My first 24 hours in Portland (an activists tourist guide!)
Welcome to Portland, Oregon
I touched down in PDX after a brief delay on the Amtrak from Eugene. This meant I arrived in town at 12.30pm instead of midday, and never having been here before, I was worried I wouldnt be able to find Pioneer Square, or where the antiwar demo was moving through the city centre. I walked out the door of the train station: problem solved. Two helicopters circling overhead, a few blocks south. Just follow them!
I walked straight into the protest. All on the sidewalk as well which was strange - but nothing new to me after the previous splinter march I'd been on in San Francisco had been coralled off the streets. The cops here weren't fucking around, warning me after ten seconds that I was on my last chance - I had inadvertantly crossed when the red man was showing. Chill the fuck out man! I was expecting the Police to be slightly less militant than their Californian comrades but I was to be proved wrong very soon...
The march meandered up towards the Burnside Bridge through the streets. I'd love to give you a detailed route but I was still getting my head around my badly photocopied map of the city. A nice friendly lady was moving through the mob, telling us we were going to be linking arms and shutting down the Bridge, but when we got there, a line of padded, macho robocops were lined up, waiting for some revenge no doubt after last Thursday.
The thing was, the cops actually stopped the traffic going onto the bridge themselves! So the aim of distruption and civil disobedience against the war was being realised. The march angled off to the right and we wandered through the city streets. It was all good humoured and obedient to my eyes. But the cops couldnt even facilitate people crossing the street.
Somewhere along the way, the police arrested someone for walking on a red light, and when the crowd surged forward (but not en masse onto the street) some over-zealous oinker cracked out his pepper spray and liberally applied it to the onlookers, sending them scurrying up the block. Cries of "shame!" rang out through the crowd, as well as "2,4,6,8, fuck the police state" (a personal favourite of mine) and "We're not violent, how about you?" We were split in half and could only watch from behind a very tense line of bicycle police, as people choked and rinsed their eyes out with water. Another officer came along with a canister of tear gas and moved in a sweeping motion towards us, imitating a spray. This was enough to cause panic of course, with many unmasked people freaking out and deciding to leave.
I found the Portland cops' willingness to use pepper spray quite disturbing. In San Francisco on the F16 & M15 splinter marches, the police never used it (instead preferring the trusty baton). Back home on the auld sod (Eire/Ireland) the Police are not allowed to carry it, and in the only instance I've seen it used before (in New Zealand), the cops there had small, lighter-sized canisters so they couldnt go overboard and spray too many bystanders. But in Portland they had ample amounts carried in fire extinguisher size containers. Enough to kill your dissent.
I also found the cops eagerness to arrest people for minor traffic violations surprising. Their actions only hightened the aggression/tension level. Everyone for the most part stayed on the sidewalk and obeyed the crosswalk signals. The Police could easily have acted in a fair manner and told people to hurry up or keep moving when the traffic signals changed. Their enthusiasm for grabbing people randomly was them stamping their authority on the crowd, and several people informed me that they wanted to assert their control over protesters in the city after being humiliated the previous Thursday. Over the course of the afternoon, four or five people were manhandled and cuffed for offences which in any other context would have been ignored.
After two and a half hours of cat-and-mouse, swings-and-roundabouts games with the police, the march wound its way into the park in front of City Hall. Despite never having taken the streets, the march was successful in some ways (if its aim was disruption) because the sheer number of police supervising ensured that traffic was slowed down and/or diverted. The crowd then moved to City Hall and cat-called for Vera to come out and engage in some dialogue. No response from the ivory tower unfortunately. The corporate media were also out for their 2-second shot/5 seconds of audio, and drew angry and cynical comments.
After a brief confrontation nearby, where 2 protesters were cornered by police (for what I do not know) but then let go, we decided to go to the steps of the Hall of Justice in a jail solidarity action for those who had been arrested. Despite a long day of action in the streets (some people had been going since 8am) the energy level was still high, and people were still angry at the actions of the cops. Along with chants of "Let them go!" and "Fuck the Corporate Media", people called for Police to stop the use of chemical weapons, and for the corporate media to cover the dissent in the USA & Iraqi civilians deaths (snowball in hell chance!); instead of their constant, computer-game style coverage of military tactics and from-the-air views of attacks on populated areas.
Later on that evening I met up with two local Indymedia operatives who were kind enough to put me up in their house during my brief stay here. They showed me various publications, including a couple from Portland, namely their own print project (which we have yet to get off the ground in IMC Ireland), and a free anarchist/anti-capitalist newspaper called "Little Beirut", which was full of informative contacts and places to check out, for a tourist like myself.
At 7pm we took a stroll down to the First Unitarian Church to hear a woman called Marion Nestle give a talk about Genetically Modified food. I hadnt been in a church in years, and contrary to my fears about the lecture being populated by Jesus freaks simply because of its location, I met a lot of interesting and intelligent people downstairs afterwards. We chatted about anitwar actions and other campaigns happening in different parts of the world. The lecture itself by Marion Nestle was OK - but on some levels I found it frustrating because she didnt give much information in the way of what people could or should do next in relation to ending GM foods and crops being manufactured.
So then yesterday morning (Wed), after some long needed sleep, I wandered around downtown for a bit, still attempting to get my bearings. I was heading towards the Post Office on Pioneer Square (now closed down), when I came across a group called the Oregon Peace Institute ( http://www.orpeace.org) setting up an art installation. They laid large black & white copies of silhouetted bodies riddled with bullets down in the square, and people lay down on the paper in a die-in style action. Not being under any time pressure, I joined in.
Within a minute, we had attracted a handful of loony right-wing, Free Republic/Protest Warrior style objectors, calling us "fruits, nuts & faggots" and various other cheap shots. They just dont understand - we have so much better protests than you because we have imagination and style, and you're just dumb sheep. I lay there for an hour, first in the cloudy sky overhead, which then turned to heavy drizzle, which then turned to beautiful sunshine which dried out any dampness. In that time I heard arguments (both calm & heated) happening around the 'dead' bodies, provoking people out of their mental slumber on their lunch breaks.
So after the hour I picked myself up off the ground and helped the organisers clean up. I looked at a clock - it was around 1pm. I had been in Portland, Oregon for just over 24 hours. In that time I'd met a lot of extremely friendly and open people, witnessed police brutality, attended an anti-GM talk in a church, and participated in two very different types of public antiwar actions. I'd always imagined Portland to be Seattle's smaller cousin, or even a bit wet around the ears in relation to the anarchist ethos quite prevalent in Eugene, but I was very impressed with the level of actions, and especially with the large contigent of masked people prepared for shit on the Tuesday march. Long may it continue.
Incidentally. Tonight at 8pm, Portland IMC in conjunction with IMC Eire/Ireland will be screening "Berlusconi's Mousetrap", which is IMC Ireland's first full-length feature documentary about the anti-G8 protests in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001. There'll also be some exclusive IMC footage from the recent antiwar demonstrations in Portland screening too. Its happening at the Clinton Street Theatre, which is at SE Clinton and 26th. Tickets are only $6 and all proceeds go to Portland IMC Tech. I'll be available after Berlusconi's Mousetrap for a Q+A session about my experiences in Genoa and/or whats happening in Ireland at the moment, and anything else that you might want to talk about. Hope to see you there.
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