(Guest post by MRG board member Shizuko Hashimoto.)
For the last two weeks, I have lived, breathed, and Facebooked Occupy Portland. On October 6, I left work and arrived in Chapman and Lownsdale Squares in downtown Portland. This was ground zero of the new Occupy Portland movement and I was eager to see what was going on.
I found a vibrant community filled with people who were talking about and displaying signs expressing their anger about the ways that our current economic system marginalizes, disenfranchises, and alienates “the 99%.” They talked about their hope for humanity and their belief that we must evolve towards a system that values people over profits, and one that does not depend on the systematic destruction of the planet.
I was inspired by the mood of the evening, the passionate voices of those who’ve never held a megaphone, the seasoned voices of those who have made this a part of their lives and their work for decades, some voices trembling, some deep and resonant, all telling their stories of injustice and hope for a better future. I knew I wanted to be a part of this movement.
For me, the past two weeks have been messy, full of arguments, impassioned debates, mistakes, and also lingering questions about the lack of consciousness about race within the dominant political discourse (although I have been pleasantly surprised by how many people of color, especially youth, are participating).
But as messy as it has been, it has also given me hope. A large group of people — many of us who were complete strangers before October 6 — have come together to create and maintain a physical space to meet the basic needs of our little community, including safety, education, medical, food, sanitation, and morale (yes, there is a morale committee!). It is a taste of what our world could look like, where decisions that affect us all are made through cooperation and consensus, where we work together to try and meet all of our basic needs, and where creativity and education are an integral part to the strength and spirit of our communities.
Occupy Portland has used a consensus process and daily general assemblies (attended by between 100 and 1,000 people on any given night) to make important decisions regarding the newly created movement and space.
The first night of Occupy Portland, the General Assembly debated for over two hours whether to leave the space the following morning after being told that we would be physically removed by the Portland Police to make way for the Portland Marathon which had a permit for Lownsdale and Chapman Square, an area crucial to the marathon course.
The following morning, just an hour before the police deadline, the General Assembly passed a proposal which included direct communication with the Portland Marathon to see if we could work together to share the space. The police stood down, no arrests were made, and the Portland Marathon and Occupy Portland shared the space with a spirit of cooperation.
Since that very first proposal that was passed, Occupy Portland has passed other proposals, one created a feeder march for the October 15 anti-war march in Portland another created a statement of solidarity with the organization Right 2 Dream Too, a homeless rights organization facing threats of eviction for a homeless camp they organized.
I’ve been motivated and inspired to continue participating in Occupy Portland because I see a space where people of many ages, political opinions and ethnicities are coming together to dialogue and work together to protect and grow this movement of people. I’ve been organizing for a long time, but every day I participate in Occupy Portland I learn something new: a new way of thinking, a new way of organizing.
I have a lot to say about the role of race in not only Occupy Portland, but in the Occupy movement as a whole. It’s an important topic which requires a lot of thought and one I am excited to write about in the future. Here’s a thoughtful post on Whiteness and the 99% on BringtheRuckus.org, and a piece from Colorlines: Why You Must Face Race to Occupy Atlanta. And then there’s Sharon’s fantastic blog post.
In the meantime, I encourage everyone to visit the Occupy Portland space, located at SW 3rd and Main, or if you can’t make it down there, the website has information and videos.
For those outside of the Portland area, I encourage you to check if there are any Occupations where you live. It’s an interesting and exciting model that works best and is most rewarding when you participate.