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KKK fliers spur activists to rally for racial justice

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER - As supporters watch, Carlos Covarrubias speaks against racism at the anti-KKK rally. About 120 activists rallied Sunday afternoon to protest the recent distribution of Ku Klux Klan fliers in Gresham and West Linn.

“But this isn’t only, or even mostly, about the KKK,” said Choya Adkison-Stevens, a rally organizer and founder of the Portland Chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. The rally took place at the Lents International Farmers Market on Foster Road and 92nd Avenue. Later in the afternoon, many group members joined in a Black Lives Matter rally at Southeast 11th Avenue and Madison Street.

Adkison-Stevens spoke as the good-humored crowd shivered in 40-degree cold and waved anti-racist signs. They heard a succession of speakers enumerate racist acts in Portland and across the country and world.

The Anti-Defamation League classifies the Klan as a hate group. It was founded in 1913 and turned into a white supremacist organization, with a history of lynching black citizens. It was particularly strong in Oregon in the 1920s, when major elected officials, including Gov. Walter W. Pierce, were members. Portland Mayor George Baker was a KKK sympathizer, if not a member.

The notion that the KKK might be resurgent today in Oregon set off the rally, even though organizers said they think only a few people or perhaps even only one person was responsible for the fliers.

“White nationalist hate groups are terrifying, for sure, and their mention evokes burning crosses, connections with powerful community leadership and lynching,” Adkison-Stevens said. “Now, they are simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organized racism.”

“This fliering ... is galvanizing our community in the movement for racial justice.

“This rally is one flashpoint in our work. It is important because, when we are alone in our homes and offices it can be difficult to speak up or to act for justice due to the pressure of oppressive norms. There is power in numbers.

“Together we proclaim, not only that the KKK is unwelcome here, but we re-create our commitment to working every day for the safety and empowerment of people of color, here and everywhere.”

Speakers said hate-filled protesters have shown up at a mosque in Portland, while others picketed downtown Portland’s First Unitarian Church on recent Sundays. The church supports the Black Lives Matter organization.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER - Liz Schallert (left) and Tara Murphy make signs for the Sunday rally in Lents.In particular, other speakers — including rally organizers Sara Rudolph, Carlos Covarrubias and Crystal Geyer — delineated Portland’s Klan history and pointed to Friday night’s assault by three white men on a 26-year-old black man. The attack occurred on the Lewis & Clark College campus, and police are investigating.

They also highlighted assaults and killings of people of color, on non-Christians, and on transsexual and transgender people across the nation.

“This rally is an opportunity for us to say no to Islamophobia, no to anti-black racism, no to transphobia, and no to racist police brutality,” Adkison-Stevens said.

The rally’s main speaker was Covarrubias, a Portland-born and educated Chicano activist and writer promoting racial dialogue and tenants rights.

He gave a history of KKK activity in Portland, dating back to the 19th century and its peak in the 1920s.

Covarriubias, who tweets on local KKK history @carloscNEPDX, said support for the Klan continues here.

Members of the group said they plan to continue the fight for racial justice through many organizations and mentioned two Portland groups in particular: SURJ and ForWARD (For White Accountability in Racial Dialogue).

“Join these groups, or join any group to work toward equality,” Rudolph said. “We can’t do this alone.”