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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is the Pearl Worth Fighting For? A Dozen Occupiers, So Far, Say Yes

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Sat, Oct 29, 2011 at 7:57 PM


Update 4:20 AM—Turned out to be much closer to the upper range of estimates for arrests—25, Chief Mike Reese said in a brief press conference at Central Precinct with Mayor Sam Adams. Charges include disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. The blow by blow—filled with photos and video—is over on my Twitter feed and the Mercury's. It mostly went down with no major clashes. Just a lot of arguing and heckling, of cops, but also of occupiers, by neighbors and conservative interlopers. A few people reported rough conduct by riot squad cops who eventually, late in the game, began clearing the park of all but the core protesters who agreed to be arrested.

The rally, fed by occupiers and sympathizers from the main camps, was festive almost until the stroke of midnight, when tensions started to spike and the park rangers started weaving through the crowd telling people the park was, in fact, closed. A group of nearly 30 sat in a circle and a much larger crowd began parading around them, chanting that the police had a choice and that they were there to save their pensions.

Meanwhile, mounted cops and a cruiser eventually made their way in, close to an hour after the park was supposed to close. But instead of fading back to the sides of the park, dozens of people crushed forward and started taking pictures and grabbing film. Two people were arrested at this point. And then, like magic, the police presence seemed to fade for a bit.

Reese later said the bureau was trying to give people space and time to vent and express their freedom of speech, but that the noise got to be too much. He was on scene, along with Deputy City Attorney David Woboril, Adams' spokeswoman Amy Ruiz, and Adams' chief of staff, Warren Jimenez. Adams walked past but wasn't a presence.

That was when a phalanx of riot-gear officers and horseback officers efficiently began pushing us all out of the way and shutting off spotlights to make it harder to film what was happening. They kept everyone back behind a perimeter of stone-faced officers who occasionally were ribbed by occupiers. Two paddy wagons and a cruiser showed up to collect the "arrestables," one-by-one, to cheers and song. (It was one guy's birthday, and the watchers all sang to him.)

And wouldn't you know what happened after the cops pulled out and the paddy wagons went back to central precinct? Several occupiers told me a couple dozen people immediately coursed back in to Jamison Square, looking to reoccupy it at 5 this morning, when it reopens for the day.

Adams, meanwhile, says the camps at Lownsdale and Chapman aren't going anywhere and that he still supports the movement. He says he ordered arrests in an "unnecessary confrontation" in Jamison because it's a residential park and the other two are not. Oh, and he'd really like it if everyone kept on the national economic injustice message. Makes his life easier, I suspect, when the Portland Business Alliance and cranky teabaggers keep breathing down his neck.

What did anyone gain? I'm not sure anyone gained anything. Occupiers, who were by far peaceful and jolly, have strained the goodwill they've gotten from the city—although it's also true that any movement needs the kind of unifying tension that civil disobedience provides. The city kept its cool, and avoided looking like Oakland or Denver or anywhere else where things got rough. But they also were forced to partially shed their nice-guy cloak, too, and show what they're capable of when pushed.

It's also late/early, and I'm bushed. Also, last I checked, the Oregonian website was down. Update: Hey, it's back up. Here's their live blog. Their photographer, an intern, he told me, was killing it last night. //And their delivery man just walked past me at city hall to drop off what was probably a "still waiting" headline.

From the police:

In the early morning hours of Sunday October 30, 2011, Portland Police officers arrested more than two dozen people after they refused to leave Jamison Square Park (810 NW 11th Avenue) in Northwest Portland. Charges include Criminal Trespass in the Second Degree, Interfering with a Police Officer and Disorderly Conduct in the Second Degree.

The arrests occurred after numerous warnings to people remaining in the park that Jamison Square Park was closed at midnight and anyone remaining in the park could be arrested.

At this time the arrests are still being processed and no names are available for release.

Once all the arrests have been processed, a complete list of people arrested will be released to the public, not estimated to be any earlier than 10:00 a.m. this morning.

Update 10:15 PM—The facilitators still say about 11-ish people are willing to be arrested. The crowd has swelled a bit more, with people heading over from the main Occupy camps at Chapman and Lownsdale squares. The plan is for the 11 to sit in the park and wait for the cops to announce, at 12:01, that anyone left in the park will be arrested. The rest of the people who want to stick around are planning to gather on the sidewalks and chant and sing and generally let everyone know they think it's great they're being arrested. Wonder, though, if the number of arrest volunteers also will swell.

"They will announce that everyone who doesn't want to be arrested should leave," said one facilitator, "and you get to make your own decisions."

There's also talk about recruiting volunteers to clean the park—"We leave things better than we found them"—before the arrests. "They won't let you back in to clean, I bet."

The mood among the "arrestables," as they've been dubbed, has been somewhat stoical. The rest of the supporters are making the best of a relatively warm, dry night.

Someone brought out the board game "Life." Kids were playing cricket with a bike cop, who told them that sometimes police officers have to arrest people who don't leave parks, even protesters, and that "we don't like to," and that it's "sad." Just as loud are the Halloween parties with music blaring down from condo balconies. One bummer came as the food arrived about 90 minutes ago, when the parks bureau made occupiers take down their tables because they didn't have a permit.

Mounted cops are still here in good numbers, along with a hefty contingent of park rangers. The park rangers are way surlier than the police officers. Captain Sara Westbrook, of the PPB, actually addressed the group and said "we can make this a peaceful process."

Here's a statement from Occupy's media liaisons:

Saturday evening, about 50 people met for a series of discussions and decided that some would conduct a sit-in at Jamison Square in solidarity with all the other occupy sites, especially Oakland, to raise awareness of the right peacefully to assemble, to highlight class inequality, and to emphasize inequality of enforcement. In the words of one participant, "I want to show we can use civil disobedience as a positive force." Another participant said, "We want to reach out and communicate with our neighbors in the Jamison Square area and with other users of the park." Several participants in the sit-in emphasized that this is their neighborhood and they want to be present when civil disobedience happens in their neighborhood. As another participant said, "We should not be afraid of our government and the police should be there to support and protect us as citizens. We should not be afraid of them when exercising our First Amendment rights."

Original post resumes here.

So I've been down at Jamison Square since 4 to see how things might shake out tonight at Occupy Portland's planned sit-in. After nearly three hours of discussion, it seems at least a dozen occupiers—and maybe up to two dozen—are willing to be passively arrested for violating the city's parks curfew.

The supporting crowd is down to a few dozen hardy souls, after a large, boisterous rally earlier in the afternoon (following this march) that actually attracted a few hundred people, including neighbors, people with kids, the elderly, and the usual motley assortment of activists and protesters.

Occupiers clearly aren't happy about what happened in Oakland—and as they rallied here, riot cops were adding Denver to the list of cities that have now dealt violently with their occupations.

"We are tired of being treated like criminals for using public space," organizer Cameron Whitten said. "I am pissed off. I am angrier than I was 23 days ago." And then he led the crowd in a brief chant of "NO FEAR."

A few mounted police officers are still standing by, along with a contingent of bicycle cops and parks rangers. The potluck promised by organizers hasn't materialized—yet. Which makes me wonder if the cuddle/hugs party won't happen either. (One cop was overheard joking about turning on Jamison's fountain; parks bureau security guru Art Hendrick, on scene, told me he actually did ask [Randy Leonard's] water bureau to turn on the fountain before the rally, but was rebuffed.)

The Pearl neighbors have lived up to their reputation—and also their reality. Dog walkers abounded, including two who brought down apples. Some dour types held up signs or grumbled from the peanut gallery. Others came down and offered to bring water and provide other assistance.

Still, despite the early enthusiasm and the devotion among those who are staying, whether this is the right move for the movement is still a shaky enough assertion that it was deeply discussed even at Jamison Square. Further discussion is planned, maybe for tomorrow, on whether this is really going to e a one-off thing or an expansion.

Some occupiers acknowledge there's a pent-up demand for civil disobedience, but wonder if there are better outlets for risking the ire of city officials who have so far been supportive of the march. Others questioned whether, even if this is the right move, a dozen arrests—a la Main Street a couple of weeks ago—is enough to make a statement.

"We're going to need to be doing a lot more of this," said one older woman. "Watch your energy. Be careful where you throw your energy, because you're going to need it for a very long time."

On Twitter, a volunteer who works with the media reported that police have promised to warn people before arresting them at 12:01 am, but that arrests will happen.

Some of the Main Street occupiers were on hand and offered to dispel any paranoia that the arrests might lead to any serious consequences. Of the eight, all were released without bail and had their two misdemeanor charges reduced to violations—the equivalent of traffic tickets. Eighteen attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild clamored to help them for free.

For enough people, standing along side the hundreds of other occupiers arrested nationwide, and for police accountability and against the criminalization of homelessness here, does seem to be worth the fight.

"I'm willing to get arrested to show that I'm being arrested for the right to sit in a park peacefully after curfew," said one volunteer, "while the banksters and the corporations that have robbed us are walking around free."

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