Thursday, November 17, 2011

An urgent message to the mayor and police chief

Nov. 17, 2011

Dear Mayor Adams and Chief Reese,

For a long time, the world looked up to Portland as a model that we can be proud of, in terms of how the #Occupy movement, its organizers, and city officials came together in supporting the popular sentiments that led to the global #OWS movement. I feel that the high point in the history of #OccupyPortland was how the Occupy General Assembly, committees, the City of Portland, and the Portland Marathon worked out their conflicts and created a true win-win solution that caught the whole world by surprise. This, and the civility at the core of the interactions between #OccupyPortland and the City of Portland, including the Fire Bureau, Parks and Recreation Bureau, and the Police Bureau, made #OccupyPortland perhaps the most successful Occupations on earth.

Now I miss those days, when our shared concerns were about street youth on drugs and occasional incidents involving an inebriated chronic homeless on a bench. Those issues were our shared concerns,
and solutions were for the benefit of all parties involved. You both know that aside from these incidents, everything was mostly peaceful.

Now that, as many of the downtown area big businesses and their interest group Portland Business Alliance, has gotten their demands by "getting rid of the homeless" in the Chapman and Lownsdale parks, and that now we are in a phase of a reinvigorated #OccupyPortland movement in which we are not longer, in Mr. Mayor, your own words, "worried about tents and port-a-potties," you and Chief Reese ought to show your stated support for the #Occupy movement and its causes for social and economic justice.

Instead, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Chief, after the extensive homeless outreach campaign ostensibly to separate those who were part of the #OccupyPortland encampment simply for food and shelter from what you might think of as "genuine protesters," you have decided to outfit the police with riot gear and assault weapons.

Mssrs. Adams and Reese, this makes absolutely no sense to me. First of all, what the City is doing is potentially in violation of ORS 163.190, which makes it a crime, a Class A Misdemeanor, to "place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury." Secondly, I do not think I am the only one scratching my head (not a reference to the media-hyped rumors of a head lice outbreak!) trying to make
sense of your seeming 180-degree change of attitudes taking place sometime last Saturday, November 12. Many progressive media and bloggers are speculating the existence of a secret federal directive
to crush #Occupy movements nationwide in a coordinated attack. Yet, even then, the mayor had the ultimate say in when and how anything was to be implemented, according to the same sources. Thirdly, the constant presence of riot police and display of their weapons over the past several days in downtown is defeating what you ostensibly seek to accomplish: tourists and shoppers are now reluctant to go downtown as it no longer looks like a safe, family-friendly environment. While the ongoing intimidation campaign by the Portland Police Bureau further drives a wedge between the more mainstream, moderate types of the "99 percent" and the radical, "anarchist" elements, the demonstrations are increasingly attracting those radicalized elements while driving away the more moderate and peaceful types, including myself. Enough is enough. There is no reason to spread a mass paranoia and turn an important part of Portland such as downtown into a war zone, and inconveniencing the rest of the 99% through unnecessary and excessive traffic closures and restrictions. The #OccupyPortland movement did not bring this upon downtown. Through your actions, the people are more agitated towards the police and the resentment and anger towards the City are growing,  perhaps even more so than during the days of encampment. A week ago, the problem was confined just in three city blocks; today the Steel Bridge and a large portion of downtown Portland, Old Town-Chinatown, Pearl District and Lloyd District are affected.

Mr. Adams and Mr. Reese, there are far more constructive and non-confrontational ways to support public safety and help the local businesses and workers who work there. Even you yourselves have always said publicly that the majority of #OccupyPortland people are peaceful, organized and responsible, and that it has always been a problem of few individuals with questionable ties to #OccupyPortland.

As the November 17 action was planning on a rally today at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, let us learn from the legacy of Governor Tom McCall -- a very moderate Republican who brought us SOLV and bottle deposits -- When faced with a prospect of a major showdown between anti-Vietnam demonstrators and the American Legion Conference, Mr. McCall did not send down riot police; rather, he worked closely with the organizers to create a solution that prevented a major violent conflict, known as Vortex I. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, which he originally thought of as "a political suicide," made him a wildly popular governor and one of the best-remembered elected officials in Oregon history.

Mr. Adams and Mr. Reese, you have an opportunity today to make a history that all Portlanders and Oregonians can be proud for decades to come. It is on your shoulders and in your hands to show that you walk the talk when you and your colleagues say you support the messages of the #Occupy movement.

This polarization, alienation and increasing tension between #OccupyPortland and the City of Portland must stop. I am expecting you to show some initiative that once again bring us all together for a common cause and win-win solutions.

The ball is in your courts.


Sarah Morrigan

The #OccupyPortland Interfaith Guild of Chaplains
Twitter: @OccupyPDXigc @sarahmorrigan

This is not an official statement of the Interfaith Guild of Chaplains

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