Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy Portland - Breaking camp

Minutes from Mayor Adams' deadline, an Occupier watches the camp dissolve
Friday night on Newshour

On Friday night, Newshour's Jeffery Brown interviewed Mayor Adams and a spokesman for the Occupy Portland demonstration, Jim Oliver.

Both men acquitted themselves well.  Mayor Adams was reasonable and he saluted the goals of the Occupy movement.  Classy, I thought.  Mayor Adams' handling of this protest has raised my opinion of him as a leader considerably.

Oliver did well, too.  He expressed the larger sentiments behind the Occupy movement clearly and distinctly.  I was on board with everything he said up until the clanging defiant note near the end:
"...our encampment is firmly entrenched in Chapman and Lownsdale squares, and we intend to stay there."
I've held that the protest was unsustainable, almost from the beginning.  Oliver's remark was at odds with everything I'd seen. 

Moral authority, the virtue of the cause, was the strength behind the Occupy Portland movement.  As the camp became less and less a demonstration by political activists and more and more a hotbed of objectionable behavior (the assaults and overdoses, the attempted arson), that moral authority was eroded.  And without it, the Occupiers can never muster the resolution needed to continue to defy Mayor Adams and the City of Portland.

I intend no disrespect to the demonstrators, but Oliver's remark seemed desperate and pathetic.  Empty bravura. 

Saturday morning

So, next day, I went to see for myself.  I arrived at the Occupy Portland camp around midday.  Things were bustling.  People were breaking camp.  Voluntarily.

There was some grumbling ("What happened to 12:01am?" was the kvetch I heard repeated), but there could be no mistake:  the Occupiers were on the way out.  They pulled up their tents.  They packed up their gear.  KBOO was gone.  The kitchen was dismantled.

Big police presence
Police were everywhere.  They clustered around the camp while city workers dragged debris to the curb along 3rd Street.  Wooden pallets, tarps, litter.  Dump trucks hauled it all away.

Lots of garbage
Tension was low.  But it's not as if there ever was much tension between the Occupiers and authorities.  The only tension I ever experienced in the camp occurred at nighttime when mentally-unstable vagrants wandered about, producing a low-level menace with their ranting and behavior.

"Joseph or Tequila, whichever you like" holds court
I had my eye out for Occupiers I'd met personally over the weeks.  But I saw only the young man from Cinncinati, "Joseph or Tequila, whichever you like."  He sat on a bench in the middle of the disintegrating camp, surrounded by people who looked to be curious Sunday strollers (like me).  They asked questions and listened to him describe life in the camp.  "We were a family," he said.

I noticed his use of the preterite tense.  "So they know it is over, too," thought I.  "So much for Jim Oliver's 'we intend to stay' remark." 

Dismantled kitchen
No one should expect message discipline from the Occupy movement, of course.  But when a clarion call proves to be false and empty, credibility suffers. 

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish chatting with local news

One hour to go

That night, after viewing the new Clint Eastwood flick (more about that in a future post), Maty suggested we drive by the Camp to see how things were progressing.

Maty and the cops
We arrived downtown about 10pm.  Traffic (both cars and pedestrians) was thick around the camp.  The cops had erected light towers and the entire Chapman/Lownsdale area was lit up like a high school football field on game night.

"Let's go look!" Maty said, to my utter astonishment.

We scored a lucky parking space on Taylor, then walked back.

The camp was chock full of people.  A discerning eye could see, however, that most of them were spectators --weekend revelers, come to see the show.  Many of the Occupiers were already gone.
A crowd gathers as midnight approaches
Maty and I went to a nearby restaurant and ate a late supper, then went by the camp again.  The clock read 11pm and the crowd was growing.  Growing and getting louder.  But there was still no tension.  I saw a young woman with a sign that read "Be peaceful.  Be gentle."  Neither cops nor demonstrators wanted trouble.  The rowdiest elements were the Saturday Night clubbers, well into their cups, who stood by and hoped for some live entertainment.

"Nothing is going to happen," said I.

"The police just wait two or maybe three hours, then everyone gonna go home," Maty said.  She chuckled.

What now?

So now the demonstration is over.  Or almost over.  As I write, media reports (CNN, no less!) indicate that some holdout elements of the Occupation have moved to Pioneer Square.  Whatever.  It's over.  Let's move on, Portland.

I want to express particular gratitude to City Police.  They've been great throughout the whole ordeal.  Respectful and reassuring and competent.  Good to see.  The force has come a long way since the Vera Katz days.

The Occupy Portland demonstration may be over, but hopefully the movement will live on.  Effecting change, reforming entrenched power structures, is surely not easy.  But squatting in public parks is not the ticket.  That tactic succeeded in capturing public attention. It may have helped achieve political victories in last week's off-year elections.  It may have played a role in Bank of America's decision to nix their plan for a usurious new fee.

But the tactic is not sustainable.  It's been an expensive demonstration for Portland tax-payers, between the overtime pay for Portland's finest and the costs of rehabilitating Chapman/Lownsdale.  Tax-payers are the 99%.  The very people the movement purports to represent.

The movement needs new methods of expression.  Find a way to make things expensive for irresponsible corporations.  Find a way to stick it to the Man, not the tax-payer.

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