Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Portland - Continuing to evolve

"What seems to be, is, to those to whom it seems to be." --Blake
Sunday morning found me riding #14 downtown once again to see what I might see at the encampments in Lownsdale and Chapman Parks.  Joni came up on the playlist as I rode, striking the exact emotional chord that declared my heart at that moment. (She does that so often.)
Take off take off
Take off your stay-at-home shoes
Break off shake off
Chase off those stay-at-home blues

Stairway stairway
Down to the crowds in the street
They go their way
Looking for faces to greet
But we run on laughing with no one to meet
--Night in the City (Joni Mitchell)
When I last visited the camp (on Wednesday evening) I'd left with grave concerns about the viability of the demonstration. On Sunday morning, some of those concerns were mollified.  According to a gregarious young woman who introduced herself as "General Assembly," when the City reopened Main Street on Thursday morning, a lot of tension was released, and spirits were renewed.

Tents pitched everywhere
The camp was just waking up as I arrived (about 9:30 or 10:00).  People were emerging from their tents, bleary-eyed and somber.  The scene reminded me a lot of the Oregon Country Fair in the morning when everyone is getting set up for the day.

Community policing

The bleak October sun displayed the naked world.  In the cool morning air, neither the camp nor its denizens conjured any menace at all.  Everything was calm, but Portland's finest were on hand.  The officers patrolled around the outskirts of the camp, with their hands in their pockets, chatting amiably with each other and with the folks around them.
Camp mascot:  The flying tiger that eats banks for breakfast
There were some colorful and strange characters, to be sure.  But after one has been around hippies for a while, one learns that those unique persons with their loud voices and tattoos, with their wild eyes and eccentric mannerisms, are play-acting.  They crave audience.  They're harmless.  Many of them are friendly.

Jeremy and Pinkie:  colorful personalities
They were serving up coffee under the tarps in the center of the park.  Campers filed up to the makeshift counter and came away clutching mugs of java.  A general spirit of cooperation prevailed.

Dish-washing crew
In the kitchen they had a full crew washing dishes at the wash station.  I learned that they now serve three regular meals every day and two snacks.  No one is turned away.

The Food Not Bombs kitchen brings food every evening, and sympathetic web sites have set up programs whereby anyone can order pizzas for the demonstrators from local pizzerias.

In fact, while I sat on a park bench in the middle of camp, a delivery man came through with a pizza box, announcing "Pizza! Free pizza!"
KBOO on hand
The camp was well-wired, with an open-access wifi network. And KBOO radio was on hand, preparing to broadcast live from the scene.

At the information booth, I spoke with Raya Cooper, a responsible young woman with an open face and a sunny demeanor. 

I asked her about the sanitation issue.  Specifically, it did not seem that there were enough toilets to service all the people at the demonstration.  She acknowledged that it was a problem, but assured me that the Sanitation Committee was working to resolve it and that demonstrators had access to the restrooms in City Hall across the street.  (I'll bet that makes Mayor Adams happy!)  And when I looked around, I was pleased to see that the sidewalks were swept and clean and that people were strewing fresh straw around the grounds.

No friends to Democrats

The camp is getting a lot of support from the community.  But, then again, that might be because the camp really is the community. 

Raya held that the demonstrators are a cross-section of society, including young and old, professionals and blue-collar workers, homeless people, college students, and everything in between.  She said it is difficult to accurately estimate the numbers at the camp.  People come and go.  There are lots of sympathetic observers (like me) who come to show solidarity and check out the scene, but don't camp.  And there are some who go back and forth between their homes and jobs and the camp --rotating demonstrators, if you will.

To quote Joe Baegant, from The Ants of Gaia, "... hippie optimism dies hard."  That is why I can't make up my mind about this Occupy Portland demonstration.  I want to believe.  And, after all, if the common people can't find a peaceful way to bring about much-needed political and economic reform --well, it won't lead to anything good.

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