Impressions from the Ousting of Occupy Portland
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Portland, Oregon) - Whatever you may think about the Occupy Portland encampment, it became its own odd kind of tourist attraction – and it certainly has many historical aspects that will be examined in the future.
Being a publication that strongly promotes tourism, what it meant for Oregon tourism was important to Oregon Travel Daily. One rather poignant comment came from a tourist visiting here that was interviewed on TV during the camp's opening weeks, when the woman expressed some admiration (and curiosity) for this construct, but also concern for the state of the park that was being occupied.
While I personally admired the commitment of the movement, I cringed at the growing trainwreck developing in that spot. So when midnight came, bringing the deadline for them to be out, I sat glued to the TV screen watching the live coverage of what seemed to partially be a contest of “who might blink first.”
My friends and I scoffed at the throngs of onlookers that came down to watch what might happen, and I didn't for a second imagine I would be one. But a drive home past this crazy scene caused my curiosity to explode, and I found myself walking into it, camera in hand, around 2:30 a.m. I had to record it and relay my impressions.
I would estimate a total of four to five thousand people still at this point.
As many of the TV newscasters noted, it had more of a festive atmosphere – a bit of a party vibe. But it was probably more correct to say it had “a festive atmosphere with a hint of police action on the side.”
There were numerous impressions the live TV news crews seemed to leave out. One of the biggest was the sound of helicopters overhead. These were apparently news copters, but at least one could have been a police aircraft – if you didn't know better. In any case, the sound of these above you was a bit ominous, but it also drove home the significance of what was around you.
An especially striking scene was watching the copters floating over downtown from the bridge and the east bank: they hovered in the fog just above the skyscrapers and their lights made them look like UFO's.
The other large impression not talked about too much was the smell of the place. Some of this could've been just because of the sheer volume of mud kicked up and spread around the sidewalks – mud mixed with the usual dirt of city streets. Some of it could've also been a strange plant that sometimes smells a bit like vomit around this time of year for some odd reason. But the likely culprit was mostly the unclean conditions mixed in that mud – though it was a puzzling smell that was hard to identify, which made it a little more alarming. It wasn't overwhelming, but rather a constant odor that got worse in some spots.
That huge amount of mud running over the sidewalks and streets was perhaps the most disturbing. I could see why local business owners and downtown workers have been seething for some time, based on just the smell and disarray. It became an alarming eyesore, despite the best of intentions (and nevermind the safety issues that arose).
Then there was that wacky party atmosphere of this interaction with the police on Sunday morning, which sometimes – sadly – translated into the actual odor of partying via the occasional waft of marijuana. I could've also done without the hippie drum circle, but I suppose any Tea Party rally would've had equally offensive redneck music in tow. (If there was a political movement that involved something musically interesting like, say, Manic Street Preachers or King Crimson, I could get behind that).
Indeed, the festive atmosphere was most noticeable by the sheer number of onlookers. Downtown Portland resembled the aftermath of a large festival on the watefront closing, with quite the crowds wandering to and from their vehicles, even at 3 a.m. While you drifted through the throngs, it was impossible to tell for sure who was a protester and who was a sightseer, but the curious certainly appeared to far outnumber the actual participants (not including the bike riders and police, however).
In fact, I was there to watch and record the onlookers as much as the protesters. The one thing my group of friends – many of them bartenders - kept discussing while watching the live coverage was this was a bad idea for a deadline. It was a Saturday night, where drunk folk would spill out of the bars in great numbers and traffic would be seriously congested.
But mostly, the drunk folk concerned us. Luckily, in the end, they didn't cause any more problems other than occasionally showing up behind news reporters and making a spectacal of themselves. But this could've gone horribly wrong, especially with the fist-happy demographic that tend to haunt downtown clubs.
It's now 5 a.m. and the end of this story hasn't been written.
In any case, I'm not going to miss the camp. While I hope the movement finds some focus and success, in the end, this settlement was hurting some of the 99 percent it said it stood for.