Thirty Years in the Streets of Portland! Bette Lee on Her Activist Photography


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Mon, 08/09/2021 - 9:00am to 10:00am


Photo by Bette Lee

If you’ve been to a protest during the past three decades, you’ve probably seen her, the short, slight woman behind the camera, always in the thick of things, documenting the resistance that Portland is famous for. From the 1990 march to condemn the murder of Mulugeta Seraw by neo-Nazi skinheads to OccupyPDX in 2011; from the 1991 protests against the first Gulf War to sHell No! the successful blockade in 2015 of Shell Oil’s icebreaker bound for the drilling fields in the Arctic; from the 2000 May Day police riot against peaceful demonstrators to 100 Days of BLM protests in 2020, Bette Lee has been there to create images from an activist point of view.

Today Patricia Kullberg interviews Bette Lee about her decades of photographic work and its significance for Portland's activist community. The Old Mole is pleased to present a retrospective of Bette’s work. Every week we’ll post a new photo documenting Portland’s protest history and linking past actions with ongoing organizing and resistance. To view her work go to Bette can be contacted at

Bette comments on her image above: Ironically, an image I photographed at a pro-Gulf War rally in 1991 turned out to be an anti-war image. It shows two huge American flags covering the faces of the two white men carrying them. Their two young sons, who were probably bored and just goofing off, have stuck their heads between their fathers’ knees. The huge flags which dominate the image, and the juxtaposition of the headless fathers with their headless sons, symbolize the power of nationalism in America. Its ideology has tremendous power to obliterate critical or independent thinking. It demands submission without question or doubt. It’s a religion that is passed down from fathers to sons, compelling them to march off to fight and/or die in endless wars that they know very little of, except what they’re told to believe.


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