This is the Timbers Army blog, where members can submit blog posts.
The following post is from Eric Blaire.
It was revealed this week that the Portland Timbers Front Office will be engaging in a form of soft censorship around a storied and powerful image flown by antifascists around the globe since the 1930s, the Iron Front. Though the club has spent weeks broadly alluding to a campaign of solidarity with fans who support our club and community under the banner of antifascism, we now see that these empty gestures by the Front Office were a farce and in fact are the beginning of a brewing conflict around so-called political “neutrality” and a community who are on the front lines of confronting rising fascist movements on the streets of our city.
The Iron Front was an explicitly antifascist organization formed by social democrats in late Weimar Germany as a network to combat the rising threat of violent fascist movements who would terrorize Jewish people, trade unionists, socialists and anyone else they deemed a threat to their growing power. It is not a stretch of the imagination to find similarities between the violence and extremist rhetoric of the fascist gangs that marred pre-Nazi Germany and that of the far-right social movements we are witnessing in the media and streets of America in 2019.
It is just two years since Portland watched in horror as avowed neo-nazi Jeremy Christian murdered two heroic bystanders and critically injured a third who had intervened in defense of two young women of color facing his tirade of hate speech and threats. The men did what any decent members of the community must do, act in defense of the most vulnerable against racist threats. They died at the hands of a local fascist (emboldened by his affiliations with regional far-right organizers) in the middle of broad daylight in one of the most progressive cities in the United States. This has been followed by a wave of far-right violence across the country and on the streets of our city, backed by political figures that rather than condemning and confronting hate, are nurturing a politics of xenophobia, homophobia, and racism; or as we see here locally, denying the severity of the threat posed by these fascists. The MAX heroes did not die in vain: Our city united behind the everyday Portlanders standing up against hate, and the antifascist movement in Portland is stronger and more dynamic than ever before. Regular provocations by far-right groups (mainly from outside of our city) have attempted to make Portland into a battleground over the future of America but thousands of community members have come out to shut them down, despite the risk to their lives and personal safety.
And then there is the politics of censorship and threats by the Portland Timbers against fans here in Portland who would stand up to hate and bigotry. Most of us are well aware of the fact that the league has been absolutely incompetent in confronting the situation at New York City FC ignoring the violent neo-nazi members who have attempted to take over the supporters’ crew at Yankee stadium. Neutrality has become a lazy policy of repressing the activities of fans fighting for equality while turning a blind eye to fascists quietly gaining ground on football terraces in other parts of the country and world.
Long before the current owner bought the club, the Timbers Army built a culture of anti-racism, antifascism, and inclusivity. The current pressure coming down from the top tiers of MLS to keep the stadiums “free of politics” is laughable at best, but also sets a dangerous precedent. We are facing repression, stadium bans (from a club that we the supporters have built!) and possible legal troubles for expressing an idea that we are, in fact, antifascist. The idea that MLS, a multi-million dollar enterprise is politically neutral is simply a myth. The profit driven culture poses as a “neutral ground” for a sporting event, but this negates the politics of immigration, race issues, discrimination based on national origin, not to mention the politics of the lives of all the working class people who scan our tickets, cook our half-time snacks, and pick hops for poverty wages so that we can enjoy our beer.
We have had players representing dozens of cultures at our club. Darlington Nagbe came to this country at 11 years old after enduring the life of a refugee in Sierra Leone. Under the current political administration, he may very well have never crossed that line at customs to one day lead the Portland Timbers to MLS Cup Champions. There is nothing politically neutral about racism, homophobia, nationalism, or xenophobia. These are topics that unfortunately appear more and more up for debate in these uncertain times, but when it comes to arguments for and against bigotry, we must be clear that there are not "very fine people on both sides." While it is good that the league pushes for policies of equality with their “soccer for all” campaign, we cannot deny the fact that antifascism is the baseline stance we must take if we want a future that is multi-cultural, vibrant, and successful for our city and our club.
We are living in volatile times, unparalleled in recent history. A study last year revealed that 24 million Americans identify with the fascist politics of the alt-right. 24 million. This is no longer a problem that can be talked about in hypotheticals. Synagogues and mosques are being attacked, immigrant children are dying, and the LGBTQ community is facing attacks even in our "peaceful, liberal utopia" of a city.
The great American historian Howard Zinn once said, “You cannot be neutral on a moving train.” The Timbers front office needs to decide: Will they remain “neutral” despite their stated ethos of inclusion, or will they work hand in hand with the Timbers Army to create a culture of love, solidarity, and antifascism at Providence Park and on the streets of Portland? We will bring a thousand more messages of antifascism to the park, whether sanctioned or banned, because the Timbers Army will always be antifa.
For love of our club, our city, and our community: The time is now. Pick a side.
Since our inception by the original Council of XI in 2010, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust has been the engine behind mostly one supporters group: the Timbers Army. This meant that a message from, for, or about the 107IST was more or less also from, for, or about the Timbers Army. But we’ve grown over the past nine years. In 2013, we celebrated the arrival of NWSL to Portland — and the formation of the Rose City Riveters.
We’ve been working together in recent years to develop strong and independent voices for each of the entities in our organization: the 107IST, the Rose City Riveters, and the Timbers Army. The Riveters have done an excellent job in ensuring their messaging and “voice” is distinct and represents their supporters group. The Timbers Army and 107IST messaging and voice have remained fairly closely coupled, however. It’s time to fix that.
Eventually, we will have three distinct web presences for the two supporter groups (Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters) and for the nonprofit engine that fuels them both (the 107 Independent Supporters Trust), even though all of us in the 107IST work closely together and many members belong to both supporter groups. But it’s worth it at this point to make it clear which group is speaking and which set of readers we’re trying to reach.
As we continue to roll out changes this year, here’s what you’ll see:
As a first step, we’ve created a new blog for the Timbers Army on the current 107ist.org/timbersarmy.org site. Here, we’ll post opinion pieces, articles, and other content that relates specifically to the Timbers Army.
With that, enjoy your first post: an op-ed from member Matt Shields! We’ll have others over the next several days.
As a 107ist member, as a season ticket holder, and as an Oregonian, I would like to express my concern with the Timbers/Thorns front office’s plans for enforcing the updated MLS Supporter Code of Conduct. I am especially concerned about the decision to permit displays that support a specific political ideology, and which are often used to belittle, humiliate and dehumanize a significant part of our citizenry.
I refer of course to the Timbers/Thorns front office’s continued turning of a blind eye toward the display of the American flag by both supporters and the organization, and to its tradition of performing the national anthem before games.
Let me be the first to acknowledge that the American flag had a long history of standing for many of the values that the Timbers, Thorns, and their fans continue to espouse to this day – especially our shared beliefs in political freedom. However, it has long been obvious that this symbol has been appropriated by partisan political operatives, and that it has ceased to be a symbol of American unity. Today it is, unfortunately, primarily used to advocate for specific political purposes. If the Timbers as an organization are sincere about enforcing the Code of Conduct as written, it is difficult to see how the use of this symbol could be permitted.
It is well documented that not only is the flag used far more often to support candidates of one major political party than the other, but that the flag has been co-opted by numerous far-right political movements in the United States. Groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, who have frequently incited violence at events in Portland, deliberately use the American flag as a symbol to suggest that other Portland residents are less than welcome.
The American flag is also widely used by militia groups and by anti-immigrant advocacy organizations, not only in their own branding, but as a specific attack on non-citizens. Events sponsored by and supporting immigrant groups are frequently counter-protested through deliberate use of the American flag, again as a statement that immigrants are unwelcome. The national anthem has likewise been staged at events as a specific form of protest targeting citizens and non-citizens alike. We have even seen these hateful displays used in public schools as a form of targeted harassment against both non-citizen children, and those of non-European descent.
In all of these cases, the deliberate message expressed by the use of the American flag and the national anthem is the same: “We are real Americans, and you are not.”
The use of the American flag to attack values of tolerance and inclusion and to specifically support anti-immigrant candidates and their political agenda is widespread and very well known. It would strain credibility to suggest that the American flag is not an explicitly political symbol that is used to express a variety of political – and often overtly partisan – views.
The Supporter Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits “political...or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.” According to the presumably well considered reasoning expressed by the Timbers/Thorns Front Office in their letter to the 107ist banning the use of Iron Front symbology, it is clear that the continued display of the American flag likewise should not be tolerated, and for the exact reasons that the letter points out:
…But of course…
The truth is that it is not all political speech is targeted by the Supporter Code of Conduct. An enormous amount of signage at MLS games – both by supporters and by the league itself – is unquestionably political and always has been. The real purpose and effect of the rule is not to ban all political speech – it is to allow the league a pretext to prohibit specific political speech that it or its sponsors do not like. It is a content-based restriction, and indeed we have seen so far in 2019 that the league appears likely to use this power to target specific political viewpoints. (And, conspicuously, does not intend to use it to target others.)
The suggestion in the letter that the rule is intended to ban “any signage that’s political” from matches is transparently false, as was essentially admitted when noting, “there is still a fair amount of local discretion teams can apply.” There is no intention to ban *all* political signage, only some of it.
It is undoubtedly true that Iron Front symbology makes some fans uncomfortable, as do numerous other symbols used around the stadium – including the American flag (and those of numerous other countries.) Of course for many fans, and perhaps most, the American flag is a very positive image, symbolizing hope and our aspirations to be better than we often are. As with all political speech, different listeners are going to react to it differently. Our reaction to those differences should be based on our shared belief in freedom of expression, and not to simply ban that speech with which we do not agree.
Major League Soccer is a private entity that may set whatever rules it sees fit. However, the City of Portland has a constitutional obligation to ensure that any restrictions on speech at city owned property are viewpoint neutral and as narrowly tailored as possible to avoid injuring the First Amendments rights of its citizens. The City of Portland does not escape this constitutional obligation when it leases city owned property to a private entity, and Major League Soccer and the Portland Timbers chose to accept this limitation on its management of the space when it opted to run a franchise in a publicly owned stadium.
In framing the question as political v. non-political speech in the Supporter Code of Conduct, MLS has been deliberately deceptive. The Timbers, the TA, the league and you yourself have all routinely engaged in political speech during matches and other events. The team has taken stands on explicitly political issues, and expressed political viewpoints that have made some fans uncomfortable because the team – and you yourself, I imagine – believed it was the right thing to do. I hope that tradition continues, because we should want our civic institutions to stand up for what is right when they can. But make no mistake, just because we agree with a statement supporting our shared humanity, the statement is no less political. It’s just a political statement we agree with.
Today, unfortunately, Major League Soccer and the Timbers seek to prohibit speech with which they apparently do not agree. That is not just disappointing; it is deeply problematic.
I sincerely hope that both MLS and the Timbers’ front office reconsider their decision to ban specific political speech from matches while clearly allowing in others. Such decisions are disingenuous, are counterproductive, and break with the trust of supporters who have helped build the league into what it is today.
- Matt Shields, Section 104