I was a little worried, as I prepared to head to the waterfront to assemble for Occupy Portland; I had just gotten an email from Daily Kos asking me to “pledge” to occupy, and it said I would be joining 37 other hardy souls.
“Really?” my friend Denise asked, “there’s only going to be 37 people?” I assured her that for any lefty event, even in the crappiest weather, we always get at least 5000, but maybe we ought to head down anyway. I grabbed my sign, which said “Let Them Eat Koch,” and we set out. To kill a little time along the way, I took her over to the penthouse to check on the plants for the owners. In the elevator there, we saw a dire warning the association had evidently posted about the dangers of the protesters, evidenced by the “violence” and “hundreds of arrests” in New York. Please. The warning was issued by “Clean and Safe Portland,” a public/private rent-a cop outfit whose spokespeople seem pretty Fox-addled, if this dire warning was any indication. “Don’t want any respectable condo dwellers mixing with that scary bunch” was the obvious message, but at least on Denise and I, it had the opposite effect.
Walking along the waterfront, I thought the volume of people was about twice what it normally would be, but quite a few people seemed to be going in the opposite direction. Two women explained that they had to get back to work, and perhaps the younger hipsters were just cruising back and forth to pass the time before things started. When we got there, not long after the noon start time, there were already a lot of people, with more arriving steadily. I was a typical Portland crowd; hipsters, geezers, and families, all jumbled together, with a few striking examples of why it’s entirely unnecessary for people to “Keep Portland Weird.” It is weird, and that’s why we like it.
It was impossible to hear the speakers from where we arrived, so we proceeded to circle the perimeter, in hopes of at least some good wide views, to no avail, so we decided to get up on the Burnside Bridge, overhead, to estimate the size of the crowd. Naturally, trees and structures blocked the view even from up there, but we did run into Teddy from FDL and his partner, Patrick, so the 2-block trek wasn’t a total loss. More is always merrier when you’re doing the hippie thing. By the time we got back, the crowd had grown considerably; and a large contingent was across Naito Parkway near the Skidmore Fountain, where there is a spacious open plaza for the Saturday Market.
As we began walking, it was immediately apparent that the crowd was much larger than it appeared in that segmented landscape, and I’m sure Naito was shut down for at least half an hour as the throngs poured across it diagonally. As we moved west, I assumed we would turn left toward Pioneer Square, the announced destination, but instead we headed right toward Burnside, the only major east-west arterial through downtown.
Now we were blocking essentially all of the MAX trains and bus lines into downtown from the north, and we were just getting started. As a polite Portland protester, I felt a little guilty blocking all those buses and trains, but when we turned onto Broadway I was heartened to see that we had a lot of support from the locals, particularly the girls at Mary’s Club, but also from office workers, many of whom popped their heads out windows to watch and wave, or even climbed on fire escapes to shoot pictures. All along Broadway, sales clerks and store managers lined the sidewalks, along with subtle, suited security guards at Union Bank of California, where I mounted a landscape terrace to snap some shots of Broadway.
Denise had to get on the road to get back to Bend, but we did manage to make a loop around the square, where, quite inexplicably, there was sort of a beer garden occupying about a quarter of the square, but without the beer, just a fenced-off area preventing the square from filling up fully. The Eastbound Max trains had been kept running throughout, and it appeared that Burnside had reopened by this time, so cops were lined up to keep the crowd from blocking he just-released northbound trains and buses.
Westbound trains, as you can see, still weren’t going anywhere for awhile. Now, a couple of hours later, the news choppers that eagerly plied the skies hoping to catch the mayhem they were wishing for, seem to have finally gone away disappointed. Portland does protests, even really big ones, peacefully, despite what the media might wish. Certainly there were many masked young would-be anarchists in this younger-than usual group, but what I mostly found, as I always do, was the same mixture of earnestness, civility, and easy fellowship.
Portlanders aren’t, typically, window-smashers, and we also know who the real criminals are, or at least this guy did.