‘The activist Bonnie and Clyde’: young lovers lead Portland’s Trump resistance

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Activism is the foundation of the relationship between Kathryn Stevens and Gregory McKelvey, leaders in the Oregon citys post-election protest

The doormat outside a generic apartment in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, bears the words COME BACK WITH A WARRANT. Inside, two leaders of the self-titled resistance are at rest. Kathryn Stevens answers the door in workout clothes. In the living room, her boyfriend, Gregory McKelvey, lounges on a sectional in sweats.

This sunny weekday afternoon comes as a quiet break in an otherwise frenetic chapter in their lives. Before the election, Stevens says, I was a very ritualistic, regimented person. I woke up at a specific time, I did yoga. Routines no longer exist. You have to adapt.

In the wake of Trumps election, the activists, who are both 24, swiftly formed a group called Portlands Resistance to fight a Trump presidency, the rise of white nationalism, and widening income inequality. McKelvey says local protesters needed leadership, and they looked to him for guidance. Amid this turmoil, Portlands Resistance was launched. Within a day, they had created a Facebook page and begun organizing.

McKelvey and Stevens soon found themselves at the center of a chaotic scene. On the third night of anti-Trump demonstrations, Portlands protests took a violent turn as anarchists shattered storefront windows and car windshields.

Local television crews visited McKelveys home and asked him to answer for the violence. Martin Luther King said, A riot is the language of the unheard. And its not my job to silence anybody that feels unheard, he told a KOIN 6 News reporter. I think its my job to lead by example, and Im not gonna lead through chaos. Im not gonna combat hate with more hate. Im gonna combat it with love.

OK, the reporter said, but when you do the gatherings, in love, do you think that sometimes invites the other element that is doing the things you dont condone?

I think we should blame Donald Trump for that, he answered, and I do.

A few weeks later, McKelvey and Stevens created a GoFundMe page that raised more than $50,000 to help repair property damaged by rioters. They now envision a movement thats inclusive, that upends systems of oppression and that elects like-minded candidates.

Kathryn
Kathryn Stevens at a rally. Photograph: Finn Hawley Blue

McKelvey grew up black in Portland one of the nations whitest big cities. After college, he enrolled in Lewis and Clark Law School and worked as a campaign manager for a state congressional candidate. Through politics, he segued into activism and became involved in local Black Lives Matter events.

Stevens, who is queer, moved to Portland for college after growing up in Vernonia, a small timber town about 40 miles north-west of Portland. As a teen, she experienced homelessness before a foster family took her in. Post-college, she has worked as an advocate for the homeless during an affordable-housing crisis.

Since November, the couple has planned events, made speeches, led community meetings and spent a night in jail. McKelvey refers to them as the activist Bonnie and Clyde. Activism is not incidental to their relationship. Its their foundation.

The two began dating after Stevens sent McKelvey a Facebook message early last summer. Up to that point, their circles had overlapped, but their paths hadnt crossed.

At the start of 2016, McKelvey had been invited to speak at a Bernie Sanders rally. The young law student overcame a bad case of nerves to discover his knack for public speaking. People kept asking him to speak at their events, and his involvement grew in local Black Lives Matter demonstrations. His appearances were gaining attention, and Stevens took notice.

Her Facebook message to him wasnt flirtatious. It was more like networking, in her usual upbeat tone: I want to know more about the work youre doing in the community, she wrote. Lets get coffee sometime.

A few days later, Stevens says, McKelvey sent her a message asking if she was going to a march that evening. Yeah, for sure, Ill see you there, she responded. She arrived that day to find McKelvey, to her surprise, giving a speech in front of a big crowd. Oh, OK, Im going to your event, she thought.

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I couldnt do what I do without her, says McKelvey. Photograph: James Krane

The next day, they met for coffee and went to a food drive for a local not-for-profit group. They recognized in one another a shared vision. Their interests and values aligned. From then on, Stevens attended every one of McKelveys events she could.

She admired his energy, his commitment to the cause. In a lot of my relationships in the past, my ambitions have been something that have been difficult for other people to handle, Stevens said. But for both, activism is the top priority. I couldnt do what I do without her, McKelvey says. By the time election day arrived, Stevens and McKelvey were together in every sense. They were often side by side at demonstrations in news photos: McKelvey in skinny jeans and a long jacket, Stevens with a beanie pulled over her buzz cut.

A couple of weeks after the riots, the pair were arrested during a protest organized by high school students. Theyd been invited by a few students to offer guidance. Hours into the event, police arrested McKelvey and Stevens on allegations of disorderly conduct. Those charges were later refiled. McKelveys now charged with failure to obey a police officer, and Stevens is charged with resisting arrest. They plan to sue the Portland police bureau for what they allege were baseless and targeted arrests.

Neither McKelvey nor Stevens were happy to be arrested, but they accept that arrest is a risk inherent in protesting. Perhaps increasing their chances: none of their events has been permitted.

You have a right to go out there and speak your mind, McKelvey says. The constitution says nothing about a permit. But McKelvey and Stevens say that decision may change for future events. They acknowledge that permitted protests may be safer and more accessible for some.

There is no blueprint for leading a movement that fits this precise political moment. Theyre learning as they go.

Neither of us thinks were the smartest people in the world or the best activists in the world, McKelvey says. But we happen to be at the forefront of this movement right now. So were going to utilize that right now to hopefully push it toward progress.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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