Eye-witness reports by Max Anton Brewer and Tomas Ward
Impressions of the November 13 OPDX Raid
By Max Anton Brewer
Surely you’ve heard that Occupy Portland was evicted from the encampment at Chapman and Lownsdale squares on Sunday. No doubt you’ve seen the images of the 10,000-strong demonstration in the wee hours, heard tales of champagne being popped at midnight and police horses staring protesters in the eyes. And if you want the big picture, you’re welcome to read the vague generalizations posted by the mainstream news outlets.
But I was on the ground. My memories of Sunday’s eviction aren’t nice pleasantries like “Portland police made dozens of arrests” or “Portland police successfully cleared the two downtown parks”.
I remember watching officers in riot gear smashing our breakfast tables gleefully with batons.
I remember a grandmotherly lady, no more than five feet tall, shouting “Shame on you! What would your mothers think?” She had tears in her eyes. So did I.
I remember watching Justin Bridges collapse on the ground. Justin is a gentle man, a musician of great talent, who has worked hard to interpret Occupy Portland meetings into American Sign Language for the last five weeks. I stood next to him as he fell backwards, his previously-injured back stretched across the curb, screaming, “I can’t feel my legs!”
As OPDX medics came in to assist Justin, an officer by the name of Huberty grabbed him by the pants leg and began to drag him across the sidewalk. Medics and occupiers shouted not to touch him, not to move him, but Huberty and another officer continued to drag him, even as he held tight to my leg and a woman’s hand. When the cops had dragged him behind their riot line, I demanded to know what they were thinking. I was told “we’re getting him medical attention.”
I spoke with Justin just an hour before the police action. He told me that he was “disgusted” with the police for pushing women off benches on Friday. He told me that while liaising between a deaf woman and the police, he took a quick restroom break and came back to find the PPB threatening to arrest her if she couldn’t communicate.
“Did you know that the city doesn’t provide interpreters for any public meetings?” he asked. “Deaf people have to bring their own interpreters to city meetings. That’s how they treat the handicapped, that’s how they treat the Deaf community.”
I remember standing in a crowd of a thousand people, kettled in at 4th and Main St, as a banner was raised between two trees. Near the front lines, a hand held up an aged-looking replica of the United States Constitution as the crowd shouted “This is our right. That’s the law!”
I remember a speech that was mic-checked to the PPB: “We have hacky sacks. You have guns. We have democracy. You are paid to enforce fascism.”
I remember a crusty-looking street kid, almost in tears. Why? Police dragged his friend’s tent away and trashed it, with a puppy still inside.
I interviewed Alison Barnwell of the Oregonian. Is she afraid of being in this crowd if the police unleash tear gas? “I think I’m one of those people with a missing fear bone,” she says. But apparently the TV news crews have hired private security to protect them. An occupier suggested that the news stations have invested heavily in “that woman’s face.”
I remember a wall of cops in full riot gear, face masks and shields, with not a name or badge number in sight.
I remember a likely provocateur, in the midst of our in-street GA, shouting loudly that “fundamentalist Christians like me have a problem with disorganized hippies” before being shouted down and ostracized. He left, quickly.
I remember a short woman holding a large pink box. “I brought Voodoo Donuts for the front line,” she explained, “and I also offered them to the cops. I figure that they can’t brutalize us if their mouths are full of donuts!” She’s cheery. The crowd begins to chant.
“Feed. The. Cops. FEED. THE. COPS!”
Euphoric Victory Galvanizes Occupy Portland
By Tomas Ward
The Occupy Portland action used non-violent civil disobedience overnight November 12/13, 2011 to deter police from enforcing a midnight eviction order from city hall. Euphoria swept throughout the camp early Sunday morning and the sense of victory was shared by all activists present. Demonstrators feel they have gained new energy and focus through the experience of resisting the assault.
Activists had worked quickly earlier in the week to organize a festival to gather community support after the mayor gave three-day notice to clear the park. By 7pm on Saturday there was a bountiful potluck, musicians, and speakers sharing inspirations from their experience over the past 37 days of occupation. A veteran from Seattle in his U.S. Army dress uniform told the crowd, “on this Veteran’s Day weekend, you are all soldiers!” The loss of his job under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was one reason why the man had come into the Occupy movement, he said.
The number of people who arrived to support the encampment as the deadline approached was an obvious surprise to police and a refreshment to protestors. Around 5000 people filled the plaza blocks and adjacent streets. The line of Third Street crossing Main became the first front where police and demonstrators engaged in standoff and skirmishes.
The police attempted to break this line at around 1:30 am. Five horse-mounted officers moved into the crowd and tried to push forward. The animals were understandably restive but kept cool and did not become wild. Demonstrators stood their ground firmly and the police retreated after a few minutes of engagement.
Occupy Portland, like Occupy Wall Street, is committed to nonviolence in the course of the demonstration. People upheld this principle admirably throughout the long night. Given the size of the crowd, it is a testament to nonviolence that only two minor injuries to police officers occurred before dawn.
Demonstrators were tense through the early hours of the morning, expecting foot police armed in riot gear to try to push across Third and into the plaza. Various alarms were sounded to don improvised masks to protect from tear gas and protect ears from a sonic cannon. Some speculated that the police might move around 5am since this is the regular time for the parks to officially open. A debate took place in the ranks about whether to hold the position or concede the line and fall back with order into Alpha camp.
Occupiers made the collective decision to clear the street and move into the park at around 6am. With police still strung across Madison, demonstrators continued facing them from Chapman Square. “On behalf of the 99% we ask you to please remove yourselves from Madison,” said one protestor over the microphone. At 6:30 am the police returned into the justice hall amid cheers from Occupy Portland.
The sense of victory was palpable in the camp. Occupiers smiled, shouted, and embraced one another. The camp café staff celebrated continuous coffee service and frontline resistance throughout the night. Euphoria was tempered by sleep deprivation, though, and people collapsed onto benches with a dazed look on their faces, chatting with each other and enjoying more coffee and doughnuts that were passed out from a bucket. Thoughts turned to reestablishing the encampment, and by 8:30 am the kitchen was back in its usual place serving oatmeal and tarps were being re-strung.
Police on foot and bicycles cleared out those who remained in the park at 9:30 am. The throngs of people who came out to support the occupation were gone, and there were not enough bodies to continue resisting successfully. The events that followed on Sunday were hectic and chaotic, with demonstrators trying to regroup and coalesce in different locations while enduring police harassment, including the brutal treatment of Justin Bridges by Portland Police.
Chapman and Lownsdale Squares are now cleared of revolutionary activity and ringed by chain-link fence, which the city claims is necessary for cleaning and reseeding. The mainstream media is laughably focused on the muddy condition of the lawn after over a month of camping and intermittent rain. By characterizing the protesters as negligent and destructive they are serving their corporate masters by shifting focus away from concerns about economic and social justice. In fact, occupiers have been mindful of their impact on the physical surroundings from the beginning and would gladly contribute (underutilized) labor power to the rehabilitation of the plaza blocks, given the opportunity.
Occupy Portland is considering a variety of strategies and tactics of how to carry on the important work of social change. Inhabitation of foreclosed property, campus occupation, and general strikes are among the options on the table. Whatever course of action is taken, the night of Saturday November 13, 2011 lives in our memories as a point of inspiration. As one Occupier said in the dawn light of Sunday morning, “I feel like we’ve just been baptized.”