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The Pending Police Crackdown on Occupy Portland

On Thursday, Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced that Occupy Portland would be forcibly cleared from its present encampments this Sunday morning at 12:01 am.

Occupy participants in Portland have now occupied two city parks (Chapman and Lownsdale Squares) for one month.  In addition, since this past Saturday, a small group of activists have sat chained together in an adjacent federal park (Terry Schrunk Plaza).  An initial attempt to establish a new encampment in Terry Schrunk had been blocked just days earlier, as federal agents forcibly removed campers.

Though receiving little attention nationally, Occupy Portland is one of the country’s largest encampments.  Hundreds of people now permanently reside in the downtown camps, with campers ranging from student and political activists to veterans and the homeless.  In a recent visit, Michael Moore even dubbed the encampment to be “the largest occupation in the country.”

Until recently, the encampment has enjoyed the general support of city leaders, with the Mayor waving the city’s no camping ordinance to accommodate the protest.  However, as the encampment has grown, and as the occupiers have sought to both expand their message to new parts of the city and obtain much needed additional space in which to camp, city support has waned.  On October 30, twenty-seven protesters were arrested in an attempt to occupy a park in the city’s affluent Pearl District; and, as previously mentioned, on November 1st, the city’s police force aided in a federal led eviction of protesters from Terry Shrunk Plaza, arresting ten more in the process.

Mayor Adams, copying the pretexts employed by city leaders across the country, has now decided to end the previously permissible occupation via force by citing concerns over “health and sanitation issues,” along with an unease over increased reports of crime and drug use within the camp.  The camp’s swelling homeless population has no doubt attributed to such problems.  And though such chronic problems are hardly the responsibility of Occupy Portland, the city has chosen to lay the blame squarely on the movement.  Such scapegoating can assuredly be attributable to having the city’s destitute thrust from the darkened underpasses and marginal fringes to the city’s core for all to see.

The Mayor’s decision to now evict the occupiers has also been influenced by local business interests, which have voiced vocal opposition to the encampment from the beginning.  And with the holiday shopping season now here, business leaders have intensified their push for the city to clear the park, arguing that holiday shoppers would be deterred from shopping in the vicinity of the occupied parks (an argument sure to soon crop up in cities across the nation).  Who, after all, wants to be troubled with meddlesome politics, or the god forbid the homeless, when one shops for one’s holiday trinkets?  Atlas then, it seems that Occupy Portland truly went too far: threatening the potential comfort of the holiday consumer.  Thus, it’s game over.  The camp, as the Mayor said, is now “unsustainable.”

And though Mayor Adams is indeed threatening the removal and arrest of Occupy participants, he, as have many other “liberal” city mayors across the nation, continues to voice his “support” for the movement.  As the Mayor said on Thursday, “It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread economic inequity, will flourish in its next phase” (i.e., a much hoped transition into electoral politics).  Such “support,” needless to say, is brazenly superficial.  It is rather difficult to claim solidarity with a movement, as Oakland Mayor Jean Quan learned, while you busily send bands of armed men after the participants in order to ferry them off in paddy wagons to jail.

It is unclear what action Occupy Portland may take in response to the pending crackdown, though initial calls were made for mobilizations over the weekend.  But with a strong labor movement in the region—energized by the militant battle undertaken by the longshoremen of ILWU Local 21 at the port of Longview, which lies just to the North of the city—a call akin to that made in Oakland for a general city-wide strike would seem to offer potential.

But what is definitely certain for now, as Portland readies to join the ranks of the cities choosing to crackdown on Occupy encampments, is that the nationwide Occupy movement, despite the incessant claims from its critics to the contrary, has already begun to transition to the next phase of the struggle.  For as Gandhi said, first they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win.  The fight in Portland and beyond, then, has begun.

Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com.

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Ben Schreiner is the author of A People’s Dictionary to the ‘Exceptional Nation’.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com or via his blog.

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