By Talon Bronson
PORTLAND, Oregon, U.S.A. – The Occupy Portland camp is running off the tracks, and no one is to blame more than the occupants.
I arrived at the camp late Friday, just two days before the encampment’s closure deadline, when all occupiers will be required to leave by order of Mayor Sam Adams.
And while the cops are to be disliked, every moment I spent in that camp left me feeling more and more as if, maybe, the policemen’s behavior was not entirely unwarranted.
I would never defend the opposing side of Occupy – the corrupt and malicious stand there – but to look upon Occupy Portland is to gaze upon a center of idealistic virtues marred by its own inherently flawed population.
What started as a intellectual rally against the status quo, a scream into the ever-encroaching night, has become a joke of a camping ground, where all you can smell is the scent of freshly smoked Ganja, and maybe, the strong whiff of whiskey off an old man’s breath, a old man who you will inevitably find standing next to you, asking for spare quarters and cigarettes.
It is an occupation of the hopeless and the homeless.
Finding an idealist, an educated man or woman, is difficult. Wading through a sea of bodies, past tent after tent, listening to the raspy voices, the incoherent sentences, and at the end you will think, “My God, what a waste of space.”
These are not the men or women we saw on TV, the college students protesting their student loans, bringing awareness to our massive debt, and our failing system of government.
Oh, the anger is still here. But this anger is all-embracing, a scornful hatred emitted by a mass of people who seem to feel that the entire world has done them wrong.
None of them raise particular issues, and I’ll bet not one could sit down and explain exactly how the system has gone awry.
But they can write a sign that reads ‘wall st. = Greed’. Not much else is to be expected.
The problem with Occupy from the beginning was a lack of clear direction and nowhere is that problem clearer than in the Portland camps.
While I talked with the various groups I moved among, I tried to find coherence, but couldn’t. I prayed for even one person to set me straight, to tell me the purpose of it all, and to explain to me how Occupy was to help fix it.
But all I ended up with were angry young men and women, with greasy overalls, and, if I were lucky, anarchy tattoos across their faces.
Enough of my rambling and disappointment, though. I’ll now let my night at Occupy speak for itself.
It is an easy night to remember: 11/11/11, when I tiredly trod into the encampment a little after five o’clock, having just gotten of work, the rain and the wind doing nothing for my exhausted demeanor.
Behind me stood the Portland Justice Center, as large and looming as ever, and in front of me what looked to be, from a distance, a maximum occupancy campground. Take away all the signs, and that’s what it was.
But the signs were like the picket fence of Occupy, surrounding the outer edges, showcasing the encampment’s many varied messages to the casual passerby.
In bold lettering, one displayed the catchphrase of the movement: “We are the 99%.”
Another said, “Medicare for all.”
A third simply asked, “Where is my Social Security?”
The moment I set foot in the camp, I could feel in my gut I didn’t belong.
Hostility was running high.
Apparently, though the Occupiers had till Sunday by order of the mayor, the police were trying to shut down the camp early. They were at every corner.
Some occupiers were packing up, shuffling about amongst their few belongings, looking to get out before any real trouble, but most stood their ground, in torn shoes and the grubby gear of folks who have spent too many nights out in the cold.
The first conversation I started, with a young man looking very much the worse for wear, was met with a snide, “You have three questions.”
Like just about everyone at the camp, he wouldn’t give his name. There seemed to be an unseen memo delivered to all campers, swearing them to complete secrecy.
He did, however, have a few choice things to say about the coming date of expulsion from the parks,
“They want to kick us out, but it’s a fascist system, what these cops are running, and I’m not leaving. They’re going to have a fight, and I know some who will bring it to them,” he said.
The fellow used the word ‘fascist’ callously, irrelevantly, like there was no real point to it. It was more like it was an insult the way his lips rolled over it.
When I asked him the purpose of Occupy, he gave a one word answer: Revolution.
I let him be, using my last question to ask if I could take a picture of the sign that hung on his tent.
I took my picture and made my way further into the camp. I shook him off. He was a bad egg, I was sure, and I just had to keep looking.
Ten minutes after our conversation, he was still standing stock still where I had met him, eyeing everyone with overt anger.
After I left him, I looked hard. It came to the point where I would look under the stones laid about the parks, if I thought it would help me find something worthwhile.
During my search, three people offered to sell me weed. I was asked for a smoke at least half a dozen times, and I heard two unrelated stories from two unrelated parties of Occupy teenagers about the psychedelic trip they had went on at one of the marches not but a week or two ago.
Slowly, I lost steam, and, painfully, interest.
I no longer paid attention to the dirty looks I got as I asked questions. Expletives were trying to form on my lips, to be spat out at the numerous people who antagonized my search for a meaning in the camp.
By the end of my long walk through Occupy, I realized that what I was searching for didn’t exist here.
One of the last people I managed to speak with, another man who refused to give his real name and demanded that if his words got into print he be called Glenn Quagmire, was branded with an anarchy symbol and packing up to leave.
He had gotten out of jail not two weeks earlier, he said, and wasn’t planning to stay in fear of getting arrested and sent back.
I asked him what he thought Occupy would do, after this weekend, when the police would shut the camp down, by force, if necessary.
“They’ll fight back, when they try to shut it down,” he said, seconding an opinion I had now heard too many times to count. “And after that, we’ll move. It isn’t going to end. This is our right, to occupy. It’s fascist, what they’re doing.”
Once again, in the span of little over an hour, I held my tongue, and did not ask this young man if he even knew the definition of the word fascist. I had heard it so many times, thrown around so loosely, that it barely even carried weight any longer.
I left the camp a little after six, deflated and angry, angry for a whole different set of reasons than I had been when Occupy had started, when I had joined in one of their first marches down Morrison Street, straight through the center of Portland.
Then, I had felt something for this cause. I still do, I suppose, if only for the ideals alone.
Now, though, in Portland at least, the people stand in the way of the ideal, and they stand strong and tall, exercising their free right of speech without knowing what they want to talk about.
On that first march, there had been a joyous feeling, and there had been talks! Oh, talks to rival the best you can imagine, coming from all corners — from men in suits, talking about the country, the Constitution and where we stand as a nation, to hipsters, for once stepping out of their fashionable place of irrelevance, to express opinions that you never even knew they had. That march buzzed.
Now, though, there was a loud noise of anger, but nothing more than a whisper of protest.
It was a beautiful uprising, but, as far as my eye could see, it had a fall ugly enough to match it, a fall preceded by drugs, medical emergencies, violence, arson (a Molotov Cocktail incident), and, coming in last, the gentle exhausted sputter of ideals that had held on for as long as they could.
On Sunday the encampments will be removed, and whether forcibly or not, it will be a sad day.
When the occupiers leave, it will mean that Mayor Sam Adams’ city of Portland will have put its foot down on the biggest act of free speech I have ever seen.
It will also mean that the Occupiers failed, in their time, to find anything worthwhile to say.
I still wish the best to all the Occupy camps around the world. I hope the others retain their ideals and charisma.
Let Portland be your warning: without direction, dissipation.