There were 27 arrests at Jamison Square in Portland’s Pearl District last night. Yours truly wasn’t one of them, but I did spend some time at the park before the police moved in. Here’s my understanding of what happened.
A splinter group (I’m told 13 individuals strong at the beginning), perhaps frustrated at a perceived lack of action on behalf of the greater Occupy Portland movement, decided to take up residence in a new location: Jamison Square, a small park in the Pearl District of northwest Portland. This was the major topic of discussion at the general assembly last night, and after talking over the options, a spur-of-the-moment consensus was reached at around 9pm: we would move the GA to Jamison Square so the splinter group could be part of the discussion and add their voices to any conversation we had about the matter.
The mainstream news vans were already parked along the south edge of Jamison Square when I got there, perched like vultures waiting for the corpses to drop. The police seemed to enforce a bit of a double-standard once the 12:01am curfew passed–the mainstream media was allowed (for a time) to remain in Jamison Square proper, while members of the independent media, including the official Occupy Portland livestream, were told they had to stand behind a line of trees; the combination of darkness and distance made it harder to make out what was happening in the park over the low definition live feed from the webcam. “Shenanigans,” I heard the cameraman from the live feed say, and I had to agree.
Eventually the mainstream media was forced to move back as well, and there was some consternation over the fact that they turned off their lights (and possibly cameras) as the police began to bring in reinforcements around 12:30am. Was this a conscious decision on the various news channels’ parts to enforce media censorship, or simple conservation of electricity in the face of needing energy for the hours of what was coming? It’s hard to say, but it certainly rubbed me the wrong way and made me a bit suspicious. The majority of the mainstream media has been pretty poor at keeping objectivity in their reporting of the Occupy movement thus far, and I’m not willing at this point to cut them much slack.
The police, too, had already made their presence felt by the time I arrived at Jamison Square. There were mounted police (who, let’s face it, serve little purpose at a function like this outside their use for propaganda and intimidation) and park rangers. The livestream caught footage of a sniper on a rooftop at one point, though apparently s/he moved either down or out of sight as the evening waned. Portland mayor Sam Adams made an appearance just a bit after the 12am curfew, though he claimed he was only present to observe and had little to do with the decision to break up the protest (though if it wasn’t his decision, whose was it?). A few protestors made cursory attempts to speak with the police and attempt to dissuade them from making arrests, citing the refusal of other officers to arrest protestors at Occupy Albany, though these arguments fell on ears that were, if not deaf, apparently uninterested.
At about 12:50am, a loud and obviously inebriated man entered the park and began shouting at the protestors, telling them that they were breaking the law. It didn’t seem to occur to him that he was not only breaking the 12am curfew but also drunk and disorderly. I have no idea whether the police bothered to arrest him or not; they may have saved all the room in their squad cars for the people trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.
For their parts, the protestors walked and chanted but offered no resistance to arrest when the police cruisers and mounted officers moved in a few minutes after 1am. “We’re going to have to be like Gandhi going Super Saiyan,” I’d heard one of the protestors say earlier, and while I’m not sure I’d make the comparison based on what happened last night, per usual, the Occupy movement held up its end of the non-violence bargain. Perhaps thinking on the recent example of the police violence against Occupy Oakland, the state response didn’t seem particularly brutal (beyond the legalized-kidnapping-and-caging-of-a-human-being-like-an-animal-under-threat-of-legalized-assault that passes for arrest), but word is they did leave horse dung all over the park.
I’ve written a bit before about the search for meaning in this movement and the importance that symbols will have to Occupy as the movement grows. I saw both factors at work here, as well as another that I’ve been meaning to write more on–the idea of the Occupy movement as a social networking platform in the offline world, a place where people can come together to have rational, adult discussions about why and how America has crashed and burned so spectacularly over the course of the past few decades (or, one could argue from a broader historical perspective, century). Was last night’s occupation of Jamison Square meaningful to the movement as a whole? I can’t say that it was from my own perspective, at least not in an immediate sense, but I understand the need that other Occupiers feel for a symbolic victory.
There may be a sense that Occupy Portland has stagnated a bit the past few weeks, and talking to people at both the GA and the square last night left me with the impression that people are ready to do something besides sit in meetings and hold marches. It says a lot to me about the dedication and self-control of the Occupiers that they held a peaceful demonstration last night in the face of that frustration; that said, I’m not sure walking in circles in the dark and letting the police put your fingerprints in a database is the “something” that needs to be done. Those who were arrested have my support–I’m just not sure that this was the symbol we needed at the moment. It’s important to let the world know this movement has teeth, yes, but let’s choose where, when and how we bite with a taste for the meal still to come instead of filling up on empty calories.