“The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”

Radfems Respond cropped screenshot

Let’s talk turf.

Portland has been my stomping ground for twelve years. In 2012 when I organized the Radfem Reboot conference, women came from Canada, Australia, France, and Scotland to meet women they had known online for years. There have been over a dozen regional radfem meetings around the world since then, most of them organized quietly to avoid the threats of male violence that public feminism seems to inevitably bring these dark days.

But Portland is my turf and I know the lay of the land. I’ve made connections with Portlanders and know it as well as any cat knows her territory. If an open radical feminist event were to happen, I felt most comfortable having it in the City of Roses.

When I approached the venue that hosted Radfem Reboot to rent the same space for Radfems Respond, I responsibly warned them of the maelstrom of harassment about to land in their laps. On March 14 I brought the Multnomah Friends (Quakers) a fat folder with articles and news stories of radfems all over the world being harassed at home and at work and being no-platformed. I optimistically gave them an article on how the sex industry lobby in Tasmania failed to force Tasmanian Friends to cancel a talk by radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys.

They asked to meet with me and I obliged, ultimately spending an hour speaking with two clerks. They asked for biographies and websites for the event’s five speakers and I provided them. On March 26th the Multnomah Friends confirmed,

“We received your list of websites for the speakers for the “RadFems Respond: A Day of Discussion” and have reviewed them. We find nothing in them that would cause us to ask you to find another place to meet.”

I thought we were cool. Flights were booked, a house near the venue rented, and plans proceeded generally. Then a Quaker with a thing for licking machetes and calling radical feminists a “hate group” started a petition to exterminate Radfems Respond.
Holliss Proffitt machete

“Radical Feminists are often a bigger threat to the safety and dignity of trans women that [sic] society at large…The rate of suicice [sic] for trans people hovers around 50%. Many of these deaths were caused directly or indirectly by Radical Feminist attacks and rhetoric. Those who stand for non violence will agree that radfems have no place in a Quaker space.”

petition-starter Hollis Proffitt

Three weeks later, the Friends caved. When I reminded them of my fat folder and the predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns, three of the four Friends that Rachel Ivey and I met with admitted they didn’t read Hollis Proffitt’s petition. They were angry the petition went up and refused to look at it. My concern that their community’s response was distorted by the lies in the petition was met with this incredulous reply by a Friend who said of his decision not to read the petition, “External pressures did not impact our decision.”

When I asked why they changed their minds, I was told their decision-making was “a spirit-based process, not head-based,” made by “not individual facts or figures but as a matter of spiritual worship,” and that “It was a sense from our spirit about where we were led to move.”

Color me shocked that a religious order just sort of felt in their gut that women don’t deserve a public platform to speak. Rachel astutely observed that their intense de-politicizing and refusal to admit external pressures on their community aligns perfectly with liberal, third wave postmodernism in which societal systems assert no influence over the choices every Friend apparently came to independently.

I hastily contacted the backup venue I had arranged (see above, “predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns”). The Multnomah County Central Library quickly confirmed Radfems Respond, and transgender activists quickly assailed them to shut down the event in the name of free speech. Some unhinged thug named “QuiddityQ” posted a call to arms on Portland Indymedia.

“We questioned the library administration about allowing a hate group who promotes discrimination and their response is that they cannot kick them out because of freedom of speech. So we also exercise our right to free speech in public space this Saturday to drive the TERFS and RadFems out of OUR library and OUR Portland!”

In the early oughties I self-published through Indymedia in addition to getting published in progressive newspapers because I believed in the potential for writer-activists to “become the media”. It wasn’t a total failure, but as has happened with other online media, antagonistic bullies pushed out genuine contributors. I don’t go to Portland Indymedia anymore because of their manarchist tendency to delete even the mildest pro-feminism posts. A germane example from this week shows the site editors leaving an incitement to disrupt Radfems Respond and another one titled “TERF: Cancer of the Leftist Movement”, yet rejecting a post respectfully criticizing the ethics of shutting down feminist events.

A library official responded in a comment to the Portland Indymedia article,

“You may participate in the meeting by expressing your views and allowing others to express their views. You may not disrupt the meeting.”

Enough accolades cannot be given to the responsive staff and security guards at the Multnomah County Central Library. They were entirely magnanimous about their commitment to women’s freedom of speech, and in all truth I think they got righteously ticked off at being pushed around by a bunch of intimidating jerks.

With the room secure, I had to douse another fire when trafficking survivor Dawn Schiller called me to say she was considering cancelling. Dawn doesn’t know anything about trans-anything, but she knows too well the credible threat of male violence when she sees it. As so many of us before, at first she was rationally afraid of the danger posed, then she got mad at men trying to frighten women out of public participation. After the immediate trauma eased its grip, Dawn decided to speak her story with the caveat that her daughter stay safely away. Sadly, several registered women also chose to cancel rather than face the volatile scene angry men were promising to produce.

Not one protestor showed up.

You can watch Lierre Keith’s and Rachel Ivey’s talks for yourself. At Dawn’s request we stopped filming while she recounted her time in prostitution, She finished with a commitment to helping other survivors rebuild their lives and received a standing ovation, and added how much she regretted not having her daughter there with her.

Kathleen Barry was her usual erudite self explaining the latest developments in prostitution laws and detailing some of her policy-setting activities. Near the end of her presentation she pointed to empty chairs and defiantly exclaimed they represented the women who cancelled because of the threats,

This is about this conference, and about the fact that Dawn Schiller almost didn’t come. And the fact that she’s been traumatized, and she had to deal with that trauma in order to come. Not just in telling her story here, but in order to come she has been traumatized. You know who the people are that caused that trauma. They’re the people who put up the call for taking on this conference, bringing in violence, all the aggression. As if we’re not all survivors of their patriarchy! I want us […] to keep this really clear, we sit here today, you and all of us, as victims of those people who called for that violence this morning. Look at these empty seats! They are victims, they couldn’t come because of fear.

Heath Atom Russell gave the final presentation of the day. She began with the jaw-dropping revelation about the Santa Barbara murders the prior night, news that was just breaking around the world. Sometimes threats of male violence turn out to be nothing as in Radfems Respond’s case, and sometimes they become terrifyingly realized. Heath continued with how she grew up in an oppressive family and saw transitioning to a man as the best way to escape the emotional pain. She changed her mind after a few years and now works to warn others about predatory medical industry promises to bring peace to minds with surgery done to bodies.

The next day, while a woman-only group of radfems listened to Swedish author Kajsa Ekis Ekman speak via Skype about prostitution, the monumentally ineffective “QuiddityQ” dropped a final word on Portland Indymedia,

“The Anti-TERF/SWERF Action Team strongly and unequivocally condemns TERF hate groups WOLF (Womyn’s Liberation Front) and DGR (Deep Green Resistance) holding their propaganda rally at one of our finest public institutions, Multnomah County Central Library. Given its stellar history, we strongly condemn the Library Administration for allowing hate groups to abuse our cherished Constitutional Rights.

We are indeed at war with TERF for our very own survival.

The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”

I wrote the above recap in a mindset of recording the timeline accurately, but when I read it over I see a bad Hollywood script that I can’t doctor into sanity. The film industry’s collective creativity couldn’t conceive a plot with antiporn radical feminists, machete-licking Quakers, transgendered threat-makers, and armed library security guards.

Stephen King said writers write either for truth or for an audience, and I have no doubt about kind of writer I am, but what to do when the truth reads so much stranger than fiction? It’s difficult for me to believe for myself just how far women’s human rights have devolved in the time I’ve been a frontline witness, so I understand if my reporting from the trenches comes off as far-fetched. I didn’t sign up to be a war correspondent, and yet a war correspondent I seem to have become.

28 Comments to ““The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!””

  • Thank you for this report back and for your courage and that of the other women who participated.

  • As well as telling an important story, you are a fantastic–absolutely fantastic–writer.

    • Thank you for the compliments on both counts.

  • Sounds like a powerful event and well worth the courageous fight to make it happen. Thank you for your work.

    • Having sensible, dedicated women like Rachel Ivey and Lierre Keith co-planning Radfems Respond with me made the difficulties along the way easier to bear.

  • I was raised an athiest radical and have always felt a visceral aversion to hero worship. But that has changed. Thank you Lierre kieth and Rachel Ivey.

  • Thanks for writing this, well done!

  • All of that is surreal.

    I’ve been guilty of giving the quakers a pass before. No longer.

    Thank you for sharing this and for all your work in making it happen.

    • My whole life I’ve said, “Not ALL religions” and this incident has found me unable to utter that ever again.

  • Thank you, Sam Berg. You are one of the most courageous women I have ever met.

    • Coming from a woman such as you that means a lot, thank you.

  • We listened as a group tonight at our house; many moist eyes and not a single heart not burning to stop this. Thanks for everything your doing!

  • […] Click here to read full report. […]

  • Thank you for this.

    This was really well written.

    And as someone wrote already, this was/is an really important story.

  • What does a feminist put on her wrist for victory?

    Well done. Thank you, for our future.


  • I really wanted to attend, but my courage failed me. I’m so glad that no one showed up to harass you ladies and am now kicking myself for not going. Thank you for writing this. I definitely agree that our whole society has taken huge steps back in terms of women’s liberation. The fact that women (I’ll go out on a limb and say that I wasn’t the only one) are afraid to attend an event like this speaks volumes.

    • “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” …Mahatma Gandhi

  • Hi Sam, I agree with other commenters here that you’re a clear writer. As an active Overseer of the meeting in question, at the time of the cancellation, I not surprisingly have a different angle and perspective, but none of what I’ve witnessed negates the fact you were treated shabbily. You are also owed more of an explanation.

    Let me say here that Hollis herself showed up at business meeting to account for herself and the petition, along with a small delegation that included other Quakers. The proceedings were respectful if intense, in accordance with our ways. I do not know Hollis personally but as an AFSC guy, I am friendly to with GLTBQQI.

    As an Overseer of the Meeting, I saw it as my duty to be at business meeting on April 13, to read the petition and to hear the delegation. I also have read your published letters at the RadFem web site and studied your views. You can read more of my narrative at the Multnomah Meeting Facebook page (look for the “Bob’s head” icon, comment of May 9).

    • I don’t know, Kirby, I sure didn’t see any principled argument in favor of de-platforming the feminists. Your Facebook page looks more like you gave into bullying and went with non-thinking “tolerance”. Tolerance for anything except critical thinking. Trans activists always try to conflate a criticism of gender with calls for exterminating them. But its not true.

  • Thank you Sam for this round up on the conference. I watched the videos and followed other links. The internet is so great, we gotta keep it free and open. Anyway, I gave a talk on sex vs. gender at a Boston University conference called A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the late 60s and early 70s in March. Our panel was called “How to Defang a Movement: Replacing the Political with the Personal and you can read about it on the blog I co-edit with 60s WL founder Carol Hanisch here: or see the video of our panel here: Much of the discussion was about the trans issue. I was pleased to meet Heath Atom Russel there.

    • Appreciate the links, and thank you for your years of dedication to women.

  • Thank you for sharing how this all turned out Sam. It’s sad to know so many stayed away because of fear for their own safety but it’s totally understandable. This is why women only safe space is needed. So we can speak without being afraid– ironically the trans* “protesters” (in quotes since they never showed up to protest) created the exact environment of fear that defeats their arguments. I say to those who would have kept this vital conference from happening, “Your male privilege is showing!”

  • […] Sam Berg, summarising her write up of Radfems Respond […]

  • […] Brook Raven.” He is apparently a member of the Portland Anti-TERF/SWERF Action Team, a group of Men’s Rights Activist that harasses Women engaged in political activism that hurts …. He recently published a list of Women planning to attend a public event in Portland accompanied by […]

  • […] Framework. The four panelists are: Kathy Scarbrough, a neuro-scientist  and feminist activist, Samantha Berg, a linguist and  anti-prostitution activist, Kara Dansky, an attorney and author-activist and […]

  • […] Samantha Berg’s “The City of Roses Shall No Longer Tolerate Feminism” gives an excellent overview of the threats and backlash from local queer activists, angry that radical feminists were gathering to speak. […]

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