An inside look at the tent city.
A man wearing a Fawkes mask whispered in my ear. “The Police are covering up their badge numbers so they can do their police brutality and get away with it.”
The mysterious man’s voice was muffled under the mask. It didn’t help that he also was using a fake accent.
I quickly replied, “Really? And why are you here?”
“We are here to end corruption and social injustice. The people should be the ones who are in charge of themselves. Not just the one percent.”
I nodded my head in silence as I was drowned out by the chatter of hundreds of people around me talking and listening to Lt. Robert King explain why the Police had to take away some bricks and pieces of concrete from the inside of the camp. The Occupiers were complaining that the Police were stealing their property while the Police were saying that it was a safety concern.
The masked man pulled out a Walkie-Talkie and quickly listened to a voice on the other line tell him something urgent. “Excuse me. I have to go now,” he said to me.
The mysterious man left me to go across the street to the “Alpha Camp.” Feeling a sense of urgency, I followed him. The sun was slipping away and the rain started coming down quickly. It was not a fun day to be living outside in a tent in downtown Portland.
As I trailed behind the man, I entered inside the tent village. I approached the middle to hear Occupiers shouting and screaming. A man had over-dosed on drugs and passed out in the middle of the camp. One brave camera man from a generic news corporation came in to capture the story but was stopped by the Occupiers, who aggressively grabbed his camera with their hands on his lens, and pushed him right out of the camp, screaming and shouting vulgarities. They apparently did not want bad media coverage. A man rushed over to me and yelled for me to turn off my cell phone’s video recorder. I quickly obliged.
Seconds later, an ambulance took away the man on the ground who over-dosed. The shouting died down. The rain was pouring harder. I wanted to seek shelter.
I found an open pavilion covering with a curious looking man sitting cross-legged on the ground. Back straight, eyes closed, the man looked as if he was trying to absorb his natural surroundings and be at peace with nature. I asked to go inside, and he nodded yes.
“Who are you? And what do you do here?” I asked.
“I’d like to say that I am one of the camp’s spiritual advisers. I feel what’s going on and help to bring balance. There is a lot of anger here on both sides.”
“I see…,” I said, as I looked around to take in more of where I was. A big, tall man with no shirt except a Kevlar jacket was pacing in the rain and clenching his fists. His face didn’t look happy.
I turned back to the guru man. “What exactly is going on here? What are you trying to solve in this place?”
“As you can see, we are here to protest corporate greed and give power back to the people,” he said. “I think we need to start over in this country. We don’t necessarily have the answer, but we know there’s a problem. You see over there? We have a medical tent. And over there is our library. We have a food tent, information tent, and many other types of tents. We are capable of running our own communities with consensus. It’s unfortunate though, because for some people, they have nowhere else to go.” He paused for a second. “We need change. We need equality.”
I squatted down to listen and engage in more questions. As we talked for 45 minutes, more people came to join us and listen. A group walked by with chatter about building barricades out of plywood to help fend off the Police in a couple days in response to the November 14 eviction notice by Mayor Sam Adams. Feeling the energy of the camp, I knew they weren’t just going to leave quietly in the night.
EVICTION DAY – November 14
Thousands were gathering around and in the camp, located on SW Madison Street in downtown Portland. On one side were the Occupiers. On the other side were the Police. And on the sidelines, as if getting ready to watch a sporting event, were the spectators. Some were even there to make fun and “anti-protest” by holding up signs as well. One prominent sign said, “Dummies.”
A Cadillac Escalade SUV drove past me with some young guys whooping and yelling out the window: “We’re the one percent! Mace them, mace them!” Certainly, the night was alive and buzzing with people taking sides. One report stated there were 10,000 that night.
Police in riot gear; horses in riot gear. The authorities were already in place to break up the camp’s unity. I stood on the sidelines with the spectators from midnight to 2 a.m. I started talking to a man around my age who had biked halfway across the country to participate in this event.
“What is it that you want?” I asked him, keeping up with the theme of questions I had been asking others.
“Man, the system is broken,” he replied. “The banks are taking all of our money because of their greed. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just live in the same community with free housing and free health-care? I mean, Canada has free health care and they’re doing okay!”
An older gentleman who was listening rebutted his claim. “What if I don’t want to live next to you? And do you even have a job?”
“No. And why wouldn’t you want to live next to me? Errr, but yeah, I’m currently homeless and I have no job.”
“Okay,” the older man continued, “So then, who’s going to pay for your free housing and health-care?”
“Oh… well you have a good point. hmmm…” The Occupier continued to share insights about the problems, but unfortunately there was not much room for positive solutions.
As the night went past 2 a.m., there was no huge clash of Police with Occupiers, as some had thought would occur. There was one arrest made of a man who injured a police officer on the head; the officer ended up in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. As the next day went by and the energy died down, the Police took down the tents peacefully and all the Occupiers were cleared out. Estimated cost of $85,000 for clean up of Occupier events. And estimated cost of Police overtime on Occupier issues tops at over 1.2 million dollars.
The week of December 12, the Occupiers have a new goal now: focusing on “shutting down the West Coast ports” in support of the International Longshore Workers Union. They are chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose ports? Our ports!”
The movement is getting plenty of coverage, and it’s only a matter of time before one side gives: either the government or the Occupiers.
–Aaron Esparza is co-editor of Muse and a senior Communication Studies major at Multnomah University.
Words from City Officials contributed by Sarah Blanck
Journalism minor Sarah Blanck’s father is a Portland police officer. She offered the following insight on the Occupy Portland movement from the perspective of a variety of police officers.
“The police are going to use their discretion for the best time and best way.” –Amy Ruiz, the mayor’s spokeswoman.
“What is shocking to me is the greed of the 99 percent as they have not been able to succeed to that level, refuse to be content within the blessing they do have and pretend they are not really just as self-centered, envious and greedy as the ultra rich. The depravity of humanity is the issue, not bank accounts or status.” –Officer Robert Blanck
“People looking to find wealth and fulfillment in this life will always be disappointed, or worse, led astray. My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches in glory.” –Detective Darren Posey
And, regarding the pepper-spraying-of-Liz-Nichols-in-the-face incident. According to the Portland Police Bureau, the officer in question was shoved and threatened before Nichols made a movement for the officer’s baton. The woman was given a fair warning, and from a policeman’s perspective, you have every right to fight back, and pepper spray may be their only “peaceful” weapon.
Policemen clearly do not just blindly pepper spray, but use it as a clear defense mechanism.
Nichols was given a clear warning from several police officers in that unit, but she refused to back down, acted out violently, and was pepper sprayed for that.
According to Police officials, other facts include:
- One police officer was struck in the helmet by an opened pocket-knife thrown from the crowd and another sustained a leg injury from a thrown object, but they remained peaceful.
- At the beginning of the Occupy removal, there were approximately 50 Police Officers on site attempting to fairly and peacefully remove the Occupiers from the park.
- Nearly all the East Precinct officers were sent to the park in the early morning hours, leaving a minimum staffing situation – that is, a lack of patrol cars to roam the streets to protect other citizens. This is a serious issue, notes Officer Blanck. In a dangerous setting, having enough officers available is a necessity, which was not available during the time of the Occupy removal.