Short-Lived Victory

Occupy Portland’s Cavalry Defeats the Cops’
By Daniel Forbes
     As the typical grey dawn broke Sunday morning, several hundred Portland Occupiers and their thousands of supporters reveled in victory, having held what had become their home. For some campers it was a home away from home; for others, everything they had, including their torments, could be found in a flimsy tent. The police miraculously dispersed, Occupiers pulled back to their muddy, diminished encampment and relished the astounding fact that a long night of intense nonviolence had overmatched hundreds of cops. Folks justly feared it might all be laid waste within hours – as indeed it was. Yet their brief victory lingers. They had indeed occupied.
     Portland, Oregon Mayor Sam Adams had given the midnight Saturday deadline to clear the two adjoining parks – the less crucial Lownsdale Square to the north and big-brother Chapman Square to the south – in the heart of downtown three days earlier. Saturday afternoon witnessed an odd, somehow disassociated cat-and-mouse game as Occupiers and Portland police, their riot helmets at the ready, shouldered past each other, each side preparing for the night to come.
     Three days warning seemed enough time for both sides to gather a full head of steam, but not long enough for that energy to be dissipated. For their part, the cops were obsessed with wood. They had already publicly declared the donated pallets that campers used as shields against the mud in a rainy town were being turned into weapons. Shortly after I showed up Saturday afternoon, the cops and a short, shrieking man wrestled over a pallet until he was outnumbered and threatened with arrest. A flamboyant guy cradling a dog protested loudly, and the cops turned on him, it getting ugly. A friend dragged the guy away as he railed, “Don’t you dare ‘shush’ me!”
     Up in the northwest corner of Chapman Square by SW Fourth Avenue, some hard types lived in what one cop termed “the fortified structure.” As in, reporting to his boss by radio, “They’re bringing more wood into the fortified structure.” As in, a substantial compound by the camp’s standards – hell, a small wooden fort covered in concealing tarps and with a swinging gate out front. Nervous cops soon stopped the ferrying of wood.
     But the chimes having not yet rung for the mayor’s midnight call to action, the police stood gaping as rough, capable men wound thick chains through the pallets and clicked the locks shut, further reinforcing the wooden walls of their compound. I pushed past the gate to see graffiti on one packing-crate wall declaring that the residents were unarmed and nonviolent. And so two of the men formally declared to me. The cops staring from ten yards away, Mario paused in his hammering to state his intent to follow the path laid down by Jesus, Gandhi and Cesar Chavez.
     Though they made some of the more rarefied Occupiers nervous, these men would in fact prove themselves nonviolent as they were carried away limp and spread-eagled Sunday afternoon some twenty-four hours after Mario’s statement. This after their defenses had been breached layer by layer on Sunday by wary men with helmets, masks, power tools and guns.
     A very odd cat-and-mouse game, the witching hour ten hours off, dozens of tents still standing with tarps strung overhead. Abandoned pallets marked where others had decamped. “Eerie,” someone called it as people scurried about. Over at the big Information ‘entarpment,’ they were packing boxes and giving up the ghost.
     Tony Zilka was breaking down his tent. A neat twenty-year-old, he had a home to retreat to, though he lived at the camp. He said he damn well wasn’t seeing a good tent trashed for no reason. He planned to continue the fight from workspace at an AFL-CIO office, speaking bravely of the advantages – no head to cut off, no arms to break – of a dispersed Occupy. He was maybe kidding himself, for he added, “I’ve been more attached to this place than anywhere else in my life.”
     Ultimately though, like many of the more politically committed Occupiers, Zilka was ready for what came next. The rigors of being Portland’s de facto homeless shelter of choice had taken a toll. “It was a utopia the first couple of weeks,” he said, after Occupy Portland found its feet the second week in October. “Every day it got better and better, with just so many random acts of kindness.”
     But then things deteriorated. Said Zilka, “People with no vision of this cause brought their own tormented visions here. People whose lives are constantly downtrodden came here to bring people down.” He estimated that four out of five people in the park after dark had issues, and “bad things happened. The last couple of weeks have been really tough, though actually things improved after Adams’ deadline, when 70% of the tweekers left.” While Zilka declared his troubled campmates victims of the 1%, “if they make themselves the enemy of the cause, how can we side with them?”
     Matthew Kennedy, age 45, was busy picking up trash because he felt such images are all the TV cameras focus on. He said, “Change is good. I’m looking forward to getting back to focusing energy on doing things other than feeding and housing the homeless and trying to provide security.” Yet it was good that people with problems had gravitated to Occupy Portland. Kennedy said, “That boy who was turning blue on a park bench over there, an apparent OD, might not have made it he hadn’t been here to get help.”
     Later that night, I ran into Mark, who I’d met before. In his twenties and of serious mien, he said the homeless shelters with their rules and regulations had been abandoned in favor of Occupy. He described an ugly stand-off, one guy with a knife, the other with a tire iron. He declared meth the worst problem, though he was no fan of the used needles people encountered. A leader by any estimation, he said he’d seized on the strategy of deputizing some of the scarier folks to keep their fellows safe, that foisting that responsibility on them had helped. Still, he was looking forward to Occupy 2.0, which might be occupying homes and small businesses that have been foreclosed on.
     On my way home to dinner and some time with family, I passed what was left of the camp’s library. For I’m lucky enough to be a “housie,” a term I hadn’t heard before Saturday. A term used by people who are unfortunately accustomed “to sleeping in the rain,” people who were contemplating their next move should the City of Portland seize their donated tents, their best shelter in some time.
     The library, once a big, bustling tent, had been reduced to a five-foot tarp lying in the mud. The sign read, “Library under the tarp.” Most of the books were sheltered elsewhere, but there were piles of magazines and two grocery bags full of paperbacks. It would’ve been awfully sad to find any copies of my novel about our no longer nascent police state, the ones I’d donated weeks before. Sad to find them judged worthy of a police dumpster. Though my book would’ve been in good company: I rescued Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome.
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     The joint was jumping when I returned around ten Saturday evening, both squares swollen by thousands of supporters and bright with police light towers scattered all about. An intermittent light rain fell (of course). Water would pool in a sagging tarp overhead, gather weight and then spill by the gallon on those foolish enough to stand by the tarp’s edge.
     People milled about eating soup or the tamales a man offered from a cardboard box. Some folks lined up to mount the base of a statue, grab a bullhorn and offer encouragement. One lucid speaker told us several times to invoke the aid of the “Green Dragon of Compassion,” an apparently puissant creature whose powers were never elucidated. Another held up his phone and said that video cameras of any sort were powerful tools to fight repression – use them. Plenty of cigarettes, but no smell of reefer in the air, and no one obviously drunk. And how many crowds of thousands can you say that of on a Saturday night?
     A together-looking mom gave one pause passing by with a tiny baby in her snuggly. A passing line of clergy and folks of a certain age provided the requisite candle-lit vigil. Another line, younger and louder and bearing some anarchist trappings, snaked through. Overall, the median age looked about twenty-five, the crowd overwhelmingly white, half male, half female, most dressed as they would any other Saturday night. Not so the Marine in full dress uniform who told me he’d been forced from the Corps in 2004 “for being homosexual.”
     Many folks had the Rose City’s flower, hoping to bestow them on the cops, echoing protests fifty years gone. A rose behind an ear went well with the wearer’s Guy Fawkes mask. A few folks waved Cascadian flags. Drummers pounded and people chanted, one big guy rhythmically substituting the refrain, “I got cold feet.” A plaintive kid asked of no one in particular, “Anybody know about a safe place for belongings?” Seemed a bit late for that.
     Four lonely cops stood on a path not far inside Chapman. Wouldn’t see that in New York – the cops abandoned amidst the thousands. Yet everyone ignored them till they got the order and veritably scampered off. Informed by serious political intent, there was a sweetness about this crowd, this gathering of like-minded souls.
     One man said, “We can hope that there’ll be six hours sitting on buses in the naughty cage, and then you get released.”
     A guy asked two girls if they were leaving before the deadline. “We don’t know” – and they didn’t. “We want to be teachers,” one said by way of explanation.
     Matt Brewster, a construction contractor who’s “close to fifty,” said, yeah, he planned on getting arrested. He’d been on marches that lasted a few hours, and figured that didn’t cut it anymore. “You only get so many chances to make a statement and it has to be physical. Writing to your congressman is too diluted.” Looking at the swollen crowd, he said, “It’s gonna get ugly. They’re going to have to divide and conquer.” He admitted he hadn’t thought much about any possible tear gas.
     Mark Hill, 63 and a retired social worker, said his last arrest was in 1968 for refusing induction; he got a five-year suspended sentence. Showing me a little sign he’d made that said “Observer,” he admitted that was his original intent. But such was his admiration for the kids of Occupy Portland, that he’d decided in just the last hour to get arrested. “I’m retired, what can they do to me?”
     Like many, I wrote the National Lawyers Guild phone number on my arm – not hand, were the cops would more likely wash it off.
     And all of a sudden it was 11:45. Shit, that came quick, and the roiling butterflies I’d been harboring took flight. The rain stopped, which seemed propitious or at least considerate. A man came up and patted me on the back and said, “Anyone getting arrested, just pull them back into the crowd.” People would stop for brief chats; there’d be a pause and one or another would stick out their mitt for a solidarity handshake and the exchange of first names. Now we’re friends, brother, you and me. Sappy, sure, but I’d still like a nickel for every time someone trudged past in close quarters and apologized for bumping the man gaping and scribbling.
     Maybe four hundred people crowded the steps of the Justice Center across SW Third Avenue. “Lookey-looks” as the media calls such folks, they were supporters at a distance. A couple of dozen cops lined the ornate new building’s portico as Saturday night traffic continued to flow south down one-way SW Third.
     Among the crowd’s many chants: “We won’t go – send the cops home.” And, “I don’t see no riot here. Take off the riot gear!” The visors that come between cop and protester, that separate them man from (wo)man, are especially hated. If you can’t look in a cop’s eye, how appeal to him as a man not to crack your skull? By comparison, the few police I’d seen wearing watch caps or even floppy bush hats didn’t look like they’d rush to hurt you.
    The crowd had sure grown in just the prior half-hour. Folks I talked to pegged the crowd at three- to five-thousand. Based on what I couldn’t quite say, I figured it somewhere north of 4,000. The Oregonian later offered an estimate of 5,000. Dozens and dozens of purposeful young men (mostly) with goggles and bandannas were sprinkled among the throng.
     With what’s happened in Oakland and around the country, tear gas was on just about everyone’s mind with the exception of Matt Brewster. Someone advised that should a canister come your way, make sure to take the shallow breaths he demonstrated. I thought more of poor, broken Scott Olsen, unable to speak, but hopefully soon to heal. Yeah, people were nervous – damn nervous and worse. The Never-Never Land of a ticking clock about to expire, the eeriness of the afternoon was replaced by the artificial construct of the minute hand. Surreal really for the shit to go down by appointment.
     And then a whole mess of cops were visible across Third Avenue, five or six on horseback right in front. Seeing them there helmeted and mounted high on their choice police horses, no wonder the Aztecs thought the Spanish horsemen gods when they first appeared. Speaking not theologically, but of sheer height plus the mass of a big, unpredictable animal clad in metal shoes, men on horseback with ill intent towards your person still overawe. Throughout the night, folks would warn each other, ‘Oh, the horses are over there.’ Or, more pressing still, ‘Where are the damn horses?’
     The New Year’s Eve countdown to midnight was followed by a great cheer as people looked around and realized they hadn’t been instantly vaporized. Saturday turned to Sunday, and the city’s punctilious 12:0a.m. deadline came and went.
     Folks stood and waited and chanted and drummed and circulated to stay warm and tried to stay on the sidewalks and out of the mud and had aimless little encouraging conversations and adjusted the bandannas at the ready, all while eyeballing the cops (and appealing fellow Occupiers of any number of sexes). Whatever it took to pass the time while wondering what the police would do and when.
     The cops’ initial focal point was eventually revealed: clearing SW Main, the public street bisecting Lownsdale to the north and Chapman to the south. And the crowd surged there to meet the advancing cops. The chant came loud and vehement, over and over: “Hell no, we won’t go!” The sort of thing that the TVs refer to as ‘Protesters taunting the officers.’
     And slowly, inexorably, the city’s cavalry – in typical half-assed Portland fashion, their number absurdly inadequate to try to move a crowd of thousands – pushed and probed to no avail. Thirty horsemen might have done it, even twenty, but against half-a-dozen horse, the Occupiers held.
     Again and again the cops abused dumb animals, reeling, probing, prodding, at one point even for some reason trying to make the poor brutes back into the crowd. Maybe that was the only way to bend the horses to their will, to keep them from seeing what they were being asked to do. Then someone on Occupy’s side of the line threw a bottle – what looked like an empty plastic bottle, but maybe not – and some little-bitty, lit flare-type thing. The crowd apparently offered him up to the cops for arrest, proving it indeed a nonviolent movement.
     But what if a horse fell, maybe broke a leg and had to be destroyed on the spot like at a racetrack? You doing the honors, Police Chief Mike Reese, there in front of all them cameras? Hell, what if you fall? Making sure I was on the right side of Chapman’s knee-high ornamental chain in case a horse reeled and kicked folks in the face, then bolted towards us as a terrified crowd suddenly trampled folks behind, I was a scant twenty yards back. Maybe ten rows of Occupiers.
     Aaron Colyer, a 31-year-old homeless Marine Corps vet, one of fifty people who’d come down from Seattle, later said the crowd was so thick, “I couldn’t have backed up if I wanted to.” Nice little game of chicken, Reese, your little cavalry display – whether genuinely intending to achieve something or just a dangerous exercise in intimidation.
     Colyer added that, trapped though he was, as the cops swung the horses around and shoved batons in his chest, “I was physically trying to calm the horse down. Trying to show him with my hands that I was calm, trying to ‘center’ the horse.” In the midst of all this, Colyer took out a mirror the size of a paperback and held it up to the cops in a gesture meant to say: Place yourself here. This could be you. He held the mirror up to a female cop and even through her visor, said Colyer, “She looked like she wanted to cry.”
     Still the horsemen kept coming, trying to move Occupiers as they could. It was indeed about occupation – a few mounted cops and more on foot contesting with thousands. Yet the people maintained until they came no more. Video I saw later shows Colyer’s fellow Marine – the one in uniform I’d spoken to earlier who’d been discharged – there on the front lines resisting the cops’ surge.
     After a very long fifteen minutes, Main Street was held, the defeated cops retreating.
     Worried about the long perimeter, some folks fell back into Chapman Square as the horsemen headed south on SW Third to eventually regroup on Madison Street across Third Avenue on Chapman Square’s south side. Shortly after 2:00 a.m. the focus shifted from horses to gas as a someone got a text to expect pepper spray, and then another text said that KOIN TV had pulled all their reporters and camera-people back. A mic-check urged Occupiers to be mindful of what was happening behind them as someone strolled about burning sage, a plant sacred to some.
     I saw that the cops had moved the 400-odd observers off the Justice Center steps across Third. Good – reinforcements. The crisis of Third Avenue momentarily eased with the cops’ retreat, I also saw that the hundred or so bicyclists resumed circling the two squares in their jaunty fashion. Bike lights would’ve come in handy had the cops turned off more light towers. They’d already darkened a couple, and I wondered why they didn’t just shut them down to shoot panic through the crowd.
     There was a long well-reasoned announcement on stretching Occupy’s forces to defend the perimeter; that they were awfully exposed to the south, not to mention SW Fourth Avenue to the west. This came from a “facilitator” I later learned is named Adriane DeJerk, who expertly tailors and breaks up her words so the crowd will avidly repeat them. (Make it tough on the human microphone, and it’ll short-circuit in a single tangle phrase.) Young and smart and assuming that not a nom de guerre, she obviously grew up able to handle herself with such a Boy-Named-Sue name.
     A police van trolled by warning, “You may be subject to the use of force, including chemical agents” if Occupiers didn’t go home – if they had one. Some eagle-eyed soul said he could see some cops sporting tear gas canisters on their belts, and then the rumor floated that the cops had asked all the media to vacate the area. Someone else said that when the cops move back, that’s when the tear gas came.
     Some eight folks carried buckets with water in the bottom. They were Occupy’s earnest anti-tear gas shock troops, led by Laura Jones, a tall, 26-year-old red-head with moxie. Their buckets in one hand, the volunteers were given rags to hold in the other. They were told to rush forward and pick up any spewing canisters, dump them in the bucket and bring them to the rear to be neutralized in an ice chest. No one could say if there was anything as exotic as ice on hand. I peered down at the six inches of water in the bottom of a couple of buckets – all resources had been at a premium for days – and had no clue if this might work. I don’t think the young volunteers did either. It was a lot to ask of a simple bandanna, though mine had been around my neck for some minutes by then.
     All that, all the checking of protective goggles, and wrestling with bandannas and buckets at the ready, and the gas never came.
     Their horse defeated, the cops let themselves be pushed off Third, as the crowd tentatively, then joyfully, took the street. It became so crowded the circling bicyclists had to dismount to thread their way through. 3:45 a.m. saw a flurry as police reinforcements arrived at the new focal point – for that was where the horses stood – Madison and SW Third. But it seemed to be nothing more than a shift change as half the cops marched off.
     It grew later. The drumming circle in the middle of Third was as frenetic as ever. But they’re young. No one was stumbling around, out on their feet, but there were a lot of tired people. So Adriane DeJerk took to the bullhorn yet again to rally the troops. Occupy’s chief, self-appointed (and necessarily self-effacing) mic-check tactician, she’d long since mastered the exact phrasing to suit the human microphone – a new type of speech, really, for the bullhorn set. At each break, the crowd repeated her words.
     “There’s a rumor we can leave//at five o’clock.//You are free to leave//whenever you want.//But if we want to be able//to hold the park// in the face of the mayor’s eviction order//and the park closure//then we need to stay//as long as we can.//If we hold it to 5:00 a.m.//when it should be open//that is a moral victory.//But a movement is built//from more than one night.//We need to think//about taking shifts.//We need to call//friends who went home.//We’ll be here//and hopefully the city//will stay sane.//What is one more hour//when we’re seeking change indefinitely?//We have a nonviolent commitment//to one another//and to the other occupations.//Thank you for being here.//Stay calm.//We are the 99%!” And so DeJerk lifted Occupiers for a time.
     As all this went on, the crowd inched closer to the line of forty cops blocking Madison heading east, cops reinforced by horsemen at their rear. The police perhaps thought they were preventing a giant mad dash around the corner to storm police headquarters. Yet, unlike in New York, say, there were no metal barricades, no cattle pens. This the only point of contact between Occupy and the police, it became the late-night focal point. The cops penned in on one side and badly outnumbered, the hunter was captured by the game.
     And then other women took to the bullhorn to twist the knife a little. Addressing the police, one reiterated that this was an unarmed, nonviolent crowd, and that “To be a true warrior//you need to stand back.//Do not attack.//The East Coast is watching//CNN’s live feed.//Your mother is watching.//Your family is watching.//We are your brothers//and your sisters.//We are the 99%.//You are the 99%!”
     Another woman soon addressed the cops: “We are fighting for our children//and yours.//We will welcome you//anytime you want to take off//that mask.//Anytime you want to cross the line//that divides us.”
     As noted, Occupiers really hate those visors.
     It took a few times to make the mental adjustment, but you’d look up to see what looked like a couple of cops with modified helmets and uniforms and guns lounging around for no good reason right there in the midst of the crowd. Then you’d realize they were the TV crews’ guards amidst a typically polite Portland crowd. This was long after the rumor that the TV crews had been pulled back in anticipation of tear gas. The many folks wandering around with ink-on-cardboard press passes in their hats or PRESS written in magic marker on orange tape around their biceps somehow didn’t feel the need for armed guards. So it goes.
     I’d been prowling around on my feet for six hours and more. Yet five o’clock refused to come. And it dawned there was no rule saying I couldn’t cop a squat; that there’d be a roar to alert me if anything happened. Slipping in the mud, I slow-footed it up the sidewalk in search of an empty bench. No, don’t sit next to that young lovely; she didn’t need her rest ruined. Far better by that glum guy there with nothing to say.
     I peered through the gloom, the cops having turned off the light towers shining on Chapman’s interior as well as some of the regular park lights. The towers illuminating the perimeter – where they might operate – remained. An intrepid chap came through doing voter registration. Across the sidewalk, a tall young guy sat rolling a legit cigarette in one of those ridiculous rolling machines. Skinny, intense, he worked assiduously, scooting his glasses up his nose to see in the dark.
     The tobacco went in the paper, but he wasn’t satisfied and dumped it back in the machine, the rolling paper on his lap. And then disaster, the paper blowing from his lap to the wet, wet mud at his feet. There it lay, shining white in the muck. He stretched his long skinny arm with great delicacy – like a soldier reaching perilously for a butterfly in the trenches – to pluck it from the mud without smearing it beyond use. I got the distinct impression that tobacco kept many a soul upright that night.
     Then it dawned that, distracted, I hadn’t had much dinner hours back, and that might be part of my problem. I went to the food table for some bread and peanut butter and watery coffee. Flat-out ordered to reuse my paper cup, I ended up giving half the coffee-colored water to a union guy, who then donated the empty cup to someone else. The park bathrooms closed on slim pretext days before, and the union-supplied porta-johns removed, I joined those employing a concealing giant bush crowding a park building.
     Back at the front, a girl standing on a bucket could see over the heads of the Occupiers massed at the eastern edge of Third. I asked the number of cops in Madison Street. Still the same thirty or forty, she said, plus half-a-dozen horse. On this side, maybe 400 folks pressed almost up against them, with a few hundred more milling about Third. I went and grooved on the drummers for a while, and then went over to talk to Ms. DeJerk and crew. My eyes closing and my head wobbling in little three-second fugue states, I almost collided with the first of the bicyclists circling around yet again. Stopping at every red light though the streets on the west side of the parks were deserted, it took several minutes for them to complete their orbit. Folks always seemed cheered when they showed up again with their whistles and flashing lights, one guy way up high on his double-decker rig. No longer midnight’s 120 or so riders, there were still a good sixty of them left.
     Could I just freakin’ leave? Right, and that’d be just when something happened.
     More chat, and then wow! It was 5:40, past my personal deadline, though DeJerk had asked Occupy’s supporters to stay till 6:00. I gave some folks my e-mail in case anything happened, and stumbled off to my car parked several blocks away.
     Against my better judgment, I drove to SW Fourth and turned along the west perimeter just in case. What the hell was that commotion? I asked a young woman exiting Chapman who didn’t think anything was going down. But I parked all the same and hustled past the chained-up “fortified structure” down to Madison and Third.
     And lo and behold, SW Third Avenue was clear of Occupiers. Hundreds and hundreds of them were crammed onto the sidewalk and up the path into Chapman Square. Turns out the police had asked the protesters to stop blocking traffic and vacate the street – and so they had. Just. Like. That.
     Which of course led to repeated chants to the thirty-five or so cops in Madison, their toes touching Third. Minus their opposition they stood exposed, lonely and forlorn, clutching their long clubs, visored insects in those black helmets.
     “Who’s blocking traffic now?” the crowd chanted. And on the bullhorn, “Attention Portland police! Under the authority of the 99%, we request that you remove yourself from Madison Street.” And then just for fun, a chant resurrected from earlier. “You’re sexy. You’re cute. Take off your riot suits.”
     There was some noise from their side, drowned out by the bikes going by yet again, heading south down Third. So DeJerk got on the bullhorn to human-mic offer advice. Oh so helpfully, as if talking to a cranky three-year old past due for his nap, she instructed and Occupiers echoed. “Portland police//we cannot hear you.//Perhaps you should consider//using the human-microphone.//Like this://You start by saying something –//one of you must speak.//Then repeat.//Now we must hold silence//and hear what//they have to say.”
     And people yelled at the drummers to quit for a minute, which, remarkably, most of them did. But no response from the cops across Third. So DeJerk called for a round of applause for Occupiers and the Portland Police Bureau alike for at least backing off from the chesty confrontation that had lasted a couple of hours. Someone said, “Dude, the cops just don’t know how to handle love and humor.”
     And then, after circling endlessly in a loop around the two parks, the bikes were suddenly, for the first time that night, heading east on Madison – some sixty of them heading straight for the line of cops. But the light turned red, and we wouldn’t want all those nifty bicyclists to get a ticket for running the light, now would we? So there they sat, silently revving their nonexistent engines at the cops across the intersection while the delighted crowd chanted, no screamed, “Who’s blocking traffic now?”
     The light turned green as indeed it must, and the mass of bikers slowly turned their pedals, the first of them thirty yards from the cops’ line. The bellowing crowd held its breath.
And so the cops dispersed – not a mad dash, but collapsing like a line of dominoes pretty damn quick to Occupy’s incredulous cheers. They just folded, one following another to the sidewalk.
     “Tell me what a victory looks like. This is what a victory looks like!” Long and loud came the chant. Exhausted, emotionally spent, barely crediting their own eyes, people kept repeating what they’d just seen.
     Sheer luck later led me to William Eugene Gump III, a Portland native age 25, as I plucked him and a buddy he was riding with from the mass of compulsive bicyclists. And, for so verified his buddy, Gump was the man who, he said, “sparked the idea to head into the wall of cops.” He said it took two times round the circuit they’d been riding all night to convince everyone, but they all got onboard to head east on Madison. And he was still shocked. “I didn’t think anyone would have enough balls to ride towards a wall of cops,” said Gump.
     A very Portland moment: the triumph of the bicycle, Occupied’s cavalry trumping the effort by the cops’ six horse hours before.
     Victorious. The cops had broken ranks and – it was ‘official’ – the drained throng claimed victory. Occupy filtered slowly back into a bedraggled Chapman.
     Such was their physical state, most had little choice but to believe in their hard-won, improbable victory. Though half the tents were gone as well as the crucial big Information Tent, and vast stretches of missing flooring exposed vast stretches of mud, the people were nearly dancing over their “big victory” over cops who had obviously just given up. Cops who therefore – such was the necessary magical thinking – had decided to cede the parks to the people.
     There was talk of protecting the two parks; of getting new people down there; of the Quixotic notion of working in shifts as DeJerk had advocated; of maybe relinquishing Lownsdale and consolidating operations in a better managed Chapman; perhaps finding a way of encouraging the less political among the campers to stay away.
      But of course it was not to be. The ‘housies’ among the five-thousand Occupy supporters there that night – in other words, just about all of them – soon left for their beds. Occupied’s numbers diminished along with their ‘footprint’ on the squares, come mid-morning, the cops moved in with brutal efficiency and, applying their clubs for emphasis, forced everyone out. A stalwart fifty were arrested.
     And up went the chain-link fences. The Democracy Encampment became just another enclosed splotch on the map: enter if you have a permit, or head over there, maybe, if you can pay the freight. But don’t even think of trying to get in there, there or there – not looking like you do. Maybe if you get yourself to a dentist first.
     Still, said Tony Zilka, back when victory was fresh and the parks still occupied, “The police line just splitting like that, obeying the people’s demands – that image will live on as one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Copyright, 2011 by Daniel Forbes
Award-winning writer Daniel Forbes testified before the House and Senate at hearings his work caused. His new novel can be found at http://derailthistrainwreck.com/
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