The anti-war action here in Portland yesterday was smaller in number than the previous mass mobilizations on Jan. 18, Nov. 17, Oct. 5, but for sheer energy and verity of spirit, it trumped those days in a big way. The success of this event should bring to an end the debate about permits, in favor of those who have been saying that they are not needed.
It also showed how a well-planned set of speakers is not only unneccessary but undemocratic. And it revealed that the Portland police can behave in a way that they are not (for the most part) trampling on the rights of the people to assemble and march freely, without official police liaisons or peace cops taking charge.
People gathered first in the North Park Blocks, and then marched freely throughout downtown, stopping at Pioneer Square and Terry Schrunk Plaza before going over the Burnside Bridge to the East Side.
The crowd went the wrong way down one-way streets repeatedly, including Grand Ave.
The police followed along, mostly stayed out of the way, and most surprisingly, were telling upset drivers to chill out. At least one driver was actually ticketed for being violent toward protesters. I hadn't seen this on an unpermitted march in Portland before, and it was awesome. I actually tip my hat to the cops for most of their behavior that day. Although I believe that we are all grown-up enough to take care of ourselves, and don't need police, still -- if we're going to have them (and we currently do) -- this is what they should be doing. After a while it became clear that all we had to do was stand in front of belligerent drivers (who were hitting people) until the police bike up, and then they took it from there. Thank you, Portland Police, for doing a good job for once! :) (That is, up until the violence of the arrests and the pepper spray during the civil disobedience on Broadway. A few of you fucked up bad there, but we got your names and badge numbers and know who you are.)
We marched back to the West Side over the Hawthorne Bridge. Here, the police funnelled us down to one lane, but people seemed willing to compromise in this way at that point. The whole way, people chanted, yelled, talked to people along the way, and generally expressed their opposition to war with a very active spirit. It felt good. Really good. Much better than the previous mass mobilizations here, when I felt like we were being herded through pens. On Feb. 15, no one was herding us. We were leading ourselves, and there were no problems, and it was safe.
I really want to stress this point. This unpermitted, unsanctioned, non-organized, leaderless event was SAFE. Children were along and were in no danger. People along the way joined up and marched with us. I've never seen so many bystanders become participants. And they weren't the "usual suspects" either -- they were "normal" looking people, from a variety of backgrounds, of different ages, and they simply stepped off the sidewalk and joined us. Why? Because the positivity of our freedom and joyful boisterousness of our message was infectious. If you present an attractive alternative, people will take it.
This is the point that the mainstream peace organizers do not seem to be able to get into their heads. We have seen how they water down their message, over-sanitize their events, and try to steer every little detail with the excuse of making them "safe" for "the mainstream". Their theory is that unless events and messages are controlled, that "the masses" won't join in or won't understand. This attitude is insulting to those people because it underestimates them. On Saturday, Feb. 15, many of the people that the mainstream organizers are trying to reach were reached, and they joined in. The lack of permit and organization was no impediment -- rather, it was the inspiration and enabling force. It worked because it was beautiful. People will choose beautiful over boring any day.