ActivismAnarchismContemporary

Interview with Portland’s ‘Riot Ribs’ on the Importance of Mutual Aid in Protests

We’ve been very moved by the protests taking place in Portland, Oregon (on unceded Chinook Land). Of all the cities showing resistance to the fascism of the police, the brutality of capitalism, and the demand that Black Lives Matter, Portland has been a beacon of creative, determined resistance.

One of the most interesting projects has been Riot Ribs.  An all-volunteer effort, Riot Ribs is run by mostly houseless Portlanders, who cook for, provide supplies to, and help support Portland’s protesters and the houseless by providing aid to all who need it.

Asia Art Tours spoke with them about their project, how they see it as part of a global effort and how we can help! Read our conversation below! Then go support Riot Ribs here: https://twitter.com/riotribs


Asia Art Tours: For those unfamiliar with Portland can you start with an introduction into Riot Ribs? How did your organization start, and are you part of a longer tradition (in the same way Food Not Bombs has a long history) of Portlanders providing mutual aid for one another in protests?

Riot Ribs: We started as a guy with a grill. On July 4th, Lorenzo went downtown to speak at the protest and barbeque – he stayed until the morning, cooking through round after round of tear gas. From there, you could see how quickly people responded to both the need for good, hot food and community. We have food 24/7, completely free and we let people eat as much as they want, no one goes hungry. We don’t expect any sort of payment for food and are donation only.

Most of us are houseless, we live on the streets or in the park in tents and sleeping bags; yet everyday, we’ve been out here 24/7 feeding the people. We absolutely are a part of a longer tradition of Portlanders providing mutual aid, but Riot Ribs itself just started 17 days ago on July 4. The work that we’re doing could not have been done without the work of other established organizations who have paved the way for mutual aid in unceded Chinook land, also known as Portland. We are a part of a community of people who are all doing different things to help each other survive and fight state inflicted violence.

AAT: Something I’ve long been horrified by, is how mutual aid operations are targeted by police. From groups that work with the homeless to groups trying to provide housing to Riot Ribs, there is a shocking amount of violence that’s used to attack non-violent individuals who aim to provide care. Could you discuss how police have targeted Riot Ribs or other Mutual Aid Operations in Portland? And to get to the heart of this suppression, why do you think (at a structural level) the police target mutual aid operations? What’s so dangerous about a free water bottle, free clothes or a slab of ribs?

RR: The police have tear gassed, shot munitions, beaten, sweeped raided and stole from us and others, they’ve slashed tires, they have arrested us, and then they do it all again the next day. We cook through it all, using donated gas masks and bulletproof vests.

The current system in this country does not allow for mutual aid. It is a threat to capitalism and western ideals because it suggests that the current system is not only not working, but that there’s something out there that does work better. Mutual aid can’t work with an individualist mindset.

The police want to frame us as violent and criminal but mutual aid threatens them because it shows how awful they are to us no matter what we are doing. They are threatened by the services mutual aid can provide because it shows how much they are not providing. They continue to gas people who are feeding the houseless. We’re the juxtaposition that shows how extreme their violence truly is.

AAT: Following the Portland Protests online, I can only get a glimpse of some of the solidarity forming. So fires by the elk statue, accounts like @PDXProtestBae who try to help Portland protesters find romance (“teargas and chill”) and the brave but also joyous reporting of figures like Tuck Woodstock, Lindsey Smith and others. The protesters are facing incredible police and federal violence, not to mention the outright hostility of Ted Wheeler’s administration. I wanted to ask with these obstacles, difficulties and in the face of such violence, how has Portland been able to maintain such joy? And, if from being up close to this joy (radical joy?) you believe it to be essential to building out a protest culture that can withstand such horrific violence and cynicism?

RR: Lightheartedness builds community and allows people to connect and get to know each other in a way that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. The police spend their time dehumanizing us, and joy and food re-humanizes us. Portland is based off of community. We have a long history of community and organizations working together. We have a common goal and that is Black Lives Matter and the end of police brutality, and that is what unites us. It should also be noted that there are sprinkles of lightheartedness but this is NOT lighthearted, this is serious and it is real. We do what we need to survive the violence inflicted upon us. It is exhausting to say the least.

AAT: In an increasingly neoliberalized world of ‘organized abandonment’ and a way in which everything has a price, we feel Mutual Aid as essential to providing a foundation through which a better world can be built. For the members of Riot Ribs, do they see their work as a rebuttal to the cynicism of neoliberalism? What (generally speaking) is your philosophy of why mutual aid is important to struggling for a better world? Why is Mutual Aid important for the fight to make Black Lives Matter?

RR: The foundation of our country relies on the idea that people work for what they get, and if they don’t have anything it is their own fault. Mutual aid fights this and recognizes that everyone is deserving of things like food, shelter, water, healthcare, community support, etc. People receive help from us because they need it and they deserve it, no questions. When the government is not providing resources to meet our basic needs, other groups step in to provide the necessary support to sustain the protests.

Mutual aid is important for the fight to make Black Lives Matter because Black lives, especially Black Trans lives and Black femme lives are some of the most marginalized people. By providing mutual aid, we are ensuring that these people receive access to resources that the government fails to adequately provide.

AAT: Lastly, I tend to see struggle through that famous line by the Zapatistas, that we want to build ‘a world of many worlds’. I wanted to ask if you also see what’s happening in Portland and the US as part of a global struggle? And if so, what have you been able to learn (techniques, methods, logics, language, philosophy) from struggles elsewhere?

RR: As long as the police exist, there will always be a constant struggle. It is our job to listen to the voices of the people and meet their needs. There is state-inflicted violence all over the world. Portland is part of that greater struggle. Work is being done everywhere, you just have to listen to the voices of those doing it. We need to be listening to Black femmes like Angela Davis and more locally, Teressa Raiford. We need to be learning from them. Their philosophies and use of language inspires us. Their ability to bring together people inspires us. We learn from our Black elders. We would not be here without them.

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

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