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Crown of Thorns for the People of Portland

I was being very quiet about the re-bith of the Children's Garden on SW 13th and Alder. Even after the horrific assault last year by ODOT workers at the direction of officer Meyers, the garden was quietly growing back. It gave me hope.
In spite of everything, early in the spring, I watched the first tiny crocuses lift their heads above the poisoned earth. Not long after, slender daffodils began to climb out of the healing womb beneath the ravaged surface. Then, like phoenixes from the ashes, came the irises. Slowly, quietly, the garden returned to life with the spring.

Gentle, questing roots began to snake through the earth there, absorbing and cleansing the toxins from the soil so that more delicate species could follow. Calendula appeared around the edges -- stunted and deformed at first, but then, as the soil cleared its throat, increasingly lush and healthy. Calendula is a healing herb. It soothes and disinfects, and is beautiful to look upon. It was good to see it there. Feverfew, another healing herb, began unfurling small but hardy yellow and white flowers soon after. Lemon-scented Melissa poked green spikes up over the ground, and then unfolded little arrow-shaped leaves. Fuzzy, blue-green tangles of rose campion stems were soon festooned with deep crimson flowers. Smiling yellow-orange faces squatted on stout, green tagetes stalks, while tall, yellow irises nodded and swayed above. Other herbs and flowers followed, and the little strip of land burst forth into life again.

Pollinators returned -- bees, butterflies, tiny wasps. Birds -- some who eat the pollinating insects, others who drink the nectars from the flowers -- returned to the canopy of young maple trees above the garden. The web of life repaired the silken strands that had so carelessly been tattered by Officer Meyer's henchmen. Some gentle souls had not come back. The honeysuckle never reappeared, nor did the nasturtiums. Perhaps in time they would, but they did not reappear on schedule as other plants had done. Nevertheless, though, Eden had returned.

Once again, lush, green plants filtered the air above the freeway, and absorbed and purified the water that otherwise would have run off onto the asphalt and then into the river bearing a toxic load of street pollutants. Once again, the little strip of land provided nourishment to the bodies and souls of all manner of beings who dropped by. And once again, people stopped to admire the fragrance, the riotous, teeming life, the secret thrill of one small green place in a city starving under blacktop.

Last year, when I watched ODOT workers in orange vests tear the garden down, I had believed there was little hope for us. The world had gone amok, and even this tiny eden, built with the hands of children, could not withstand the burden of human ignorance and indifference. But now, all spring and summer as I watched, sturdy green shoots reached up out of the ground again, soft petals yawned open again, coiled tendrils curled around each other again. It was a testament to the strength and endurance of nature. It restored my faith -- if not in humanity, then at least in the capacity of Mother Nature to outgrow our foibles.

I wanted to tell this story of hope. Each time I walked by and saw a new flower bending above the fray, I wanted to share it with you. But I did not. I kept quiet about this rebirth because I was afraid. I had become very attached to this little eden, and I feared that, if word got out that it was alive again, officer Meyers would get wind of it and return to the scene of his crime. Last year, when he ordered its destruction, he had told me that he did it to deprive homeless people of any sanctuary. He said he was "actually quite proud" of what he had done, and that his act was part of a long-term plan he had to raze every greenspace along the 405 corridor to keep anyone from finding refuge there.

He's a scary man, officer Meyers. He "displaces" people without homes with a jaunty smile on his face. He sneaks around with a tape recorder, jovially mingling with the people of the city, spying on them all the while. He once pepper sprayed a 12 year old girl. Yes, he's a scary man indeed. And he believes with the fervor of a fanatic that, no matter what he does, he's right. He believed, no matter how many people tried to tell him otherwise, that desecrating a community garden built by children was the "right" thing to do. After all, he had reasoned, it made the world less hospitable to homeless people, and isn't that "right"?

Officer Meyers believed, as he told me, that depriving people of sustenance and refuge would "make them amenable to social services." At the time, I pointed out the irony in those words, as social services are not amenable to the people who need them. There aren't enough shelters in Portland to accommodate the people who have no place to sleep each night, there aren't enough soup kitchens to feed the people who go hungry each day, and there aren't enough physicians willing to treat the ailments of people who can't afford to make the payments on the good doctors' BMWs. Even as I tried to tell him these things, I knew that he wasn't listening. He didn't really care about making homeless people "amenable to social services," he cared about making them invisible.

I was afraid that if officer Meyers ever suspected the garden had not succumbed to his assault, he would be back. After all, surely he would realize that people -- homeless or not -- might find solace here again. Indeed, the garden was filled with enticements far more "amenable" than the meager offerings of any social service agency in Portland. There were tiny strawberries from which a hungry person might find nourishment, there were fragrant flowers that a despairing person might find hope in, there were healing herbs that a sick person might find relief among. There was even a grassy meadow where people might sleep comfortably. And all of these things were free for the giving, there was no expectation that anyone should have to grovel or jump through particular hoops to get them. That couldn't be "right," could it?

Yes, I was afraid for the garden. And I was afraid for all the people who had come to love and appreciate it. I had seen what they were up against.

I was right to be afraid. Somehow, the secret of the reawakening Eden got out. A few weeks ago, once again, it was razed to the ground. I have heard that the Portland Mercury ran a story shortly before about the garden's return, and perhaps that's what tipped him off. I do not read the Mercury, so I cannot confirm that there was such a story. Whatever the reason, the garden is gone.

I stumbled upon it right after the assault. This time, the damage appeared more final. The place stunk of herbicides, and there was an eerie, greenish cast to the ground. It looked like copper. I wanted to see more. Ignoring a giant, 12-foot-tall sign demanding in 2 languages that I stay out, I walked among the shards of what was left. It was a painful experience, both metaphorically and literally. The toxins made my eyes water and burned in my throat. (Surely it was now a more healthful environment for the children across the street than a garden that might comfort the homeless.)

A few weak and pale calendula shuddered close to the perimeter. A single yarrow lay where it had fallen, but a few round blossoms seemed to be reaching back up. A small cluster of strawberries somehow remained near a maple tree, though of course it was too late for any fruit. (This is for the best; any unsuspecting being who now tried to eat one would likely have been poisoned by herbicides.)

As I walked through the wasteland, I searched for signs of the nuisances Meyers had originally claimed in order to justify the destruction. He had told me poor people "urinate and deficate" in the garden, and that there were "numerous hypodermic needles" there. Truly, people do "urinate and deficate" every day in the city of Portland. All of us do...come on, you know it's true. But most of us have a private place to do so. For those without a clean bathroom, though, they're still going to go somewhere. I've seen this phenomenon in doorways, on sidewalks, in elevators, even once on the bus. But no, I didn't see any sign of it in the garden -- not on this day, nor on any other. That doesn't mean it never happened, it only means it never presented as a "nuisance" to me, and I can gurantee that I have spent much more time in the garden than officer Meyers.

Regarding hypodermic needles, yes, I have seen those too. All over the city. In gutters, in Couch park, in the bathroom at pioneer square, in the flower pots downtown, even on the steps of city hall. But none of those places were razed.

As I walked through what was left of the garden, I did not see any human scat or hypodermic needles. The garbage there appeared to be of a more affluent type. There were several old batteries, a plastic CD cover, numerous cigarette wrappers and cigarette butts, a paper cup from starbucks, part of a walkman, and the billowing pages of someone's newspaper. There was a lot of garbage now, I noticed. More than anyone had ever felt obliged to leave when it was a growing, living place. A scalded lot does not inspire the kind of reverence and respect that the garden once did. The leavings appeared to be the detritus of the good citizens of the city, not the poor. It was a nuisance, to be sure. The batteries alone are highly toxic. But it did not implicate the villains officer Meyers wanted to "displace" and blame.

Farther back toward the freeway, several stout barberries had survived. This, I'm sure, was by design. It's an interesting thing: If you traverse the area along the 405 corridor, you will see many barberries. They have long, sharp thorns, you see. Everything left along the corridor has thorns. Even the roses, while beautiful to look upon, have sharp spikes all along their canes. The fragrant flowers and nutritious hips, I'm sure, were merely an unintended side effect tertiary to the requisite thorns. Very subtle, officer Meyers. Very subtle indeed.

There is no less poverty in portland, no more opportunities for those who are denied them, no fewer homeless people. Still, the people must sleep somewhere. And so, the camps are snuggled beneath the thorny embrace of brambles and barberries and roses. Officer Meyers, and those like him, acted not out of concern for the people of this community, but out of ignorance and malice. They did nothing to alleviate poverty, or to make the burden of homelessness more bearable. Instead, they planted a crown of thorns.

Well, we'll see...come spring.
And to Extend This 18.Aug.2004 12:11

is to see

that the self centered, selfish, ego-ridden attitudes of an Officer Meyers comprise exactly the same attitudes that make it possible to poison large regions on the Earth with Depleted Uranium. These same attitudes make it possible to genocide whole cultures out of existance and to rape and pillage the homelands of these cultures of all natural resources. These same attitudes make it possible to rape and extort the peoples of these cultures in corporate slave labor sweat shops where workers are paid pennies a day. These attitudes are why, over a century ago, the aging French exiled poet Victor Hugo called the Earth a "prison planet". He was the first to recognize the Earth as one big prison that is run by the inmates. These attitudes in a "law officer" are no better than the attitudes of those "criminals" that he arrests. Indeed, it is hard to tell the difference between cop and robber.

Someday 18.Aug.2004 14:58

edc

Officer Meyer will be dead and we can all defacate on his grave. And know that we are giving more than he ever gave.

WTF??? 18.Aug.2004 15:23

outrageous

This is like occupied Palestine or something, where fruitful orchards are razed by army bulldozers.

Stand the fuck up and do something already!! Make your outrage at these acts visible, or they will never cease.

cry me a river 18.Aug.2004 15:57

working class

oh god i'm sick of homeless people bitching about everything they do not have. you do not have because you do not work-like i do 55 hours a week to stay alive! i hate the rich and i hate the poor neither of them work! there is so much work out there, but i guess when your too busy shooting up to escape the reality of my day to day life which is working and which is not fun. wow i wish i had time to sit in a garden. i'm to busy avoiding your lifestyle. stop making our public places your big toilet! homeless do us all a favor and kill yourself!

please 18.Aug.2004 16:19

tt01

working class, do me a favor and start hanging out with officer meyers, then i can start getting all the assholes in one place. you know, it makes observation that much easier.

if there is one thing about you i do know it is that you have obviously never, ever sat in a garden in your life. all your wishing is so much typical bs.

hope seeds 18.Aug.2004 18:58

dirt under the nails

Catwoman-don't fear-those plants you mentioned will be back because they make the toughest seeds imaginable and lots of them. The herbicide probably was not long-lasting and what stung your eyes was an additive to prevent drift and the green was most likely marker dye. For those who wish to do a leetle guerilla gardening in this spot or all over town, buy or harvest the seeds she mentions and these others: rose campion, nigella (aka love-in-a-mist), gayfeather (liriope), campanula, sunflowers, calendula, opium and California poppies and anything else you can see that grows in abundance. Put some of the seeds out now in your favorite industrial/corporate landscape and put some more out when the pre-emergent herbicide wears off in April or May. You can also make a statement with grass seed in manicured beds or with fertilizer on lawns. O how I'd love to write a manifesto on the green toxic banks of turf that surround Fortress Nike in Beavertown! Don't worry about making extra work for gardeners; we need it-a lot of us are immigrants just now escaping from the fields.

working slave, more like 18.Aug.2004 21:09

house slave

Working Class, I really do have sympathy for you, even though I'm sure you don't expect or want me to.

If you work 55 hours a week, and have no time to enjoy life, that is truly sad. Well, don't you think that you should be able to survive on 40 hours a week? If you resent the rich so much for effortlessly making money off the working poor, then please tell me you are self-employed or work for a small business without a greedy owner.

Yeah, I wish a lot of the homeless weren't mentally ill, drug addicts, lazy, etc. I also know that there are many homeless folks who are none of the above, and I know that some of those who are currently ill, addicted, or lazy, didn't used to be. Why do you think people fall down and not get up? Do they WANT to be impoverished?

Officer Meyers 18.Aug.2004 22:09

red suspenders

I clearly remember about two weeks after odot turned the garden to barkdust seeing a couple junkies shooting up in plain sight by the overpass on the site.

Meyers took the easy way out of keeping all the law abiding citizens out of the area rather than take a few hours to get together some volunteers to "patrol" the area or implement any other solution.

Mr. Meyers you are a very sick person.

Officer Meyers is a 18.Aug.2004 22:42

Zionist

who works for a Zionist Mayor. Read above to find out what these people are REALLY like!

for the meyers fan club scrapbook 18.Aug.2004 23:25

seeker

I'm trying to attach a photo...may not know how to do this on this site.
The photo is of meyers in a little different context than the garden, butI thought his fans might recognize how it substantiates feelings about his character. The photo dates to before the art ghetto in the pearl, when people were setting up there things on the sidewalk...merchants complained....they sikked meyers on them, including these two kids. They received a warning. Location is over by Blue Sky Gallery.

you don't know what you've got til it's gone 18.Aug.2004 23:34

moon

Working Class....wise up....some people are homeless because the realized that when they were working 55 plus hours a week, they couldn't enjoy a garden. You may never enjoy one because you've given up like so many good people. Take the time to breathe in the good sweet air while you can. Some of those crazy, alcoholic, junkie, whore homeless people are that way in part because society raises the bar too high for them to ever make it. Pity the poor man with shortsightedness so great he faults them for defects explained by an examination of the surface only.

If I recall correctly, I read herewithin some time ago that 18.Aug.2004 23:56

Officer Meyers

has flunked out of the CIA and somehow managed to resurface here in Portland...a friend of Vera's
maybe? What is the full history of this asshole? Let's do some digging and find out, shall we?

Thanks CatWoman 19.Aug.2004 09:53

little

I watched the Children's Garden recover and then disappear again. It's a sad thing to know that Meyer's and this City care so little about this community. They are the scourge not the few homeless people who seek to find a moments peace amongst the flowers in the Children's Garden.

So please, with all of your insight, what can we do. I have become increasingly discouraged by watching these things happen again and again with no real outrage from the community. Words and discussion are not enough. It is time for action. If you have any ideas CatWoman, please share them. I would support you and I think many others would also.

son of a bitch 19.Aug.2004 12:09

eek

Green spaces do wonders for the mind as well as the lungs, and also alleviate humidity. We should be BUILDING more green patches, not tearing them down!

What can we do to keep Myers from doing this again?

Catwoman... 19.Aug.2004 15:28

Yanqui

That was one of the most beautiful things i have ever read. the way you conveyed what happened in such a simple, beautiful, heart-wrenching yet hopeful way makes me want to go out and do something about this injustice. it makes me see the meadow and the plants and flower buds and the herbs and the destruction afterwards so vividly that i feel like it personally happened to me. Thank you so much for writing and posting this. Lets hope we dont all just comment on this and forget about it.

street roots exposes Myers 19.Aug.2004 19:05

street roots reader, social service worker

I love your piece Catwoman, just wondered if people knew about the homeless newspaper.

I'm not sure how many people have been actually reading street roots, the local street paper, but they have broken several stories on Officer Myers and the Portland Business Alliance in the last few months. The latest issue has an huge article on Philadelphia and Portland outreach efforts. It exposes what Officer Myers is/will be doing on the streets right now and what the Porltand Business Alliance is up to.

It seems to me street roots is one of the only organizations right now actually researching and exposing what is happening with the Porltand Business Alliance and the police, at least with people on the streets and with poor people.


There are vendors all over the place, please go buy a copy and read about what's happening on Portland's streets.

Starting with the bottom and moving up.... 20.Aug.2004 09:44

CatWoman

Yes, Street Roots rocks. It's one of the very (VERY) few pdx newspapers actually worth reading.

And thanks Yanqui and Little. I wish I knew what to do. I've thought about guerilla gardening, but I can't bring myself to condemn helpless flowers to a site I know that asshole is gonna plow under again. (Even the rampant and indestructable bindweed, which was my preference as to what to plant there.) I think maybe a better idea would be some guerilla cobbing. Seriously. Meyers said he did it because people were (GASP!) urinating and deficating in there. I think it would be the most beautiful thing ever if people converged on the site and cobbed a row of outhouses. It would make quite a creative statement, and if nothing else, it would be a hell of a job for them to get rid of it.

The best thing we can do about shit like this is to overgrow the police state. As long as there are people like Meyers with state-sponsored authority, we will have situations like this. This is only a symptom of the real disease. But while we plan what we will do after the revolution, cobbing a row of outhouses could be fun.

As for "working class," I'm already crying, buddy. For the record, I'm not homeless. So I'm not sure whish homeless people you think are "bitching about everything they don't have." I don't recall the homeless people I met in the garden bitching about anything. They minded their own business and I minded mine. As far as I can recall, they never asked for anything, but only enjoyed the garden just as the rest of us did. It was Meyers who "bitched." He didn't like the idea of "those people" having anything enjoyable without having to grovel for it. Sounds like you don't either.

Bitterness is a funny thing. It causes us to do weird things...like ripping down a garden. Or like, justifying the desecration of something that benefitted all of us just because it might have benefitted someone we see as a convenient scapegoat.

Just one more thing, working class. I feel your pain. I really do. I, too, have a shit job that I do because I have a family to feed. Capitalism sux. Yes, it does. We can't do the things we need to do for ourselves anymore because we're too busy working our asses off so that we can afford to buy the things we would otherwise be doing ourselves. Makes no sense. The trick, though, working class, is to focus your anger over this situation where it belongs. People who have no homes are not your enemies. They're not taking anything from you. On the contrary, they, just like you, are being bled dry by capitalism. In short, they are your allies.

The people stealing your life and your labor are not those living under barberries in the 405 corridor. They're the ones living in mansions and showing up occasionally in posh boardrooms. It is they who never have to work for anything, because they are living off your labor and mine. They like for you to believe you must fight over scraps under their table. They like to play you against other poor and working class people. It takes the spotlight off their role in your exploitation. It's a convenient and carefully crafted illusion. Realize this and rise up against the real enemy.

regarding this creep of a PoPo 20.Aug.2004 15:37

Jeff Meyers

one should recall that he was specifically brought here by Vera Katz!

While she hides behind her ugly smile, there lurks within a nasty person with
with evil attitudes and a horrible ego. Jeff Meyers is no more than a direct
extension of Vera Katz's EGO! The guy is too damned dumb to have one of his
own!