Mayor Potter's press conference, which started at 12:30, was pretty darned inspiring. Potter was announcing a resolution, to be decided by the Commissioners on March 30th, that states a refusal to renew the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF) if the Mayor, Police Chief and City Attorney are not given more meaningful oversight of the Portland Police Officers involved. He and Commissioner Randy Leonard both echoed concerns about the PJTTF that had been voiced by many different citizens in that same room during hearings over the years. They cited the Oregon Constitution, which forbids law enforcement to investigate religious or political groups that are involved in organizing legal dissent. The history of federal intelligence operations in this country is rife with examples when exactly that has happened, of course, and the JTTF in Fresno, California, was actually caught in the act when one of their agents was found to have been attending meetings of a local peace & justice group (and not as a potential protester, either!). Potter and Leonard both expressed deep concern that safeguarding the civil liberties of Portlanders must not come second to federal and local efforts to fight "terrorism", and that without better oversight, they would have no idea if the PJTTF was violating those liberties. |
During question-and-answers, the Corporate Media were at times almost hostile; it was apparent that some of them are not the dispassionate observers they claim to be, that they believe the government's hype about "terrorism", and that they viewed Potter's resolution as a threat. Other "reporters" were more neutral, but even then, their wordchoices rang in my ears with the trivializing contextualization endemic to their training; they were setting it up so it would be easy to spin the Mayor as "soft on crime" or turn the whole story into a simple "City vs. FBI" bout, as if were a sporting event. Most reporters, of course, are middle-class, mainstream white people, with the set of prejudices that defines that culture, and the lack of critical thinking that supports it. No questions, then, strayed from that narrow field of vision.
Outside that blindered space, though, is the big messy world of reality. That's the world where the PJTTF is merely one tool being employed by an increasingly fascist federal government, where surveillance and harrassment have destroyed personal lives and brought down movements, and where the real terrorists are living in the White House, from which they are tearing our rights into ribbons. Ironically, it all makes for "a great story", as they say in the newspaper business, but it's not one that the Corporate Media is telling, and the likelihood of their doing so lessens every day in this age of consolidation and conformity.
i asked the Mayor one question during the press conference, but i prefaced it first with a remark about how refreshing it was to hear elected officials in that hall repeating the sentiments that had been expressed by so many citizens in the same place over the years. i said this because it was honest, and i really did appreciate it, but also because i wanted the corporate media to hear it. Activists who do things like testify against the PJTTF or protest attacks on civil liberties are often portrayed as uncivilized rabble by the Corporate Media, and i wanted the reporters in the room to note how established these "radical" ideas have become. The Mayor didn't just address the constitutional and legal problems of the PJTTF; he also stated that he was putting forth this resolution because it was "the right thing to do". i have no fear of opening the door to the world of morality (which is merely the world of reality again), and that's somewhere we've got to go if we're going to clean up the mess we've made as a species, but it's somewhere else the Corporate Media won't go, and that's a big chunk of "the story".
(The question i asked him is whether he was hoping that Portland would set a precedent for other cities with JTTFs. He said no, that this is all about Portland and that other cities will run themselves as they see fit. It felt like a very Portland moment somehow; almost like, "we're not going to tell anyone what to do, man", heh heh.)
After the press conference, a friend and i spoke to Commissioner Leonard. i told him it felt like a fresh breeze was blowing through the building. He said he felt like that, too. i believe that we can expect more of Leonard and Eric Sten both now that Katz is out of office. Her glaring visage cast a long shadow over City government, and with its departure -- and Potter's entrance -- a weight has been lifted, and people have more room to be themselves. (Leonard confirmed, by the way, that he not only reads but also posts to portland indymedia. i've seen his name up in a couple comments and wondered if that was really him. It is.)
The FBI press conference was a completely different affair. It took place in a sterile, undecorated (except for two flags and the FBI seal) room with sealed windows on the eighth floor of 1500 SW First. As soon as Special Agent Robert Jordan came into the room, along with a group of stiff-looking men (and one token woman), that feeling of being stifled returned, though with a creepier edge to it. Jordan represents, after all, the power and dominance of the federal government in Washington, DC, and of the repressive regime currently in power there.
He delivered a short statement that was fearmongering bullshit from beginning to end.
He actually said that the "greatest threat" to public safety in this area is "terrorism". He also mentioned how much money the city and state get from the feds, and from the Department of Homeland Security specifically. "Don't you be naughty," he seemed to be saying. "Or we'll cut off your allowance."
i was truly disgusted by the lack of meaningful interrogation imposed on the FBI by the Corporate Media in attendance. At least half the queries were leading questions, intended it seemed to tease out the right soundbite. Their chumminess with the FBI's media liaison also spoke volumes. She should hate these guys, but she sure didn't seem to. Andy Seaton of KBOO was the only one (besides an indymedia videoista) who asked anything intelligent, and Andy kept prodding him on a particular point, trying to get a straight answer. He didn't. Jordan was providing any of those.
The time for the last question arrived, and i grabbed the opportunity. i reminded Jordan of his comment about "terrorism" being the "greatest threat" to people of this region. i said that a parent without a job probably feels like their health and safety is most threatened by the high unemployment rate here. And that a farmer in the Willamette Valley is probably more worried about a possible drought this summer. i pointed out that such rhetoric is common from the FBI and the people in Washington DC, and that (here i gestured to the Corporate Media cameras) "these people" just repeat it unquestioningly, but that he had not offered any evidence for his claim. He didn't provide any, after which i told him that many people did not believe him and that i myself don't believe him. He observed that that's my right and ended the press conference.
Now, though i've been doing indymedia activism for over four years, i haven't done much interviewing or press conference work with people like Jordan who are slick and evasive and highly trained to be both. i'm not honestly a match for him at all, and i know that. i don't particularly enjoy that type of work, either, so i'm doubtful if i'll ever pursue it seriously, but i shouldn't have to. The people who are BEING PAID to investigate news should! They've got money, equipment, and audiences and could be doing some remarkable things. But they're not. And they're not going to. It doesn't matter if we call or write letters or protest. Not doing their job, while convincing people that they are, is their job. The only thing that'll sink 'em is total boycott, but how will that ever work since even most of the freaking activists in this town read the corporate papers or watch the corporate news?!
Corporate media really is a disease, and one of its main symptoms is denial. It's the denial of an addict who ignores the effects on their health and claims they can "stop anytime". I've heard that Mayor Potter reads The One True B!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE every morning. That's great. Perhaps that's partly why he's thinking clearly enough to put forward this resolution challenging the PJTTF. i suppose that as Mayor he has to read the Oregonian, since they are a force of their own in the City with which he must directly deal, but not many people have that excuse. Most people could drop that rag and would be much happier and more creative and effective.
Potter's resolution will have its public hearing (and vote, i believe) at a special meeting on March 30th at 6pm, in the City Council Chamber. That time -- early evening rather than morning or mid-day -- was picked, he said, so that citizens could turn out to give their testimony. He said he also invited Jordan from the FBI. It'll be interesting to see how that meeting goes. It's definitely an event to pack, and give Potter the support he needs. He and Leonard (and Sten and Adams) are willing to go this far. It's not all the way, but it is completely unprecedented in the short history of the JTTFs nationally, and we've got a chance to make history here together.