Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Portland - Anecdotes

The scene, Wednesday evening
One popular chant that never fails to be employed at political demonstrations goes like this:  A cheerleader from within the crowd calls out "This is what democracy looks like," and is answered by those surrounding him, "This is what democracy looks like."  It gets everybody fired up.  And, speaking from experience (although I don't chant myself) it is heartening, especially if the Portland rains are pouring down on you, like they were in March of 2008.

Well, folks, I'm hear to tell ya, demonstrations are what democracy looks like, alright.  Democracy is messy and complex and I'm learning a whole lot about it these days.

A couple anecdotes.  (Please note that I may be misremembering some of the names.)

Marathon woman

On Tuesday, I rode Trimet (good ol' #14, runs every 15 minutes) into town to see the demonstration and to bring them some plastic food containers, as told.  So excited, I was, at the thought of the common people, with our latent optimism and our righteous cause, taking to the streets to demand change.

The camp seemed to be running smoothly and spirits were generally high, even after several days of intense rain.  I walked around and took it in, feeling happy and hopeful.

While I was having a look, a woman about my age, with iron gray hair, round spectacles and an air of authority shouted out "I need volunteers to help bring in some food."

I eagerly hopped to it.  I was joined by a huge African-American man in his early 30s named "Joseph or Tequila, whichever you like" from Cinncinati, Ohio.  The top of my head reached no further than his shoulder.

We were introduced to a woman from west Portland.  She was in her mid-thirties, perhaps.  She appeared to be a suburban housewife, dressed casually in jeans and a light jacket, with the perpetually-exhausted expression of a mother of young children.  She led us to her nearby station wagon, where she had some crates of bottled water and some other food.

As we walked, she explained her reasons for contributing.  "I ran in the Portland Marathon on Sunday, and for a while we were afraid that it was going to be called off because of the protest.  And I was worried, but then we ran, and all the protesters cheered us on at the end.  And I was so grateful that I just wanted to help."  She began weeping as she spoke.  "It meant so much to me."

I was touched by her emotion, which made me embarrassed.  And being embarrassed made me sad.

Such a cynical age, we live in.

Victoria and Curtis

Next day, I went back to see how things were going.  As I crossed the Hawthorne Bridge, I overtook an interesting procession.  Some people were headed west, hauling their belongings in shopping carts, which they'd tied together in a baggage train.  They caused quite a commotion.  The conveyance was unwieldy and heavy and there was a lot of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the bridge.

Victoria and Curtis, headed to camp

They were Victoria and Curtis and they were on their way to the protest.  Victoria was a cheerful young woman, with a cherubic face and a mind that went in several directions at once.

"Where ya from?" I asked.

She smiled a big toothy smile.  "We're homeless," she said, proudly.  "We're from over there."  She pointed back away toward the Warehouse District.  "Babe!  Watch that!" she reached and tugged at Curtis' sleeve, pulling him to one side so a bicyclist could pass.

"But where do you call home?" I asked.

"I'm from Portland." She jabbed a finger at her chest.  She leaned forward as she walked, pulling against the weight of her burden.  She pointed at Curtis.  "He's from Portland, too."

Curtis smiled and nodded.  He had a gap between his two front teeth.

"You going to the protest?" I asked.

She nodded firmly.  "Oh, yeah," she said.  "Going there now.  Babe, did you find your hat?"  Curtis shrugged.

"They'll be set up there," I told her.  "You'll be able to grab some chow, too."  I had such faith in protester organization and determination!

"We're gonna camp out there," she said.

Our paths split when we got to the western terminus.  They took the ramp that sloped down toward McCall's Restaurant, while I kept on straight.  I never did see them at the camp.

But then again, when I got to camp, I had other things on my mind...

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