Wild ride in Portland Saturday night (12/4/2011). I went to an Occupy Portland march at 3 PM, which began at Salmon Springs fountain on the Waterfront, and which wound through the town, eventually ending up in Shemansky Park. The intention was to occupy the park for a limited duration of only two weeks. Other activities were held after the march, such as a town hall for Occupy Portland at a Unitarian church. After the town hall meeting, there was a General Assembly at the Park. Tents were up, people were occupying, coffee was being served.
But then the police came at 8:30 PM, decked out in full riot gear, and after a half-hour staring match, they violently pushed us out. The police announced an absurdly trumped up "emergency park closure," and that they were "closing the park early." The crowd began to shout that free speech was being oppressed, that they had the right to peacefully assemble, and there were cries of "shame, shame," and "who do you serve?"
My partner, Lisa, was pushed down by the police. The bastards. She and I had been separated in the confusion, and she had told an officer she wanted to rejoin with me, not wanting to get lost, and he answered, you need to leave. She hesitated, saying, hey, I'm a civilized person, I'm not trying to cause trouble, upon which he unexpectedly knocked her down on the ground with a surprisingly aggressive shove. One woman suffered a broken hand, another man had a broken nose. A fifteen year old boy suffered a bruised face and lip. A rumor circulated that a seven year old boy was injured. People were forcefully jabbed in the ribs by batons. The police were pushing hard, with angry grimaces, as if loathing the crowd.
The police seemed to be in a violent mood that night.
One woman was dragged away from a group of several sitting in passive resistance, waiting to be arrested. At one point, she was being carried by police using the nylon band hand cuffs as handles, which broke, and she fell to the ground, hitting her head. Her phone and money which were in her pockets disappeared in the confusion, either because they fell out of her pockets or were later confiscated by police. She'd also been left with skin exposed to the cold ground for a long while. I'd been standing just a few feet from her when she was singled out from the crowd and abusively drug away by the police. It seemed odd that the first person I saw arrested was African American and female.
The rest of us were forcibly and violently pushed out of the park by the police line. We ended up on the street, filling an entire intersection where we held the line against the police. There must have been at least 300 of us. After a long stand off, people began to chant "take city hall," and some people dispersed to go there, while some of us stayed, unwilling to back down to the police. Civil disobedience. We were blocking the intersection, and the police kept squawking through the loudspeakers of a PA truck that we were to leave, either to the west up Salmon St, or north along Park.
Instead, we defiantly marched east to City Hall, joining the others, occupying the steps and the open area in front of the building, while media swooped around us. Someone hoisted a Christmas tree adorned with a Guy Fawkes mask up to a rooftop of the city hall, trespassing. A tent was also erected there. Ironically, just across the street from City Hall is the now infamous Terry Shrunk Plaza, the federal park once occupied a few weeks back, with the adjacent former occupied parks of Chapman and Lownsdale Squares, just north.
All the while the bike Swarm, an Occupy group of magic bicyclists who "swarm" in large numbers around protesters to provide a ring of support, road around and around the block. Periodically they passed by, tingling their bells and receiving applause and cheers from the pedestrian crowd, to the utter dismay of the police, who have no freaking idea at all as to what to do with them, since riding a bike isn't exactly illegal.
Hey, this is Portland. If it can't be done on a bike, well, it might not be worth doing. And it's another way to confuse police, and keep them off guard; an old tactic used in certain protest movements. Tactical frivolity.
The riot police began to congregate again on all three avenues of departure, up and down 4th, and in front, across the street by Terry Shrunk Plaza, potentially blocking us. But around 10 PM we decided, rather spontaneously, to march again, which we did, randomly turning down one street, then another, somewhat aimlessly through Portland, snaking all over the place, including Old Town, Chinatown, and the edge of Pearl, disrupting traffic, chanting anti-Wall Street slogans, until we ended up in front of the Star Theater, where some sort of clown was high up on stilts, advertising a show there, and he cheered us on. The levity of the man on stilts seemed to ignite the crowd, so we stopped there and a dance party erupted, to the music of a guy with a big boombox, a band singing That's the way, uhuh, uhuh, I lke it, uhuh, uhuh. This was amazing. Pure joy. Protestors, dancing in the streets, having fun, laughing, blocking traffic, and the police who had been following us with several trucks carrying riot police had vanished.
The police had backed off, and we had won the moment. They simply didn't know what to do with us, besides following behind in their riot vehicles. We started to march again, taking an unpredictable serpentine route, turning left here and right there all through the city, up major thoroughfares, with people in cars cheering us on, reaching their hands out of car windows to high five us as we walked by. It was something to behold.
And as a testament to the popularity of our movement, we actually gained in numbers as we marched through the lively night scene in Portland! People eating out in nice restaurants, or hanging out in trendy pubs, seeing us through the windows, stared in surprise and gave us peace signs. Some people stopped what they were doing and joined us. A woman coming out of a restaurant, wearing high heels, marched through the night with us. There were people in the march in formal dress, as if having just attended a theater performance, and then seeing us, were inspired to walk with us. Our numbers doubled or tripled in size. While we had begun with an estimated group of about 300, as the night went on we were about 800 strong.
But the real clincher of the night was this: As we marched throughout the city, lacking any planned route, we ended up moving west on Main street, up a steep rise. We noticed that people at the front of the march suddenly began running up the hill. What was up? I then realized where we were. We were back at the beginning, at the very parks from which, hours before, we'd been evicted, and so people rushed the park, now absent police, and reoccupied it!
It was pure comedy. The police had been outwitted; they didn't foresee us, hours before, marching through some labyrinthine, circuitous route right back to Shemansky Park. Hilarious. The police never returned that night to evict.
They had been spotted down the street, ready to invade again, but unexpectedly, according to the livestream crew who were on hand to monitor tweets, a reliable source overheard on a police scanner the police commander ordering "All units return to Central, where we'll write reports & hopefully have pizza. I'll explain when I get there."
It was also observed that Mayor Sam Adams retweeted a statement made by someone that it was better for protestors to be in the park rather than marching all through the town.
This experience may result in a new tactic: Marching to new locations, staying awhile, being evicted, then moving on, forcing the police to give chase all through the city, driving them freakin' nuts. LOL.
The night ended with more dancing in the park, and I suppose it's ironic that the occupiers enjoyed some pizza as well. Someone delivered several boxes of pizza to the park, the contents of which were gone within seconds. I didn't get any.
By the time morning arrived, only a dozen people were still in the park, the rest having voluntarily left, but we can savor that at least for one night, we, the people, prevailed in a small but satisfying victory against the power and brutality of the enablers of the wealthy.
Notes on the event:
• The actual location of the new park to be occupied was kept secret until just before the occupation, to prevent police from anticipating our arrival. There have been incidences of police infiltration in the OWS movement, and someone in Portland had been reporting plans to police. The march and plan to occupy another undisclosed park was announced in advance, with a letter sent to Mayor Sam Adams explaining the intent, but the Mayor opposed the new occupation. The expressed intent was to use sustainable, responsible methods of occupation. See Spies in the House of Occupy
• The woman arrested, mentioned in the beginning of my narrative, is a well known African American participant in the Occupy Portland movement, and has been arrested at occupy events before. She believes they singled her out due to the police having recognized her from previous encounters. I know her to be a courageous and wonderful voice within our group. Later, she told us she repeatedly said to the police, as they drove her to jail, that she loved them. "It really annoys them to be told that," she laughed.
• Back in the park, the woman who had joined the march wearing high heels was suffering with hurting feet, and had taken of her shoes, standing barefoot on the cold ground, so my partner and I went to our parked car, and retrieved some tennis shoes we'd brought to donate to the homeless occupiers. Back at the camp, she tried them on, and --viola!-- they fit her perfectly. We gave her a ride home later, at about 2 AM.
• Another woman we met at the park was in her sixties. She had the appearance of a typical retiree who had gone out for a night stroll. She volunteered to let some of us use her bathroom in her apartment which was handily a half block away. As it turned out, she had been homeless for 11 months, living in shelters (which she found to be awful) before getting her tiny apartment, after having left California to move to Portland, and then failing to find work. She is a solid supporter of the occupy movement. She had been there all the while risking arrest, standing in solidarity with the rest of us.
• Once back at the park, we ran into Justin Bridges, the Portland Occupy American Sign Language Interpreter, and musician, who had lost use of his right arm and leg from an injury caused by police at first eviction weeks ago. Justin is still in a wheelchair, and still can't use his right arm. He remarked to us that the last thing he remembered saying to the police as they dragged him away was "I love you."
• The town hall meeting at the Unitarian Church was remarkable, in that the attendees were very different than typical occupiers, in that most of them were older people in their forties, fifties and sixties. It seems as if that venue, in a nice warm, dry church basement, with servings of food and cookies, drew out a different mix of people. A few familiar young people were there, but they were a minority. We learned later that Moveon.org had directed some of their members to the event. Goals and trajectories of the movement were discussed by a crowd of about 150.
• The Oregonian, Portland's conservatively owned newspaper, reports a fifteen year old was roughed up and injured by police. A picture of him is here. Several incidents of brutality have been reported.
• Fire Dog Lake has a great write up of some of the controversies of the eviction trumped up by police here. Included are a round up of some good photos from the web.