Occupiers Respond: Open Letters to Sam Adams

On Monday, November 7th, Mayor Sam Adams wrote an open letter to Occupy Portland, highlighting his concerns about the current unsustainability of the camp. Three Occupiers responded to him with their own open letters. We publish the Mayor’s letter, and these three responses to show that within the diversity of opinion here among the Occupiers, there is a unity in our recognition of the importance of dealing with the issues here.

As always, we appreciate your own response in the comments. Please keep our new comment policy in mind.

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Mayor Adams’ letter:

To the Occupy Portland encampment:

I know that you agree that the growing number of arrests and reports of illicit drug and alcohol use, violent behavior and other criminal conduct must be immediately addressed. I understand that similar challenges have arisen at other Occupy encampments. Uniquely, I appreciate that Occupy Portland, via the website www.occupyportland.org, is one of the few encampments to clearly note these challenges.

Thanks you for meeting with representatives of the police bureau, my staff, non-profit service providers, and me to discuss concerns and potential solutions face-to-face.

The purpose of this open letter is to underscore to all Occupy Portland supporters the urgency of dealing with these issues. The way things are operating now is not sustainable.

I know there is a nationwide Occupy process for working through those things, which I want to give some time to work. But we cannot wait long.

It is imperative that solving these serious problems be a priority for Occupy Portland, before a serious injury or death occurs. I do not want to see something like the following incidents occur in Portland, and I’m sure you do not, either:

In Vancouver, B.C., there has been a death in camp that is a suspected drug overdose; and,
In Washington D.C., protesters have reportedly been the victims of two hit-and-run incidents.
I have said from the beginning that I believe the Occupy movement would have to evolve in order to realize its full potential. Based on my conversations with mayors around the country, I know that Portland is not unique in facing these real issues around camps. But I hope we are unique in our solutions. In Bend, Oregon, Occupy participants have closed their camp, but continue to meet regularly. I believe Occupy Portland can lead the nation in figuring out what the next phase of the Occupy Movement looks like.

We’ve got work to do—and by we, I mean everybody, including all Occupy supporters. I look forward to finding solutions in the coming days.


Sam Adams


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Response from Jacob Clary:

Dear Mayor Adams–

Thank you for your letter. Though I have seen it painted as a warning of removal to the encampment, I hope that I understand you correctly in feeling that you wish to work with the occupation, an offspring of a global movement which you believe represents the legitimate concerns of a great many people. You want us and the people of Portland to express our concerns thoughtfully and honestly and without endangering lives, and to be safe and active participants in our government and our economy.

Yet there seems to be a very fundamental misunderstanding. We are gathered in the park to exercise the right to free speech guaranteed us by the first amendment. Those grievances for which we seek redress are deep problems in our society whose nature could not allow them to be remedied quickly; therefore we brought tents. The needs of even a relatively small assembly of people require a political infrastructure; therefore we work to maintain the order and well-being of our encampment, so that we may petition our government more effectively. I do not, however, wish to devalue the substance of our consensus-based political model, but to put it in a new context, as yet another form of petition: that of petition by example.

But while this movement has been, broadly, concerned with the influence of corporate interest on politics, we have also asserted something which you may not connect with such a concern: we have asserted our personal autonomy. This seems to have been mistaken for a declaration of territorial autonomy, and you, in your role as police commissioner, have responded to it as if it were. I have seen police ignore situations in Chapman and Lownsdale Squares which they would react to with immediate action anywhere else in our city. A social worker with Janus Youth Programs has observed the at-risk minors in our encampment and brought to our attention the reality of what he called a “free drug space”, a child prostitution ring, and a child on the FBI’s list of most endangered children, yet neither the police department nor the federal government has responded, as if they needed a warrant to carry out an investigation in a public park.

Yet at no time did we claim Chapman and Lownsdale Squares as our sovereign territory under the jurisdiction of our ad-hoc government. These squares remain public space, and should be treated as such. A community has developed of necessity, but the act of our occupation is nothing more than an expression of our rights. It is our petition. Insofar as we are indeed peaceably assembled, it is clear that curfew ordinances and structural regulations are unnecessary and arbitrary to a certain degree, and categorically unconstitutional; and that we are guaranteed the right to remain: a guarantee with precedent in the recent order by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger concerning the administration of park rules on demonstrators.

Though this movement has stayed wholly dedicated to non-violence, violent actions still occur within the encampment. Rape and threat of rape are violent acts. Hate speech is a violent act. Battery and assault, and threat of either, are violent acts. To discard a syringe in an unsafe manner is a violent act. The police have each sworn an oath to serve and to protect us, yet they are not doing so. I appreciate your recognition of this encampment’s unusual state and your willingness to let us attempt to address our problems internally, but I ask that the discretion of your officers be practiced more actively and with more diligence. I do not see a contradiction in allowing the encampment to continue while requiring the police to do their jobs, with a priority placed on making this peaceable assembly safe from violence. The hundreds of thousands of dollars which the department has claimed in overtime pay is illegitimate if the police ignore, as I and others have seen them ignore, these grave problems.

I hope that you have understood me as I hope to be understood, and invite you to continue this conversation in any form you please.

In shared hope for the future,

Jacob Clary

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Response from Kathryn Kendall:

Dear Mayor Sam Adams,

Thanks for your letter of support for the Occupy Portland encampment. Speaking as an individual who supports the movement but does not live onsite, I agree that violent behavior and other criminal conduct at the encampment is troubling. We are a non-violent movement, I am a non-violent protester, and I spend as much time as I can in the encampment. I consider racist, sexist, and homophobic hate speech unacceptable; threatening and violent behavior unacceptable; and drug and alcohol abuse by members of the community who are not in recovery, unacceptable.

I am also troubled by this sentence from your letter: “The purpose of this open letter is to underscore to all Occupy Portland supporters the urgency of dealing with these issues. The way things are operating now is not sustainable.”

You, our Mayor, our city leader, elected and strongly supported by many of us including me, speak as if “dealing with these issues” is not your concern. I disagree. Violent behavior and criminal conduct is exactly your issue. Civil disobedience is not criminal conduct. The exhibit of force in Jamison Square contrasts sharply with looking the other way when rapists, pimps, child abusers, drug users, and violent alcoholics threaten people in the encampment. You say you cannot wait long. I would ask you to not wait another minute. I hope you will devote the resources, strategy, intelligence, and expertise of the Police Department to protecting the encampment from criminal activity. If people are feeling unsafe at the encampment, that is your issue. If people are abusing other people at the encampment, that is your issue.

Occupy Portland is doing many of the city’s jobs for free. Occupy Portland offers the services of a branch library without costing the city a penny. Occupy Portland offers mental health support groups, onsite free health care, food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, and increasingly, sanitation and safety support. Mainstream media have made much of alleged damage to the parks caused by the encampment and have estimated dollar-costs for this alleged damage. But if Occupy Portland billed the city for the human services it currently provides at the encampments, the city would find it impossible to pay for our services.

Occupy Portland is a non-violent, diverse community operating on consensus and dependent on the volunteer services of a large group of generous, highly skilled, creative and inventive people who have put their compassion where their mouths are. We are being the change we want to see, at great personal cost to ourselves and our families. We are imperfect, we are still learning, we are trying constantly to do a better job of cooperating with each other and with the City.

I appreciate that among city mayors country-wide, you are one of the most supportive of this movement. I believe you represent my values of humanitarian, compassionate service to all the people. I hope you will deal with us on the issues of criminal behavior at the encampment and not abandon us in this moment. Please be an example to other mayors of the fact that you do not tolerate criminal activity, and that you understand the distinction between criminal activity and civil disobedience.

Kathryn Kendall

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Response from the Media Committee:
This was also published on the main Occupation website.

Concerns have been raised about conditions in the political encampments of Occupy Portland. We appreciate that Mayor Adams has been proactive in conducting a public dialogue with us.

Occupations across the world have drawn attention to the fact that the current state of the U.S. economy is not sustainable. The top one percent of American citizens currently hold over forty-two percent of the nation’s financial wealth, and that number continues to grow. Meanwhile, the bottom eighty percent of the population holds a mere seven percent of the wealth. Results of an economic system driven solely by profit include poverty, starvation, disease, addiction and homelessness. These conditions are especially visible in urban centers nationwide. They existed in downtown Portland long before the arrival of Occupy Portland at Chapman and Lownsdale Squares. They will only intensify until the glaring problems of our economic system are addressed.

It is abundantly clear that these encampments are inhabited by various types of economic refugees including the unhoused population, the street youth population, the rainbow family, the mentally challenged, and the chronically unemployed. While the focus of our occupation has been to generate political discussion and action, in the process of doing so we are also providing valuable services and help to the most vulnerable citizens of Portland.
The existence of the Occupy Movement has given a public face to members of our society that are too often dehumanized by mainstream media, federal and local government, and corporate power structures.

Having a large number of economic refugees living closely together with constant media coverage has exposed the greater Portland community to a number of social problems that those in power would rather see swept under the rug. The mayor, city agencies, media outlets, and large numbers of citizens are now acutely aware of such problems as lack of food security, lack of stable housing, chronic substance abuse, violent behavior and petty crime. We share the concerns of the mayor and other public employees regarding these issues as they manifest both within our camp and in other areas of Portland. We are proactively addressing these concerns by increasing visibility and transparency through restructuring of camp. We are also increasing the amount of safe spaces and education and welcoming social workers into camp to assist those most in need. We are thankful for the years of training and experience that these skilled public employees bring to our encampment. We share their desire for action leading to real economic changes that empower marginalized communities to provide for themselves. We look forward to working with all City employees to address acute symptoms of economic injustice. We also ask the City to work with us to address the root causes.

Certain incidents within our camp have gained widespread local media coverage, which some feel has detracted from the message of our movement. This coverage exposes the realities of economic injustices in America, specifically in Portland, which intensifies our call for systemic change. This is why we occupy. We are holding space and disregarding only those ordinances that infringe on our Constitutional rights: to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. We invite all citizens of Portland to take advantage of the General Assembly and also go directly to City Hall to voice concerns and discuss solutions to the greater societal problems we’re all addressing, not just camp issues. The dialogue between Occupy Portland and the greater Portland community needs to shift to the topic of solutions.

Many of Occupy Portland’s supporters have vocalized solutions on our forums, in our chat rooms, and in person at the information desk. We welcome all solutions. What is most valuable to us now is the implementation. We call on all citizens of Portland to help end the economic injustices plaguing America. Ways to do this include:

– Educating oneself, friends and family about the reality of corporate dominance in the US.

– Taking action to hold corporations accountable when they actively maintain the poverty of our fellow citizens through predatory lending, monopoly-building and other immoral behavior.

– Volunteering with appropriate local entities that are taking action to address the symptoms of economic injustice. Examples include City Repair, Outside In, Eco-Districts, and the Community Food Security Coalition.

– Volunteering with us on any committee of Occupy Portland, which is currently the frontline of the struggle against both the causes and the effects of an unsustainable economic model.

Portland already leads the way in sustainability in the United States. By all of us committing to engage with these and similar organizations, we will help create the moral economy we want to live and thrive in.

The 99%