Q&A: PopMob Appeals To 'Everyday Anti-Fascists'

By Julie Sabatier (OPB)
Aug. 26, 2019 5:15 p.m.

The Portland group PopMob, or Popular Mobilization, was highly visible at a recent counter-demonstration to a Proud Boys’ rally downtown. We talk with PopMob spokesperson Effie Baum.


Q&A with Effie Baum

Dave Miller: Hi, I'm Dave Miller. This is “Think Out Loud.”

On Monday, two days after the most recent Proud Boys rally, we talked to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw about what happened. Some listeners complained on Facebook that we missed an opportunity to hear from people representing the thousand or so Portlanders who turned out to protest the Proud Boys. We agreed. So, we've invited a spokesperson for PopMob on today.

PopMob stands for Popular Mobilization. The group has been around for about a year now and has organized some of the larger, more flamboyant and frankly more joyful antifascist demonstrations. The dance parties, the marching band in banana suits and the inflatable unicorns were all brought to you by PopMob. Effie Baum is one of the organizers of PopMob and joins me now. It's great to have you on the show.

Effie Baum: Thank you so much for having me.

DM: How do you describe PopMob?

EB: So PopMob, which is as you mentioned, is short for popular mobilization, um, formed after the violent protest that happened on June 30th of 2018 when we saw a large group of Proud Boys violently attack anti-fascist demonstrators, severely injuring several, including one of them who sustained a skull fracture. And we all came together following that because we wanted to basically do what we saw work in Boston when they had 40,000 demonstrators show up to a white supremacist rally that was planned after the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville. And after that many people showed up, they did not plan anything again. And so we wanted to basically get together a group of folks to organize in the hopes of building a mass movement of antifascists who will stand up to the hate when it comes to our city.

DM: Let's talk about how you approached, um, this most recent Proud Boys rally on, on Saturday. What was your thinking going into it in terms of, of tactics and what you wanted the public to see and people to experience.

EB: Um, our tactic for Saturday was actually twofold.

There's two different kind of missions we have going. One is that we have this mission to inspire folks to stand up and oppose the alt-right, which is kind of like our base mission as an organization. And then there was a tactic of the spectacle. So, um, the first thing talking about inspiring people show up is that, uh, there's a huge misrepresentation of antifascist protesters that is depicted widely, um, across the media that it is only folks that employ a black block tactic that is angry, young, white men when it really couldn't be further from the truth. There are antifascist from every walk of life. And so we have been working on a campaign which we call, like, “everyday antifascist” and encouraging folks to be everyday antifascist because being an antifascist should not be a controversial position, but because of the media depiction, it makes folks not want to show up.

And so we wanted to create a very big tent approach to counter-protesting when hate groups come to town and even our homegrown groups are participating. So that means like creating something that is more accessible for people that might be afraid to show up or that, um, because of what they've seen on TV, they think that it's only like one kind of demonstrators. So, we wanted to create an environment where everybody can engage at the level that they are most comfortable, while also creating an environment that respects that diversity of tactics because we are all on the same side. So we did that by in the months or in the weeks prior. And something we've been working on since we were, um, first formed a year ago is reaching out to other local organizations and doing a lot of coalition building and relationship building with other organizations on the left that span the entire spectrum, but who we know also has the same values that we do in terms of the way that we want our city to be. So, that was mission one is building this big coalition so it's not just PopMob, it's PopMob and all of the organizations that came together to oppose them that's gonna make us stronger.

DM: Is this a fair way to put it? Yeah. I'm sorry to break in, but that, that if people are, uh, who otherwise are completely on board with the ideas and ideals of antifascism but are either afraid of or, or, or maybe actually against, um, what they associate with the possibility of violence with black block, you know, mask-clad people that if they see dancing, uh, you know, banana-clad people, uh, dancing and, and playing trumpet, they might be more likely to join you? Is that a fair way to put it?

EB: Yes. And I would take that a little bit farther in that, um, what the media represents when they represent black block is not truth. Um, black block is a tactic, not a group, first of all. Um, and it's a tactic that's employed for a lot of different reasons and one of those reasons is community defense. And so there's a false equivalency that is constantly drawn between the violence from the far right and the violence from the left because you have the far right who, uh, they advocate for the concentration camps on the border.

There was a Proud Boy recently caught on video talking about wanting to smash immigrants heads on the sidewalk. There's a group of folks that that show up, they want to attack and be queer and trans folks. That kind of violence is not the same as defense from folks standing up to it. So that false equivalency gets drawn where people think, Oh, it's both sides. And it could not be further from the truth without the black block; we would not be safe out there because they are the ones who are protecting us from both the violence of the far right as well as the violence from the police because they are the brave ones who put their bodies between us and those threats. So, the reason that we also have this big tent approach is because we do include that in our diversity of tactics. And I want folks to come out that do want to engage in like dancing to Unpresidented Band’s, you know, banana block because it's fun, but when they're out there, they will also see firsthand the truth, which is that they are being protected by people who are engaged in community defense and that it's not what they're seeing on TV.

DM: Um, you described your group as, as being made up of everyday antifascists or wanting to, to encourage that, the notion of everyday antifascists. Why say that as opposed to “everyday antifa”? I mean, “antifa” is a, it's a, a word that that's become, um, very common now and, and perhaps actually more common than “antifascist” even though it, you know, it's based on that.


EB: Yes. So antifascist and antifa are synonyms. It's the same thing. And, but because we're trying to build this big tent, we are trying to engage folks that don't necessarily have the same language and lens and, uh, like experience with this kind of organizing. And so because the word "antifa" has become so stigmatized, we went with everyday antifascist as, like, an entry point for folks that are just getting engaged in the work as a way to make it more inviting because of the way that the media and the president and the far right have characterized antifa as these bad boogie men. But once folks engage with the work and they start to see what the actual truth is, then people realize that they are antifa, they are antifascist. It should not be a controversial position. It should be a controversial position to be a fascist. So, um, it's more of just like we are trying to reach a really broad group of people and meeting them where they are at.

DM: I think you might have seen this, but a regular conservative commenter on our Facebook page wrote some questions for you or for, for your group. Among them was this one, which you've I think sort of answered today, but I want to give you an explicit opportunity to, to respond to it. He said, “what exactly do you think you're fighting?”

EB: I think that we are fighting against so I, what that really kind of comes out to is also like, why do we show up? And if we didn't show up, they'd go away. That's a lot of people phrase that kind of question the same way, like why are we protesting? Even after June 29th, a Chief Outlaw said that she didn't even understand why we were out there, which is kind of ridiculous. So we are out there because violent, far-right hate groups are showing up to our city, targeting the people that live in Portland, and if people do not show up to oppose them, they will only continue to grow. They will believe that there are more people who support their viewpoint than really do because we believe that there are more people in Portland who are against them that are for them. And the only way that we can stop the growth of this far-right, violent movement is by standing up to oppose it, by standing up and saying, "No," and by standing up and making sure that they know they're not welcome here.

DM: If you're just tuning in, I'm talking right now with Effie Baum, who's a spokesperson for the antifa or antifascist group, PopMob. Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer group, has been really clear in the past at times about wanting to get um, antifa counter-protestors to react violently so that he or others will have videos that can go viral that can, you know, make it onto Fox News or, or some, um, conservative website. What tactics do you think are, are most successful when it comes to countering groups like his or the Proud Boys?

EB: You just brought us right back to that second point when you asked me about what the purposes of the spectacle was, because I said it was twofold.

The second part of that is that we wanted to create a spectacle so that when they do like, ‘cause that is exactly how they recruit people besides having these events, they put them like these selectively edited videos on the Internet that make them all look tough and like, you know, masculine — I call it “toxic masculinity riot porn” actually. So they create these videos as a way to draw more men to their movement and we wanted to create an environment where we would make that impossible so that every single opportunity would be like essentially photo-bombed by something completely absurd and ridiculous, like a dancing banana playing a tuba or an inflatable unicorn or a giant poop emoji. And that we also had a lot of, like, noisemakers and people who brought instruments and drums and the bands and the music as we'd also drown out the sound in their videos. So that even if they're like isn't one of uh antifascist protesters in the frame, that it's like thumping dance music in the background or a brass band so that we are kind of deplatforming them and preventing them from making that kind of recruitment content and that kind of propaganda, um, from a number of different things.

DM: Well, can you give us a sense for, um, the internal debates, um, that might be happening within the antifascist community right now? Because, I mean, as you're saying, you want to deplatform them or you want to not provide them a way to make the content, the, the footage that they desperately want to recruit more members. I mean, do you explicitly have conversations with, with other members of, of antifascist groups or individuals to say, “Hey, just don't, don't engage, don't give them yet another video that they can use to, to get more people”?

EB: Again, that's getting at that kind of 'good protester/bad protester' rhetoric that we avoid by, we adhere to what are called the St Paul Principles. Um, and the first principle of that is by honoring a diversity of tactics. So, while optically it's not always great, there is, um, a really important role for community defense. So, even though they're using those selectively-edited videos to like put a skew on it, what I think is more effective in combating that is what I'm doing right now, which is putting our own narrative out there because the truth will eventually come out as Andy Ngo, this week was putting all of these, um, selectively edited videos from last Saturday on the Internet and quickly got shut down as people posted the longer versions, which completely disproved his claims, then it very quickly became obvious that it was all being, like, misrepresented. And so I think that because the content they're creating is based in a fallacy that just having other, antifascists pointing out the truth is an effective tactic.

DM: An estimated 10,000 people came out in Portland to, uh, to protest on the day that President Trump was inaugurated. As many as a hundred thousand people came out for the Women's March. Um, and it may be that, that many of those people, um, are against the stated goals or rhetoric of the Proud Boys or the Patriot Prayer. But in general, the numbers of people who come out, um, to counter-protest those groups, they're nowhere close to some of the, the massive demonstrations we've seen in recent year, nor are they, um, close to the 40,000 people in Boston that you noted, um, you know, after Charlottesville. Why do you think, um, there is that difference in numbers despite the fact that I think many people in the Portland area, um, are against these groups that are coming to Portland?

EB: I think that it's a lot of things that I've already said. It's the way that the media characterizes antifascists it's the way that they characterize the demonstrations that happen in Portland and the kind of people that they, like, say are going to these because again, it's a misrepresentation.

A lot of us work in a variety of different, like, fields, but we're always characterized as having no jobs and living in our moms’ basements, when in fact like I'm just within PopMob, we have people who work in healthcare, we have people who are educators, people who work in labor rights, people who work in tech, and that we actually come from like this very, very broad, um, demographic. And I think that people just don't know that. So they see the news, they see what they think is one thing and then they're afraid to show up, because if it's not fascist violence at risk of, it's police violence because the police in Portland nearly killed somebody at an event last year and severely injured and disfigured several other people. So, there is also a big risk in showing up. And so we try to also, like, talk about the fact that it is scary, but it's also if there are more of us, it can also be in some ways that safety in numbers because as long as there's a larger crowd of us and we are outnumbering them, we are also, like, working to get less of them to show up and hopefully less violence would incur as well, including from the police.

And so the other um, thing is that we did, this was a huge coalition. In fact, um, some of the organizations that signed on, we had everybody from like Rose City Antifa to the NAACP, the DSA, the Buddhist faith fellowship or Peace Fellowship, Interfaith Clergy Resistance, the Animal Rights March. It was such a and like diverse group of folks that span the entire spectrum of the left. And Eric Ward said in an article today that in his 30 years of organizing he has never seen a coalition that is that broad, and so I think it's the strength of organizers that are working to build those relationships in this city that is going to have, like, a huge in the way that these events are characterized and we're seeing that already this week. Like, we have had so much, like, praise and good press because the coalition coming together and like this is not on PopMob, this is all of the members of the coalition coming together.

We all worked really hard and we all came together and despite the fact that we do have differences of opinion when it comes to tactics, and there are members of the coalition that don't agree with some of the tactics of other members, that we set that aside because what's more important is standing up to hate. And when you mentioned that, like, yes, a lot more people showed up to the Women's March or a lot more people show up to other events. I think part of that is also what I was saying earlier about how this is not um, one kind of like protester, that we're a very diverse, diverse group of folks and I think that a lot of the people that do antifascist organizing are the folks that are most affected by it. We are queer, we are trans. It is folks of color. It is women, it is non-binary people. It is largely the folks that are most targeted by these groups because if, like, if nobody else is doing the work, we are the ones who are going to end up, like, suffering for it. And the folks that are not showing up are the people who are not affected by it every day.

DM: Thanks very much for joining us. 

EB: Thank you for having us.

DM: Effie Baum is a spokesperson for PopMob. That stands for Popular Mobilization. Coming up after a short break, we're going to hear about the effort to decolonize archeology.

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