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No More Watching From Afar: Moms And Dads Join Protests In Portland, Ore.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Portland, Ore., has now seen 55 consecutive days of protest for racial justice. This week, a new group has joined the marchers who've been out for weeks - moms and dads who had been watching from home. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Jonathan Levinson reports.

JONATHAN LEVINSON, BYLINE: Earlier this week on Portland's southwest waterfront, hundreds of moms and dads were getting a briefing on protest safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For those of you on the front lines, I have two protective vests. Please come get them if you would like additional protection.

LEVINSON: From there, they marched three blocks west to the county justice center, home to the county jail and police headquarters and to the federal courthouse, buildings that have been the epicenter of protests here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Moms are here. Feds, stay clear. Moms are here. Feds, stay clear.

LEVINSON: Leading the group is Bev Barnum. This is her third night marching. On her first night, she got tear-gassed and threw up. Barnum is a mother of two and says during the pandemic, she'd been busy home-schooling them and running her own business. Then she saw the video posted online of federal officers arresting protesters off the street without explanation, without identifying themselves.

BEV BARNUM: I didn't sleep all night.

LEVINSON: She was horrified by what she saw online. She thinks of them as basic human rights violations and says it woke her up.

BARNUM: And it's time for people like me in suburbia to wake my friends up, you know? Like, we're sleepy. We are. We're busy driving our kids to school and gymnastics, and we forget that there's this whole big world that needs us.

LEVINSON: Barnum didn't want to protest alone, so she posted on Facebook to see if any other moms wanted to join her. And they did - a thousand of them.

BARNUM: Moms are just grouping. They're sharing on social media. They're inviting their grandmas to come out. There's aunties, uncles.

LEVINSON: They're calling themselves the Wall of Moms. Since forming less than a week ago, chapters have popped up in five other cities. The idea - the predominately white moms and dads are putting themselves between the largely nonviolent protesters, who are more racially diverse, and federal law enforcement who have been using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. Monday night, hundreds of moms linked arms and stood in front of the courthouse doors, a human shield for the protesters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Feds go home. Feds go home. Feds go home. Feds go home.

LEVINSON: It was Jennifer Kristiansen’s first night there, and she wishes she'd done more sooner. She says white people should have been alarmed years ago when immigrants were getting grabbed off the street or when communities of color were being brutalized.

JENNIFER KRISTIANSEN: And it's not unacceptable because now it's being done to white people. It's unacceptable, period, full stop.

LEVINSON: Kristiansen, who's white, is a lawyer and mom of two. She wound up getting arrested on Monday night and charged with assault on a federal officer and failing to obey a lawful order. She adamantly denies both charges. Video of Kristiansen's arrest shows federal officers prying her from her friends' grip and dragging her into the courthouse.

JULIANNE JACKSON: I think, quite frankly, more white people should be doing that. They should be putting themselves in the middle and saying, you will not - because they do have that privilege.

LEVINSON: Julianne Jackson, who's Black, is a mom of two. She's organized protests across the state and says she's helping the Wall of Moms bring Black voices to the forefront. She says there are countless Black moms and Black organizations that try to raise awareness about issues of racism and white supremacy. Jackson wishes people paid more attention to them.

JACKSON: But the fact is they're not.

LEVINSON: She says the moms that have shown up in Portland are getting attention largely because they're white.

JACKSON: I intend to continue to utilize that platform that they, you know, have so awesomely provided to me to continue to just talk about these issues.

LEVINSON: But Jackson's glad they're directing anyone who asks for more information towards Black activists. Now she hopes these white allies continue to work for racial justice even after federal law enforcement leaves the city.

For NPR News, I'm Jonathan Levinson in Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.