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From Occupation to Community: the Lessons From OccupyICE Portland

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

I remember visiting the the OccupyICEPDX encampment during its first week in Portland, Oregon in which activists successfully shut down the local I.C.E. Facility. I was able to have conversations with several activists and assist in carrying heavy items around the camp.

The activists told me what made this occupation so successful was once they decided to commit to setting up an encampment around the facility their numbers grew quickly. These rise in numbers is what has helped sustain the occupation.

This first visit to me felt like an occupation. Building was still being done, many items were still needed for the camp, and teams in the camp were recently established. But something else was coinciding with this occupation. Something that we can all learn from, it was not until my visit to the camp on June 30th for the nightly vigil that I realized what these lessons were.

When I returned to camp a week later for the nightly vigil I realized this occupation has moved into a new phase… community. While many will use the word “occupation” to describe the camp I would caution you to emphasize using that word and instead think about the new community that has been built next to the I.C.E. Facility in Portland, Oregon.

This camp has teams such as the mental health team, the engineering team, the kitchen crew, and the medical team. It has ideologies like being anti-capitalist; being against the current white male patriarchal structure; and being inclusive of all genders, sexual orientations, races, and cultures. These are the makings of a community.

A vigil in OccupyICEPDX made for those that have died while in the custody of I.C.E., the Border Patrol, or while crossing the border into the U.S.

The vigil I attended was more than just touching on what I.C.E. is doing to immigrants and their children in the U.S. It was a night of learning. We learned about other people’s cultures and their use of prayer. We prayed to pay homage to that speaker’s culture and to pay homage to those in the custody of I.C.E. Speakers talked about linking the struggles of these immigrants to the struggles of the Palestinians. They talked the Prison Industrial Complex, they talked the native land we were on and who were the real owners of that land. People weren’t staring at the screens on their smartphones, they were staring at one another learning and listening from one another.

This is what communities are supposed to do. It’s supposed to be a place that people gather and share ideas. A place where everyone is treated fairly and with respect. Members of this community may have different opinions on certain things, but those are put aside for the common good because the community must first and foremost protect each other to survive.

OccupyICEPDX is showing this to the world to see. I saw it on the night of June 30th, and in that night I felt a certain comfort come over me. It’s as if finally for once in my lifetime I was engaging in activities that are species used to engage in for thousands of years that we have gotten away from. It was the act of being in an intimate community.

But this act of intimate community will come back to us once again. The world is becoming a harsher place. Each day more air and water is polluted, more trees uprooted, more authoritarianism instituted, more species terminated from earth, more CO2, more money to the plutocrats, more people of color in jail, more white supremacist marches, more gaps in wages, and more people forced to live on the streets. If a child is born today the day of their birth will be the brightest day of their life when it comes to their future.

The question is will this act of intimate community be voluntary or forced? We must take the lessons from OccupyICEPDX. This culture has evolved us into a culture of individuals. We must devolve from this hyper individualism into a communal culture that gives space to all oppressed people. OccupyICEPDX realizes they are taking up space for those undocumented immigrants that are too afraid to come to their space and fight. This is what communities do for one another. It’s what we must do for each in order to move forward.

I saw the looks in the eyes of several speakers during the vigil. The speakers were tired, one was working a 50 hour a week job and coming to the camp after work, but like he said this is what capitalism does to us, it tires us out and wears us down. He knows that whether he was at the vigil or on the couch in his home either way he would be tired from capitalism.

Another speaker spoke about the camp always being influx, and that the camp today looks completely different than it did a week ago. He pointed out that this is how the world around us is too, constantly influx. This camp is adapting to their own fluxation, as well as the fluxation of the world outside of the camp. That’s because the camp has graduated from an occupation to a community. These are the lessons we can learn from it.

Whether this community lasts another five days or another five years each time I’m there I learn something new and these lessons will carry with me for the rest of my life.

OccupyICEPDX will tell you they have created a temporary autonomous zone, but I would say there’s nothing temporary about this community. The lessons it carries are permanent for us to implement if we want to truly fight global capitalism while living in a time of abrupt climate change.

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