During Kim Boekbinder’s recent concert tour stop here in Portland, she spent an afternoon checking out the Occupy Portland camp. Kim’s been writing about the Occupy Everywhere movement for alt-culture online magazine Coilhouse, and asked me to provide pictures from the Occupy Portland camp. I encourage you to read her full post, Occupy Everywhere: The West Coast, and to look back on her entire series. I wanted to respond with my own thoughts on how Occupy Portland has been progressing (or not), as well as show you pictures not used in her article.
Let’s start with the positive. Portland’s Occupation has some promising things going for it. While the city’s unemployment rate and multiple-job working class are the butt of many jokes, they also give us a bevy of smart people with time on their hands… time they are hopefully putting to good use aiding the Occupy Everywhere movement. It’s not only the city government and unemployed that has shown support. In the photo above, respected local sculptor Jim Gion begins a bust of a young activist. Art is one of the oldest forms of protest in the book, and I loved bearing witness to his interaction with this woman. And this Occupy Portland article on OregonLive discussed how the parks being used to camp have been a recurring location of political history as far back as 1894. That’s kind of cool, and not at all surprising; Portland and the Pacific northwest has a looong history of political activism and progressive thinking.
Yet as Kim pointed out in her article on various West Coast Occupations:
“It will be important as the movement progresses to allow each Occupation to evolve in it’s own way. Maybe each and every city doesn’t need a permanent encampment. Or maybe the cities where camping is being permitted are the places where the Occupiers have room to push the movement even further[…]”
There are some ways in which the local Occupation is doing things differently. Local advocacy organization Right 2 Survive recently launched Right 2 Dream too (or R2Dtoo), a new safe location for the houseless in downtown. With Occupy Portland having led a march to the new shelter location just after it opened, on October 18, the Occupation and Right 2 Survive seem to be working together. Rivermark Community Credit Union extended their Saturday hours to accommodate Portlanders who chose to protest in the form of closing their accounts with megabanks and switching to a local bank or credit union as part of Bank Transfer Day; many other credit unions reported a notable increase in new members signing up recently (I myself am a member of Unitus Credit Union). And it’s not different than any other city, but I find it worth mentioning: Occupy Portland has people talking.
Occupy Portland has also been the source of some disappointments, both in terms of political activism and the behaviour of the protestors themselves. In reading Kim’s impressions of Portland’s Occupation, I felt she very tactfully put eyes on a few issues that people who support the movement aren’t necessarily willing to admit…
“[M]aybe Occupy Portland is a little too comfortable, a little too complacent. With no real Wall Street, a supportive mayor, and well, the whole West Coast on its side, there may actually be nothing revolutionary about it.”
This echos something I’ve said in the past couple weeks about Occupy Portland: I think this city’s protestors feel left out of the excitement. We’ve yet to have any crazy mass arrests, terrifying instances of police brutality, or surprise raids fueled by tear gas. We’ve had bicycle cops and sound equipment and porta-potties. We’ve also had drug overdoses, Molotov Cocktails, graffiti, and rumors of everything from the common cold and flu to scabies and lice. Nobody ever said protest was sexy.
For the homeless the Occupy Portland camp has been something stable with a few amenities. For the street kids, it’s been place to hang out where their unfocused anger and pent up aggression seem to find an outlet. Yes, there are even hippies, drum circles, and illegal drug use. While initially supportive, earlier today Mayor Sam Adams announced that the camp must be shut down by Sunday due to unsanitary conditions and an increased criminal presence. This spurred a march on City Hall this afternoon; I will be very interested to see how things go down this weekend.
In general it will be interesting to see where Portland goes from here. We had a strong start, but I echo Kim’s sentiments: we can still push this to be something more, something different, and something uniquely Portland.
Her West Coast post also has photos I’m not posting here or on Flickr and they’re some of my favourites from the series so please do check those out. Previously on this site I posted photographs of the Occupy Portland march; I’ve also uploaded all of my Occupy Portland photos to Flickr, under a Creative Commons Attribute-NonCommercial license.