let us keep the piece but just wanted to move it to the sidewalk to discuss. Once they moved it to the sidewalk their story changed, and we were told it had to be dismantled and handed over. No surprise, they lied to us several times in this process. None of this was for the safety of the people, but rather an attempt to take away power from the people. ”

PCHRP chairperson Tabitha Ponciano, was surrounded by a handful police officers while she took apart the art piece. She shared, “When they first approached us in the midst of hundreds of protestors, they said that if we cooperated, we could just simply take it back to our car. Once we got out of the crowd, they told us that they were going to take it. The mere suggestion was turned into a strong-armed demand.”

Frustrated with the actions of the Portland Police, fellow organizers asked what the police meant by using it as a shield. GABRIELA Portland member Maryanna Hollomon was one of the painters who helped create the protest art. “The idea that we would use an art piece as a weapon or a shield against heavily armed, militarized police is a joke. The implication that we would resort to using the work as a shield reveals the PPB’s inherently violent tactics. We are unarmed, peaceful protestors. We have a right to express ourselves through art.”

What kind of state fears screws in lumber as a weapon, and hallucinates a life size version of child’s toy to be a shield?

Only a state that pays no regards to the rights of women and oppressed genders, that imprisons refugees and immigrants, that cuts health care and education spending while it expands its military presence around the world, that openly murders brown and black people in its street with impunity, only a fascist state, can enforce such a heinous form of repression. Only a state that  a state that beckons for growing resistance to the repression of freedom of expression.

In its charter, ILPS has committed to fighting for “arts and culture and free flow of information in the service of the people and the rights of artists, creative writers, journalists and other cultural workers against imperialist and reactionary propaganda and oppression,” and we call on you to do the same! As fascist regimes continue to consolidate power in the belly of the beast and in the Philippines, we must remain vigilant and unafraid, and we must continue to create political art that empowers people, challenges beliefs, and fosters discourse with those around us.

 
 
 
 

Members of the Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP) took to the streets on J20 on the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration for the National March for Impeachment, alongside thousands of Portland protesters, and tens of thousands of protesters across the nation. Discontented and frustrated with Trump’s unhinged and fascist regime, which has time and again targeted people of color, undocumented immigrants/migrants, LGBTQ folks, and women, the people are calling for an end to his stay in office.

As a founding member organization of the Portland chapter of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS PDX), we are also calling for an end to US-led war’s of aggression and US imperialism the world over. We rise in solidarity with the oppressed people of the world!