There is nothing like a stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon. Last Sunday was perfect for a stroll. The air was crisp and fresh. The sun beamed down through the tree leaves. It was cold, but nothing to complain about for November. But people were airing their complaints. Left and right – conversations about pipelines and tar sands, Wall Street and banks, government and politicians filled the air. Their bodies, their concerns inhabited the area. The park was occupied.
Occupy Portland has taken over two, almost three, plaza blocks in downtown Portland. Lownsdale and Chapman Squares have together become a full on community for its inhabitants. Both squares have a crisscross design that facilitated easy organization and navigation through the community. Individual stations and booths set clear stations for action. The amphitheater at Terry Schrunk Plaza, a neighboring federally owned park, is used during the day for Occupy events and meetings. It is also occupied at night by a smaller number of protestors who camp there despite initial warnings from police. The occupation does not end outside the plaza blocks; the parks are merely a home base for the movement.
Each day new protests, meetings and pieces of the movement are thought of, organized and carried out. From television it would appear that the occupiers are fighting back, or just plain fighting. From inside the encampment, the view is different. They are defending their ground.
MISSION OF THE DAY
“Hey hey, ho ho! Dirty pipeline’s got to go! Hey hey, ho ho! Dirty carbon’s got to go!” was the battle cry of the day on Sunday Nov. 6. Crowds gathered around the amphitheater at Terry Schrunk Plaza at 2:00 p.m. for a round of speakers before taking march to the Pioneer Courthouse. By 3:15 p.m. the marchers had joined hands and surrounded the courthouse for a demonstration.
The hand-holding demonstration strategy aimed to raise awareness and support against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline expansion. The proposed oil pipeline would extend from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to carry oil through sensitive environmental regions and water supply areas to Texas refineries on the gulf coast.
Couples, friends, family and strangers held hands to make a point. That point is one of many aided by the Occupy Portland Action Committee. Before, during and after Sunday’s event occupiers were trying to stay one step ahead of themselves.
INSIDE OCCUPY TERRITORY
Back at home base people bustle about, busy as ever. Everyone on a mission. Sometimes that mission is just to stay warm. And that’s okay. A protesters presence is an action on it’s own. (Otherwise homeless occupiers stress they are not there simply for food and some resemblance of shelter.) Even so, most people are doing more than showing up.
Thomas Nelson, 23, describes himself as a teacher, student and an occupier. At Occupy Portland he works on the Peace and Safety crew regularly but also fills in at the Medical tent and the Kitchen since his arrival over two weeks ago. The Peace and Safety booth is in the center of Chapman Square, dubbed Alpha Camp by occupiers. Medical is also located in the center but of Lownsdale Square, posthumously entitled Beta Camp.
The 23-year-old Occupy peacekeeper treads between a personal distrust of police and officials he believes “lie in the pockets of [the] one percent” and working with them to maintain order in the camp. Thomas says that police officials monitor camp radios, walk though daily and are always called when necessary.
Behind the table at the medical tent Thomas sits with an assortment of medical supplies covering the table in front of him. He explains his belief in the movement: “At some point [the one percent] need to realize that yes they have weapons and guns and bombs, but eventually our numbers will overwhelm even their greatest of warfare technology. They can mace us, gas us out, shoot rubber bullets all they want, but eventually the group is going to get to large to be chased out by political warfare. That’s what I call this, it’s political warfare.”
The occupiers at the Veteran’s tent of Alpha Camp are no strangers to warfare. Dathan, Bill, Ede and Ian are all veterans who have been at Occupy Portland for two and a half to three and a half weeks. They fought for their country in uniform and they are now fighting in poverty. The squares have gotten rougher, rowdier and a bit more unpredictable according to recent media reports.
“It grows on you,” says Ede. He laughs while describing how we accidentally arrived at Occupy after missing his train and then getting lost in Portland.
When asked why they are protesting, they answer “to stay warm” before chuckling to each other. “I mean seriously, that’s what it’s all about,” says Bill. He continues, “It’s sad, I was making $18 an hour in the 80’s and 90’s and then all the sudden all [those] jobs are gone.”
Now he huddles together with other occupiers to keep warm. Life wasn’t always like this. Bill is a father to six children and a grandfather to three. The youngest is eight years old. Walking out of school into a well paying job without outside training or additional schooling was easy when he did it. “[The younger] generation doesn’t have $18 an hour jobs like that,” says Bill. That’s why he’s occupying.
“This is our last deployment on the streets of America,” says one of the veterans as a final parting.
If the occupiers are troops defending their ground, Raya Cooper would be an officer or perhaps lieutenant. Raya, a Portland occupier since day one, is found behind the Information booth with a bright smile and an attitude ready to take on anything that comes her way. Raya answers questions, takes and distributes donations, handles altercations and communicates with authorities. Raya, who graduated with a degree in Outdoor Leadership from Warren Wilson College, is in her element taking every situation as it comes.
Just as Raya says that her main goal of the occupation is “conversation” – a conversation erupts around her. A woman and daughter and a man begin to debate whether the U.S. has too much, too little, or too inefficient of a government. Each party exchange ideas and go their separate ways.
“We’re in this together, and until we realize that we’re in it together than we’ll be up against some struggles, but we have a lot of issues that need to be dealt with that are all intertwined,” says Raya. She continues, “Where do we start first – everyone has a different answer to that. We’re taking it day by day. It’s a very young movement. We’ve only been here four weeks and world change doesn’t happen in four weeks very often. We’re working toward this.”
THE BATTLE AND THE WAR
Portland city officials, police and those within the movement have tried to maintain a good relationship of compromise and communication. But recent renegade actions have raised concerns in the community. Crime has risen and police efforts are costing the city. While some incidents have gained negative media attention and calls from the mayor to maintain order, Portland’s protest still luckily lacks the violence and controversy of other Occupy cities. But how long will the peace be maintained? The Bureau of Developmental Services has cited Portland Parks & Recreation, which attends to the squares, directing the Parks Bureau to correct the violations. Correction would include a stop to all camping at the squares. Mayor Sam Adams will address the situation later today.
Posted on November 10, 2011, in Culture, Politics, Portland, Subculture, The Sights of Oregon and tagged Alberta, Chapman Square, Downtown Portland, Occupy, Occupy Portland, OccupyPortland, Pioneer Courthouse, Veterans, Wall Street. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.