Friday's rally was an excellent show of unity of some of the left groups here in Portland.
Within 24 hours this demonstration was planned and executed. The previous evening, members of several different labor unions, student groups, community coalitions, and political activist groups met to discuss how the Portland left should respond to the national call put out by Wisconsin highschool students for a walkout at 2pm Friday. This group met for over two hours, discussing different strategies and ideas for pulling off this emergency action.
After the main discussion was over and the decision was made to participate, the group broke into smaller working groups to devise plans for executing the various components necessary to make this successful. One group focused on how to get the word out to local highschool, college, and particularly Portland State University students and faculty. Another working group constructed a press release and local media outreach strategies. The third working group discussed how to spread the work to the greater Portland community, including unions and community organizations. Keep in mind that they only had 17 hours until the deadline!
Some from the group stayed up all night making signs and organizing the supplies that would be needed the next day. At sunup, you could see people standing with signs on the Burnside bridge, letting the thousands of drivers coming into downtown Portland know about the event and the location and time, and received enthusiastic honks. Others prepared a banner to be dropped over the interstate. Local media picked up the story and announced the event several times throughout the day. Thousands of flyers were handed out to highschoolers as they arrived at several Portland schools. Portland State University was flyered for 8 hours in the runup to the 2pm walkout.
When 2 oclock came, there were about 100 people gathered in the Park Blocks next to PSU with an open mic, speaking out against the tuition fee hikes and plans for restructuring of the school. They chanted slogans like "hey hey, ho ho, privatization has got to go!" The crowd proceeded to march the half-mile to Pioneer Courthouse Square, chanting, cheering, and gathering pedestrians with them. Drivers honked their horns to show their support.
Arriving at the square, the PSU contingent was greeted with cheers of solidarity by the roughly 200 community members that had arrived earlier to the square. The entire crowd chanted "This is what democracy looks like!" and "Tax the rich, end the wars!" before opening the mic up for people to speak out and show their solidarity with the embattled workers of Wisconsin.
Within minutes of the first speaker using the bullhorn, private security guards approached him in an attempt to shut it down because the rally had not purchased an amplified-sound permit. Union and community members formed a protective ring around the bullhorn and began chanting, "Let him speak!" Soon the entire crowd was yelling this to the security guards. Several in the crowd were private security guards themselves, attempting to unionize. They were some of the loudest to condemn the actions of the Pioneer Square guards. After a good minute of chanting, the security guards left the crowd to call the police. Everyone there felt a sense of power and victory, and the chants and cheers became louder. The open mic continued. You can see clips here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQUSuHx3M-Y
The success of this rally is being measured not in the size of the crowd, or whether or not the Republicans in Wisconsin hear us (and I'm sure they do know about the rallies across the country against them) but the fact that local activists were able to come together, collaborate, and bring out 300 people on less than a days notice. One of the great gems that came out of the planning meeting was the motivation of the group to continue organizing together. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16th at 7pm in the Smith Memorial Building at PSU. I encourage anybody to come and get involved and get active in fighting for a better world.
We demonstrated the need for the Portland left to work together and our ability to do so. We can only win if we fight together.