I am one of the early Occupiers, having been part of this encampment community since its first day on Oct. 6. Like you, other public officials, and the members of the general public, safety issues are important to me. After all, I am among the first to be personally touched by these issues and my own safety is at stake. Likewise, unlike many in the mass media, some of the city employees, and talkshow hosts, I am far more qualified to speak on the topic of safety and how the Occupation functions than most of these people by the virtue of being a personal witness to what happens on the ground on the day-to-day basis.
While I understand the issues regarding police overtime, one of the things I keep noticing during the last couple of weeks is the marked decrease in police presence at the parks. During the first week of the Occupation, they were almost always around, including Capt. Sara Westbrook, who made personal visits to the encampment several times every day. My question is, where are they now? I do not see many of them any more.
The issues of safety and health concerns voiced by City officials related to substance abuse, homelessness, and mental illness far predate the beginning of #OccupyPortland. We are in downtown Portland, within walking distances of shelters, social services, and resources. They have been around as long as I know, and if it is not Lownsdale and Chapman parks, it is at the Waterfront Park and South Park Blocks. It is not fair for you or any City of Portland officials to blame the social issues of downtown Portland on#OccupyPortland, since they were never caused by #OccupyPortland in the first place. Rather, the City of Portland, in spite of its 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and after millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on funding the Julia West House, the Bud Clark Commons, and other agencies for years, has not successfully addressed these issues now we are forced to deal with -- using very limited resources, funds, and all-volunteer labor, unlike the City agencies with far more resources.
The #Occupy movement is about standing up in unity for the 99 percent. As such we are a microcosm of the greater society that is Portland, that is Oregon, and that is America. We try to address these issues in an innovative and creative ways so as not to replicate the systemic inequity and injustice that created these problems in the first place. The people that the City officials, the mass media, and some of our fellow Occupiers demonize are the discarded people, who fell through the cracks and abandoned by the government and nonprofit sectors. At the very least, we have not abandoned them; rather we try to engage them as part of our community, as fellow human kinds. We address behaviors, instead of simply trying to discard some people as "undesirables" and sweep them under the rug as if they don't exist.
I hope that the City of Portland makes a good-faith effort at reaching out to these people, before pointing fingers at the whole #OccupyPortland community and its hard-working members. We have limited resources and lack any legal authority or recourse to exclude someone from a public park, which resides in the Portland Police Bureau.
Your letter attempts to encourage us to "evolve" as a movement, presumably "evolving" past the encampment. What you may call "evolve," I call "disintegrate." We are effective at organizing because we have a central focus of organizing in which many people are present around-the-clock. A daily meeting does not and cannot adequately replace the dynamic and creative natures of the encampment.#OccupyWallStreet is still in place and continues its encampment, and so are the other #Occupymovements around the world, including Hong Kong where you visited the other day. Both symbolically and practically, the tents and camping have become iconic symbols of this movement. While Bend and other smaller towns have opted for daily meetings and occasional marches, it is not a good model to follow for as big a movement as #OccupyPortland, the world's largest Occupation.
I do appreciate your patience, diplomacy, and continued willingness to remain collegial. I also deeply understand the urgent nature of the situation that must be addressed, not only for the sake of your interest, but also and more importantly for my own interest. But solutions do not come when the City of Portland is not doing its own part. The police must be more visibly present, and also provide training to our safety team, perhaps based on the highly acclaimed Citizens' Police Academy program of the Police Bureau. Likewise, the closure of the public restrooms by the Portland Parks & Recreation contributes to more public sanitation problems and damages to parks.
The #OccupyPortland Interfaith Guild of Chaplains
This is not an official statement of the Interfaith Guild of Chaplains.