These Black Moms Have Been Fighting For Justice In Portland For Years
The Wall of Moms, a group of demonstrators composed of mainly white, and many first-time protesters, quickly gained notoriety this July after news cameras captured the lineup of mothers and grandmothers creating a human barricade between Black Lives Matter demonstrators and violent attacks from federal agents during heated George Floyd protests in Portland. While the group’s actions have been inspirational to many, for some, the amount of media attention the group received is also an uncomfortable reminder that white people often illicit attention and praise for work that Black people are ignored or even criticized for. In communities like Portland, for instance, Black female activists had already been out in the streets facing the hazards and doing the hard work for their communities since well before the cameras showed up.
Portland mother and grandmother Demetria Hester has been tirelessly doing anti-racist work in Portland since long before all eyes were on the Wall of Moms. Although Hester originally joined and organized with the Wall of Moms when invited, she and other veteran activists soon developed concerns about the Wall of Moms leadership taking focus away from Black lives. This led Hester, along with fellow mom activists Teressa Raiford and Danialle James, to cut ties with the Wall of Moms, and draw thousands of former Wall of Moms members to a new protest group they founded called Moms United for Black Lives. Their new group already has over 11,000 members on its Facebook page and has regional chapters in NYC, Michigan, and Texas, just to name a few.
Demetria spoke to Supermajority News in downtown Portland at the start of a Moms United for Black Lives meet-up, where members prepared to demonstrate at the Justice Center.
Demetria, do you want to tell me the story of what happened to you on the way here?
Okay. So, as we were on our way to the protest we had the police following us. We had to literally go down other ways…And we tried to catch them so we could ask them why were they following us? … We ain’t doing nothing, we ain’t breaking no law. Why are you following us? We know the [intimidation] tactics that they use.
How are you feeling now? Are you okay?
That made me pumped up even more, like, yes, the revolution is here.
So, Demetria, in Portland right now you’re kind of everyone’s favorite kickass grandma. But in these protests, you’ve been using completely peaceful methods, is that right?
[Laughs] That’s what grandmas do. That’s what mamas and grandmas do [with] the wisdom that we can give you. And it’s all out of love, it ain’t out of hate. But no, we are non-violent, we’re not peaceful. We’re non-violent because we tried peacefully protesting. We’re non-violent but we’re going to take action when action is needed, that’s the point.
Thanks for correcting my language. Even though you’re non-violently protesting, what kind of abuses have you and your moms suffered from the federal agents and Portland police?
Oh, my God, anything you… rubber bullets, pellets from snipers…pepper in the grass. I mean, anything you can name, just hostile. We had our hands up, “Don’t shoot, hands up!” We’re moms! And with teargas that’s green and yellow…I’m going to the doctor for my symptoms as soon as I leave the rally tonight. All of that, and we’re people, we’re human. And guess what? We’re paying them to do this.
After you cut ties with the Wall of Moms, how did you form Moms United for Black Lives.
Well, it had to be about Black lives. I already knew Danialle [James] because she’s been coming down here [to protest] all along, and Teressa [Raiford] is the leader over at Don’t Shoot Portland. They already knew what was going on. And we know we’re about uniting, staying tight, every night. We’re about the Black lives and we’re moms. We knew what to do. It made sense.
So how did you develop these incredible leadership skills you use with MU4BL?
I’m going to tell you where I’m from and that should say everything. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee. Lots of injustice and white supremacy all the way down. They keep it a generational thing. It’s called that good old boy system, that long money. I’ve been protesting for so long. My mom was an activist and my grandmama always told me, “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.”
How do you think being a mom and a grandma informs your role as a protestor and organizer of MU4BL?
It amplifies what you’re fighting for. You’re already fighting for black lives, but you have raised Black children to be successful and you don’t want their lives to be taken from them just because of their color.
What is the most important mission of MU4BL right now?
To fight for Black Lives Matter. For that fact to be recognized, and to get reparations [for our community].
What do you think about the deal to remove federal officers from Portland? Will the agents leaving create any meaningful change in the Black Lives Matter movement here?
That’s no deal, that’s crumbs… No, we’re non-violent, they’re doing this to us still, and they’re going to keep doing it. It’s [not about who is doing the policing] it’s about Black lives. We need to show them unity in our numbers. This is a test for America right now to prove that it’s really about Black lives and not about making more money off us. We need to get these laws changed and write in Teressa Raiford for mayor of Portland [in the November third election].
You’ve been coming down to protest every night for… well as an observer it seems like forever. How will you know when to stop?
Never. Black lives forever. I’ll stop when Teressa Raiford is the mayor and we have reparations.
Note: Just days after this interview took place, Hester was arrested while non-violently protesting on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with a peace officer. Video evidence appears to show Hester was doing nothing but standing and talking while she was taken. After being held overnight, she was released on bail shortly before the DA announced he would not be pressing charges.
Hester asks those wishing to help visit https://www.dontshootpdx.org/ to donate. #MU4BL