photo by Paul
By Shawn Fleek
The evening of January 31st, 2012 saw a rally on the steps of City Hall intended to draw attention (and eventually overturn) to the city-wide “camping ban,” a city ordinance which makes it illegal to pitch a tent in a public park. The rally was organized independently of Occupy Portland’s official GA / Spokes structure, by several of the most active Occupy activists and local advocates for house-less people, such as those at Right to Dream Too and Dignity Village (R2D2).
Organizers also expressed outrage at the more than $600 monthly fine the city is levying on R2D2 for violating the camping ban. City inspectors evaluated the site and determined it was a campground, which requires a permit from the city. The city will, on February 1st, assess another $641 fine. In April, the monthly fine will double.R2D2 organizers believe that the camping ban doesn’t apply to them, as the camp is a “rest area” and not “recreational”. They filed a motion against the fines stating, “There is a wide gulf between operating a recreational facility with the goal of sheltering people on vacation and operating a facility with the goal of sheltering people who can not otherwise obtain safe shelter and experience a restful sleep. It is illogical to lump them under the same set of administrative rules. We strongly object to language that suggests anything we are doing is in any way related to recreational activities.” Houseless people at R2D2 specifically asked organizers that the camp not pay the fines, “because it would almost be an admission that we were doing something wrong.”
Local activist Jessie Sponberg, recently spotted gathering “Free Chalupa” coupons outside of Trailblazers’ home games (which he donates to local Food Banks), was on the scene for the slumber party. He organized the event, after some prodding from other local activists. A police officer on the scene, knowing nothing about the motivations for the protest, listens patiently to an explanation of R2D2’s problems. “Well, I understand the concern,” he says. “We’re just here to make sure everything stays as calm as it is right now.”
It was a quiet evening, with around 100 people at its peak, before many left, some in preparation for the Wednesday “Occupy the Legislature” event in Salem. Rumorz Cafe served strong hot coffee all night long, and the sleep-in organizers planned on serving breakfast early in the morning in preparation for a rally the following day. The energy was there, with plenty of “mic checks” reverberating around the crowd, and conversation, games and radical politicking abounding. The sleep-in was a success.
Asked about the event the following day, Sponberg was elated. “It was so fucking beautiful. Half the people never really slept. Well most of the people slept, but we started getting rained on at about 4 am. Around 6 am the temperature dropped when the clouds parted and the sun was ready to come out. I slept for about an hour. When I woke up, the block was on fire, people were everywhere, City Hall had four people for every square out front.” Sponberg estimated the morning rally had 300 people in total.“In the morning for the rally, the sky was wide-open and R2D2 brought big banners, and signs, with everyone chanting ‘waive our fines.’” Asked about breakfast, Sponberg lit up despite his lack of sleep. “There was so much breakfast, we fed 200 people and we still had leftovers. They sent the extra down to R2D2.” All told, a successful and highly public event for the Right to Dream, Too and advocates for house-less people everywhere.
photo by Paul