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First person account of I-5 Shutdown

One of the I-5 9 shares his account of the first interstate closure of 3/20/03
At about 6:15 pm, after the police had violently repulsed our efforts to take over the Steel Bridge, many of the protesters regrouped at the 2nd and Burnside street occupation. A large block of protesters recognized that the Burnside Bridge was unobstructed by police and several hundred marched east across the brige.

Upon reaching the east end of the bridge, it was apparent that there were no cops present to prevent us from descending the stairs to the east bank esplanade and then crossing the 10-foot high chain link fence onto I-5. At first just a few descended the stairs as a crowd gathered on the south side of the bridge to watch.

Someone shouted for cutters, and a hole magically appeared in the chain link fence. While some of us attempted to strategize a safe way to block the traffic without getting hit by cars, a man with a trumpet stepped into the ramp leading to the I-5 exit onto the Morrison Bridge, the westernmost of the 5 southbound lanes of I-5. Several protesters followed him into the lane and sat down. The trumpeter then moved two lanes to the east, stopping both of the lanes of traffic leading from I-84 onto I-5 south. More people were streaming down the stairs from the Burnside Bridge and through and over the fence between the esplanade and the freeway. Eventually there were about three dozen protesters on the freeway.

At about this time, some shitheel in a gold colored two-door coupe, who was in the line of traffic exiting onto the Morrison Bridge, moved into the breakdown lane and passed all the cars waiting in line. Several protesters converged around his car as he moved slowly but persistently through the crowd. Two men leaned across the front bumper and grabbed ahold. He then accelerated through the crowd. One of the men managed to jump free safely, while the other held on as the car accelerated. He was thrown free about 50 feet later and lay stunned on the ground as several people ran to his assistance. He stood up 2-3 minutes later and was walking under his own power.

While this was happening, the merry trumpeter managed to get the remaining two southbound lanes of I-5 traffic stopped. The first driver in this line of traffic was shouting encouragement to us, as were the students in the yellow school bus stopped right behind him. Hundreds of people on the Burnside Bridge above us and on the Esplanade were cheering loudly.

I leaned into the window of the first car to encourage the man in the car to move his car to more effectively block the traffic. He stated "I don't want to get pepper sprayed like you are about to." I looked over my shoulder to see that the state police had arrived en masse, dressed in their black riot gear and body armor. Most of the protesters retreated through and over the fence, while about 8 others linked arms in front of the stopped cars. The troopers surrounded us and ordered us to move. When we refused, they attempted to pull us apart by applying pain compliance holds to our hands. As they jerked us apart, they dragged us west onto a median strip and the Morrison Bridge exit ramp. At this point, all soutbound lanes and several northbound lanes remained closed as police filled the space we had been dragged from. One protester arrived from the west, dodging traffic as he crossed the northbound lanes. He got to us just in time to be thrown to the ground and handcuffed.

Eventually they got us all handcuffed and placed out flares, keeping all but one southbound lane closed as they called in backup. A large crowd was gathered on the Esplanade. Some were straddling the fence. Many were (unwisely) yelling epithets at the police (Note for future actions - please don't antagonize the cops when your fellow protestors are in police custody. We were extremely vulnerable at that point.). For some reason I could not see, the police sergeant shouted to the "grenadier" and directed him to fire into the crowd with his gun which was some sort of semiautomatic weapon loaded with orange plastic stun balls. He fired two distinct bursts into the crowd.

It took them quite some time to get a paddy wagon to the scene and herd us one at a time into it. During this entire time, the police kept all but one southbound lane of the interstate closed, and intermittently even closed this lane to allow them to move back and forth from their vehicles, which were evidently blocking at least one of the northbound lanes of traffic.

We later learned that the traffic backup we caused created the opportunity for others to stream down from Grand Avenue onto I-84, causing further chaos and leading to more arrests. Traffic was diverted onto I-405 and that diverted traffic was then blocked by Critical Mass. A CM rider one of us met in jail said the I-405 bicycle blockaders were inspired by our action. Our action to close I-5 seems to have sparked a chain reaction leading to the closure of three interstates. According to tv reports, police eventually diverted southbound I-5 traffic onto I-205 South from the junction north of Vancouver, WA - meaning our action had an impact in at least two states. We have heard reports from as far away as Toronto that our actions were televized around Canada and the US. One protester was watching CNN in jail and saw CNN reports about the interstates being blocked. The message got out! Portland rocks!

Very Brave - 22.Mar.2003 10:00


You folks were very brave - I witnessed a few pretty angry people in traffic - damn near mowing people over - and that scared me enough - not to take much of a stance and try to stand in front of cars -

Thank you!!

it is selfless NOT selfish 22.Mar.2003 13:26

bird wings

it is not selfish to shut down the freeways, i feel it is more selfish to be driving your car to which is using gas, and the reason we are even fighting this dumb/sad war for OIL! that is more selfish Jay, not thinking about the lives that are being taken everyday.