Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Reputation on the Line: Image

Expand Messages
  • Dan Clore
    May 25, 2000 Reputation on the line: Image - Many believe the movement is a presence but its strength is exaggerated By JEFF WRIGHT The Register-Guard At the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 27, 2000
    • 0 Attachment
      May 25, 2000

      Reputation on the line: Image - Many
      believe the movement is a presence but
      its strength is exaggerated

      By JEFF WRIGHT
      The Register-Guard

      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
      demonstration-turned-riot.

      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
      anger.

      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
      see ourselves:

      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."

      In Whiteaker

      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
      want that."

      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
      neighborhood rents.

      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
      not truthful."

      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,"
      she says.

      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
      police.

      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
      attention."
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.