Reputation on the Line: Image
- May 25, 2000
Reputation on the line: Image - Many
believe the movement is a presence but
its strength is exaggerated
By JEFF WRIGHT
At the Book Mark in downtown Eugene, co-owner
Karen West says they had to order 20 extra copies
of this month's Harper's magazine. The cover
features a photo of a Eugene police officer
confronting a protester at last summer's downtown
The accompanying 13-page story, "Letter from
Eugene," explores the "radical activist network"
here with comments from people named Air and
Shade - but also Police Chief Jim Hill.
The magazine is only the latest to weigh in on
the Eugene scene - coming two months after Rolling
Stone magazine declared that Eugene "has long been
a haven for militant anarchists" and that riots
against the World Trade Organization in Seattle
last fall were "instigated by Eugene anarchists."
Robert Kovacik, an anchor with KCOP-TV in Los
Angeles, stands beneath the Washington-Jefferson
Street Bridge, where several local activists are
staging a "Puppet Theatre" performance about the
Haymarket Riot, a labor dispute that rocked Chicago
in May 1886.
Kovacik says he's in Eugene to interview local
"anarchists" about their intentions come August,
when Los Angeles is hosting the Democratic
National Convention and preparing for mass protests.
"We have anarchists in L.A., but this seems to be
the place where the people are most serious-minded
about their plans," Kovacik says.
With his black hair and sideburns, 19-year-old Max
McNeil looks like a young Elvis Presley - except
that Elvis never wore a black jacket with an anarchist
symbol, an "A" inside a circle, on its sleeve.
McNeil's hanging out at Out of the Fog Cafe, an organic
coffeehouse just off Broadway Place in downtown Eugene.
Asked how long he's been in town, McNeil replies, "What
time is it?" He arrived the night before, and says it's
his first visit to Oregon. A native of Massachusetts,
he says he's been on the protest circuit for about four
years and came to Eugene because he heard it was a
mecca for anarchists.
It seems Eugene's reputation as "Anarchy Central" won't
go away - and may even be gaining steam with an advertised
"Seven Week Revolt" leading up to a "historical
re-enactment" of last year's June 18 riot in downtown.
But how accurate is that picture of the city? It depends,
of course, on who's talking.
Some people understand the philosophy, if not the property
damage. Others react with indifference, bemusement, even
At the very least, says Mayor Jim Torrey, citizens can't
ignore that anarchists are part of the city's fabric.
But they're apparently a small part, according to a police
estimate. By their count, 100 or so self-described
anarchists live in Eugene and regularly show up at events,
but only about 20 make up a vandalism-prone core. Other
residents may hold anarchist beliefs, but don't take part
in protests, says police Capt. Thad Buchanan.
"Clearly, Eugene has always been a community with very
active political views," Buchanan says. "If you talk about
those who are activists and cause physical damage and
property damage and violence, it's very small."
But Eugene's image has reached the big time. Here's how we
Sampling of public opinion
Jimmie Banks moved his family to Eugene from Austin, Texas,
two years ago for the cooler climate, slower pace and good
hunting and fishing. He never heard of the anarchy label
until after he arrived, and thinks it's overstated.
"It's like saying everyone in San Francisco is gay," says
Banks, eating lunch at a sandwich shop in Santa Clara.
"We all probably have a touch of anarchy in us," he says,
but believes protesters turn people away from their message
when they destroy property and resort to other violence. "I
think we've got too much government, too, but that doesn't
mean I'm going to go downtown and break stuff," he says.
At the Oregon Diner Family Restaurant on River Road,
25-year-old Jessica Kane of Eugene says she was born and
raised in Eugene and doesn't much care what people elsewhere
in the country think about the city.
"I know what Eugene is - a small town that's getting bigger
but where you can still get anywhere you want in 20 minutes,"
she says. "It's not a place where a bunch of skinheads are
running amok. I feel safe here. I can go about my business
here and be left alone."
Kane figures last year's riot was a fluke and that the
current protest scene is a passing fad. "Most (of the
protesters) I've seen are under age 21, just young kids out
to be part of something," she says.
But Kane's mother and lunchmate, Margaret Knox, isn't so
sure. She describes Eugene as a community "that wants its
questions answered" and worries that police have exacerbated
the situation with heavy-handed tactics. "You can escalate
or de-escalate things, and I think both sides are escalating
things," she says.
Down the street at Graffiti Alley, a vintage automobile
accessories store, owner Bob White and customer Eric Sanders
say they're bothered and angry about Eugene's reputation.
"It's embarrassing to think that that's how people know us,"
White says. "But it's our own fault because we let it happen.
Other communities would never put up with such (stuff)."
Sanders, a Eugene resident since 1959, says police have been
too lenient with protesters. "Why are people allowed to tear
things up and get away with it?" he asks. "They hate this and
they hate that. I say, to hell with them. Go away."
One Eugene resident with a close-up view of the scene is Mayor
Torrey - a consistent target of some protesters' ridicule. A
handful of activists, for example, ran a mock campaign in
support of his re-election bid, and helped themselves to
popcorn at his campaign table on Election Night at the Lane
County Fairgrounds last week.
Torrey says he doesn't like Eugene's reputation as an
anarchist haven, "but that's beside the point: It exists."
Many media accounts about Eugene are overblown or downright
false, he says, "but some points are true: We do have a
number of anarchists living in our community, and to try to
say we don't is not accurate."
The Whiteaker neighborhood northwest of downtown is generally
recognized as Eugene's activist headquarters. It's a diverse
place with diverse views.
Along Blair Boulevard, Linda Newman spends several hours a day
tending the flower garden in front of her cottage home. She
and her husband, Robert, moved back to Eugene three years ago
after a 27-year absence in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Living in Whiteaker, she says, isn't always easy. She says a
former neighbor who described herself as an anarchist used to
castigate her for upgrading the neighborhood with her flowers.
"She frightened me," Newman says. "She'd say slogans I didn't
even understand, like `Property is theft.' What does that mean?
I just want to live in a nice place - I'm sure even anarchists
Newman believes she's making a difference, and is determined to
stay put. "Whiteaker has a tradition of live-and-let-live and
that means I have the right to live here, too," she says.
A few blocks away next to the New Day Bakery, a graffiti wall
includes such messages as "Tell Everyone We Ain't Leaving" and
"This is What Anarchy Looks Like." A "Police Occupation" meter
with an arrow indicates whether police are "ominously quiet,"
"omnipresent" or "thoroughly agitated."
Across the street, Loretta Moesta says O.U.R. Federal Credit
Union is gradually winning over its critics - though progress
can be measured in unorthodox ways.
Moesta, the credit union's president, says she recently
painted over some generic graffiti on the building, "but at
least now it's not aimed at us specifically."
The credit union, which serves low-income families, was
greeted with graffiti and other vandalism when it moved into
the neighborhood last September. Detractors said they opposed
"gentrification" - neighborhood improvements that can drive
the poorest people out - and were angry that they could no
longer hang out at "the point," the V-shaped tip of the block
in front of the credit union.
Moesta says the down-home institution has plenty of members
"who may be anti-capitalist and anti-corporation, but they're
not anarchists." As for those with more radical views, "We
cohabitate peacefully and agree to disagree in some areas."
A couple of doors away, the Rev. David Lubliner greets guests
at St. Eugene Orthodox Church - a house of worship built on
what used to be the home of Icky's Tea House, a popular
alternative hangout. Lubliner, too, scoffs at the image of
Whiteaker as a haven for anarchists.
"`Anarchist' is a convenient label to marginalize people and
not sit down and listen to their real concerns," he says.
Many protesters offer "a valid critique about the excesses of
our culture," he says.
Lubliner lived in San Francisco during the Vietnam War
protests of the 1960s and '70s, and near a ghetto in Atlanta
in the 1980s - and says both had much more rhetoric and
violence than what he sees in Whiteaker today.
But Carolyn Quinn, owner of Fools' Paradise Tea House and
Gallery on the east edge of Whiteaker, is less sanguine.
Quinn's large plate windows were broken twice last year by
unknown vandals. She's also received two unsigned letters,
on anarchist literature, that made several demands of her
business - that she stop serving meat, put up a bulletin
board for community use and change the shop's stylish decor,
lest it attract too many yuppies and help push up
She's declined the suggestions, and says she's encountered
fewer problems lately. "I still get harassed, but I really
don't pay much attention to it," she says.
Image tough to dispel
The image of Eugene as an anarchy hotbed may be simplistic,
but it can be hard to shake.
Dazzia Szczepaniak, a manager at Out of the Fog Cafe, says
she doesn't know whether to laugh or cringe at suggestions
that her workplace is a magnet for political radicals.
"We have city workers, farmers, crafters, anarchists,
loggers, Symantec employees - they all come here," she
says. "To say that this place fosters just one group is
And yet the cafe remains pigeonholed, showing up in
Harper's, Rolling Stone and other articles about Eugene's
activist scene. "Everyone you can think of has called us,"
The cafe does, indeed, attract a varied clientele. But
McNeil, the newcomer to Eugene, found the place less than
24 hours after arriving in town, and Eugene Active Existence,
organizers of the "Seven Week Revolt," displays one of its
bulletin boards next to the restaurant.
Even some activists critique the media coverage, while also
acknowledging that they want to use the momentum to carry out
their message. They help do that with their own television
show, "Cascadia Alive!," a weekly public-access program that
recently featured videotape of a clash between protesters and
A standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people watched the
show at The Tiny Tavern in Whiteaker. Among the group was
Steve Heslin, an anarchist who says the media attention has
had little impact on the activist scene here. Heslin goes by
the name "Kook" and has been interviewed by "60 Minutes II,"
Harper's and other national media.
The real reason activists have made such inroads in Eugene,
he says, is because "we've got a lot of mainstream liberals
who are forced by their own dogma to be tolerant."
But Deane Rimerman, a longtime forest activist in Eugene,
says media interest has emboldened organizers to live up to
their reputation. "We're going to be in the spotlight for a
while, so we got to make something happen," he says.
Police hope that the demonstrations will remain calm, but
don't know what to think. They say they have last year's
demonstration as an example and Eugene's activist reputation
as a backdrop.
Buchanan, the Eugene police captain, says protest organizers
are using "word games" to keep police and the community
guessing about their plans for the June 18 anniversary.
He says he hopes it all turns out to be a bluff, but he's not
optimistic - especially since organizers are hoping to swell
their numbers with "punkfest" activities leading up to June 18.
"We have no choice but to be prepared for a repeat of what
happened last year," Buchanan says. "It would be irresponsible,
from a public safety standpoint, not to give it some