• Anna Mowris

‘Wall of Moms’ Ignite a Movement As They Faceoff With Federal Officers

“Don’t shoot your mother,” hundreds of women chanted as they formed a barrier, with arms linked, between federal agents and demonstrators during another night of nonstop protests in Portland, Oregon.

A thick wall of tear gas enveloped the Mothers, but they remained planted in place. Even as one mother ripped off her goggles as gas seeped in, rubbing her eyes in pain, she refused to leave.

In front of the federal courthouse, federal agents used batons to forcefully push back moms in bike helmets. Dozens were tear-gassed and some were even hit with rubber bullets that had been fired into the crowd, still, they stayed.

The fledgling collective, which was formed about a week ago, has dubbed itself the Wall of Moms - sparking new chapters to form in cities all around the country from St. Louis to New York, Chicago to Philadelphia and even in the nation’s capital of Washington DC. The groups were formed in anticipation of the deployment of federal law enforcement personnel to Democratic-led cities - a plan President Trump announced he was putting into action earlier this week.

Trump has defended his administration’s use of force in Portland, where federal officers have clashed with protesters nightly, making arrests and pulling demonstrators into unmarked cars for questioning. Trump called the protests in Portland, “worse than Afghanistan.”

Numerous individuals have pushed back including; mayors, members of Congress, and state officials. Informing the federal government that they do want nor do they need federal agents in their cities. Portland Mayor, Ted Wheeler, has been calling for the immediate removal of federal troops for multiple days. Because of Trump’s inability to do so, the moms have decided to get involved.

The mothers say they were first summoned when George Floyd cried out for his mother with his last dying breaths. “When you’re a mom you have this primal urge to protect kids, and not just your kids, all kids,” said Jennie Vinson, a Wall of Moms organizer. “To see a grown man reaching out and calling for his mother — I think that was a transformational moment for so many of us. It’s like: What choice do we have but to do this?” said Angie Noriega who attended her first protest with a group of seven other mothers who piled into two minivans and drove downtown. Noriega is a health-care worker who has two young black children, ages 3 and 7. After weeks of avoiding the protests due to the pandemic, Noriega said that seeing the moms of Portland mobilize inspired her to get involved. “It’s been such a struggle to balance being afraid, but wanting to do the right thing for my kids,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I want to be a role model for them, someone they can be proud of. But I also want to make it home safely.” Before leaving home for the protests, Noriega’s 7-year-old daughter begged her not to go. “She’s old enough to understand the risks of facing off with heavily armed police officers,” Noriega said. “But we talked about that and I said, ‘Sometimes we have to be brave and do the right thing even when it feels scary.’”

Rachel Weishaar, a fellow member of the wall of moms in Portland, was getting ready to leave her home when her 3-year-old daughter said, “Tell the police officers to be more gentle.” Weishaar carried her daughter’s words on a sign she held outside the federal courthouse.

The previous night, hundreds of moms sang a lullaby outside the Multnomah County Justice Center - the site of both the county jail and the police headquarters. The lyrics being, “Hands up, please don’t shoot me.”

While the Wall of Moms became an internet sensation overnight, along with this the group also attracted a great deal of skepticism. Some racial justice activists have criticized the attention the group has attracted for centering around the voices of a majority of white mothers.

Black mothers have been calling for criminal justice reform and racial equity for numerous years. They have lost sons and daughters at the hands of police. A group of seven Black mothers who have lost their children to police or gun violence, known as the Mothers of the Movement, have toured around the United States to protests and conferences. But they have never managed to go viral quite like the Wall of Moms. The Wall of Moms organizers claims that they want to help amplify the voices of mothers like these - mothers who have suffered losses and who have fought for years for systemic change in police practices.

“When you have the privilege that we have as white women, you have to use it for good, and I hope that that’s what this is,” said Vinson, who is white. “I think it’s really, really important that we gain the trust of the black community here, and that’s going to take some work because we haven’t always been dependable. We have an obligation to be humble, to listen, and center black voices.” Vinson joined about 50 other moms at their first rally, she says that the moms will continue to show up for as long as the protests go on. She was joined by her husband, Scott Vinson, who wore an orange T-shirt, a uniform that has been adopted by the Portland’s emerging dad activists, known as the PDX Dad Pod or DadBloc.

While the Wall of Moms chanted and sang in the face of the tear gas, a dad in orange blew the fumes back towards the law enforcement officers with a leafblower. The moms cheated, waving sunflowers and peace nights into the night.

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