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Lessons from the Eviction of Occupy Portland

10 November 2011

This morning, Mayor Sam Adams and Portland Police chief Mike Reese announced the eviction date for Occupy Portland: 12:01am Sunday, November 13th. Read this morning’s full statement from Sam Adams here.

Unsurprisingly, the issues with open drug use, drug trafficking and overdoses at the #OccupyPortland camp were well-cited as reasons for the ultimate eviction. They, along with numerous fire, electrical and health code violations present a public safety hazard. So goes the city’s argument, with Mayor Adams stating that “Occupy … has lost control of the camps it created.”

I know firsthand that there are a group of dedicated people at Occupy PDX working to improve the camp — to remedy code violations, to increase transparency and thus forestall crime occurring in the hidden spots within tent enclaves, to make space for and provide support to social workers, and possibly to maybe figure out how addicts, criminals, and disruptive or violent individuals might be excluded.

Wait, that last one sounds kind of wishy-washy.

I appreciate that there are varying opinions on exclusion of fundamentally disruptive individuals from camp. I know, and understand, that people were working on it. As one commenter on the Media Committee’s response to Sam Adams’ letter warning the Occupiers that the camp was not sustainable put it, “A substance free zone HAS been brought up and discussed at g.a. At great length. As has the idea of incorporating A.A. & N.A. on site.”

Okay, so what about action?

As I mentioned in last night’s post, I tuned in to the Occupy PDX General Assembly last night on the Occupy Portland Livestream. On the table: changing the form of government from an open consensus model to a “spokescouncil” model which promises much-improved efficiency. That’s a great idea. But there was no discussion of the looming (some would say well past “looming”) crisis facing the camp. The hundred or so people in the Livestream chat room — including me — were practically beside themselves with frustration and disbelief.

Again, I appreciate that the process needed time and that people were working on it. But the cold reality is, you do not get unlimited time to solve major fundamental problems in any¬†volatile situation. In the end, the dedicated volunteers at camp were unable and in some cases unwilling to handle the problem of individuals counterproductive to the movement. The very night before Sam Adams’ well-publicized press conference, where everybody knew what he was going to announce, the General Assembly was unable or unwilling to even discuss it, instead choosing to focus on matters of process which should have been tabled for another time. These factors combined to give enough rope to the camp — notice I didn’t say the movement, but the camp — to hang itself.

I hope people have learned some lessons from this, and I hope other Occupy groups in other cities are watching and learning. The fight for the 99% will not be over after the dust clears Sunday morning, and we need to take this lesson and apply it in the future. Once again, I’ll refer people to this post, “Occupy’s Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from an Old Hippie,” for the invaluable wisdom contained therein.

For now, it’s time to saddle up. Charge those batteries, clear those memory cards, pay your 4G bill and let’s make sure that there are enough cameras on the Portland Police on Sunday morning to keep them accountable to the people.

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2 Comments
  1. It sounds like you’re blaming individuals for a process problem and then blaming them again for addressing the process problem that seemed to have meaningfully kept them from addressing all their other problems. If they were incapable of action, that needed to be remedied before they could take action.

    Regardless, criminal behavior by a few absolutely does not obviate our first amendment rights, including the right to peaceably assemble. Like you said, let’s saddle up, get ready, and give Occupy Portland all the support we can.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. My point here is that while the process problem needed fixing, attending solely to that matter at last night’s GA was like collecting recipes for a new vegan diet while ignoring severe chest pain.

      The spokescouncil idea is great, and had it come up a couple weeks ago, it would likely have helped the situation, but last night was not the time to discuss it.

      Anyway, yes. I will be there Sunday to document and broadcast live. Lawbreakers on BOTH sides of the badge must be held accountable. I dearly hope that the situation will remain nonviolent, and I’m hopeful about all the talk of getting a permanent HQ in which that spokescouncil model can shine.

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