The late 1980s, Portland, Oregon was a known haven for racist skinheads. They roamed the core of Portland unhindered. Following the brutal 1988 murder of Ethiopian national Mulugeta Seraw by a racist skinhead crew, diverse sub-cultural and cross-cultural organizing took place. Many people worked together forming an unlikely collaboration between groups of immigrants, civil rights activists, militant youth and queer organizers who came together to successfully confront Neo-Nazi violence and right wing organizing in the Rose City.
Three core groups: the Portland chapter or Anti Racist Action; SHARP—Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice; and the Coalition for Human Dignity took to the streets and worked behind the scenes to root out the Neo-Nazis. From out-and-out brawls on the streets and at punk shows, to clandestine intelligence gathering exposing right wing and white nationalist organizing, the three groups united on their home ground over and over to attack fascists. The culturally diverse alliance had many successes- including driving out the overt white nationalist skinheads from the streets of Portland.
But that is not the end of the story. Neo-Nazi skinheads grew their hair out, some put on suits and ties, others went online and continued to organize, at times even working directly with the Portland Police Bureau. The rise of the Proud Boys and other militia-style right wing groups and vigilantes perpetuating violence against peaceful Black Lives Matter and antifascist demonstrator illustrates the need for a continuum of organizing across cultural lines. There is more that unites us than can ever divide us. It Did Happen Here. This history can be a model today and into the future.
*For more on this history, listen to ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com
This CPH poster printed at the worker-owned and union-run Community Printers, Santa Cruz, CA.
This is #170 in the Celebrate People’s History Poster Series.
Joshua Berger believes that design can change the world. He co-founded Plazm magazine in 1991 and co-runs the award-winning creative studio Plazm Design.