News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Occupy Portland: Message(s)
Published: Friday, October 07, 2011, 5:49 PM Updated: Friday,
October 07, 2011, 6:01 PM
The Oregonian Editorial Board By The Oregonian Editorial Board
In the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square, Lee Aulson stands wearing a
sticker reading, "I Am Working America." She recently moved here from
Boston after graduating college, she's a certified teacher currently
working in a coffee shop, and she has a strong idea what she's doing at
the Occupy Portland demonstration.
"I'm here because of corporate bullying," she explains. "I want to stand
up for myself and my situation. I think it's important to ask questions."
Thursday afternoon, the square was full of Aulson's contemporaries,
20-somethings caught between a declining economy and immovable student
loans. It was a sizable turnout, speckled with older Oregonians with
their own grievances and their own political goals, and everybody had a
lot to talk about.
It was a revealing slice of Portland 2011, but what was harder to see
was whether you were looking at a mood or a movement.
On her backpack, Aulson wore a hand-lettered sign with a quote from
Gandhi. Other hand-lettered signs in the square quoted Martin Luther
King, Confucius, the Dalai Lama and James Madison, confirming the
widespread impression that Portland has the best-educated underemployed
Aulson's quote from Gandhi read, "First they laugh at you, then they
ignore you, then they fight with you, then you win."
It was hard for anybody to hear any speakers, but the handmade signs
made the arguments clear: "We waited too long for it to trickle down.
It's time to make it rain."
Nick Staggenborg wants to know if I'm there to promote democracy, or if
I'm a reporter. He greets the bad news about my identity cheerfully.
"People are seeing, this is what happened in Egypt," he says. "We want
to do the same in this country, and I think we will."
Staggenborg, an M.D. and progressive political candidate, has driven up
from Coos Bay to collect signatures on a petition calling on Congress to
pass a constitutional amendment revoking corporate personhood.
"Everybody's signing it," he relates cheerfully, "except reporters, of
A few feet away, a younger protester carries his own sign, "Will Work
On the fringes of the crowd, amid the plastic V-for-Vendetta masks, next
to a half-dozen people singing together like Timbers fans, a small
black-clad group watches together. Tom -- he says that's enough --
explains they're there in support of libertarian socialism.
Asked if that's not a little contradictory, Tom says it isn't, but
admits he uses the phrase because anarchism has gotten a bad name.
"I believe in direct action," he elaborates. "We want to dismantle the
economic system the country has. You can read Alexander Berkman or
Kropotkin, or just listen to someone talking about them."
A few feet away, a sign urges, "Upgrade your gray matter. Someday it may
Michael Meo, recently retired from teaching at Benson High School, has
been here before.
"You've got a crowd of like 10,000. Then what do you do with it?
Populist movements in America have always had that problem."
As if responding to Meo's concerns, a small poster moves across the
square urging, "Occupy the Present."
Back over by the Fifth Avenue side, where nobody can see what if
anything is happening by the fountains, KC Hanson, chair of the
Multnomah County Democrats, declares, "I'm very favorably impressed.
You've got all kinds of divergent opinions, but folks are coalescing
around the idea that it's not just me getting (abused), it's all of us."
So is there a direction here?
"Where this goes," concedes Hanson, "is anybody's guess."
Slowly the crowd stirs itself, like an elephant getting to its feet, and
begins to march up Broadway.
-- David Sarasohn
New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"