Portland activists reorganize
It’s been more than a year since the Occupy camp in Portland was dismantled. Where are the “Occupiers” now?
Despite the movement’s retreat from public view, activists said they have been working hard to reorganize and say they have no intention of quitting.
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Occupy’s encampment, located in the Plaza Blocks, was asked to dismantle in mid-November of the last year because of rising crime and police overtime costs.
Their new strategy has been to break into groups that have specific interests and goals, riding the momentum that Occupy created.
“There were movements that existed before that now have a tremendous amount of energy,” said McRae Freeman, a local involved in the Portland activist community.
From labor unions to projects like the People’s Budget, a community-made proposal that reimagines how the city of Portland should allocate its money, the groups are tackling various agendas.
Budget cuts to public services such as education and the postal service have surfaced as a main issue for many political activists. Resistance to these austerity measures has become a rallying point.
Mike Losier, a member of the media team at the Portland Action Lab, said the cuts affect people at all levels—especially students.
“It’s important because the austerity measures affect the kind of world that [students] will be going into,” he said.
PAL, a direct result of Occupy, is a group that coordinates events and acts of civil disobedience with other activists who oppose austerity measures.
Portland State is no stranger to the Occupy movement. Last year, protestors took to the campus during an Occupy PSU event, and ASPSU organized a student walkout.
Now, PSU has its own anti-austerity group, known as the Student Action Coalition, which was inspired by anti-austerity student protests in Quebec.
Protestors said the need to branch out and reorganize came from the movement’s complicated relationship with the media and the general public. They believe it was hard for some people to see Occupy as a legitimate movement because of its lack of a coherent message.
International studies sophomore Chiara Pasciuto said she took issue with the lack of leadership within the movement, something she believed posed an obstacle to accomplishing goals.
Liam Doherty Nicholson, an organizer and activist in an effort known as Community Supported Everything, said he thought it was a big rallying call to all activist groups.
“At first everybody came together and was like ‘yeah, we can do this together!’ Then [they] looked out to the rest of the world…like, are y’all ready for this revolution? And the rest of the world being like, ‘fuck yeah!’” he said.
As the movement gained momentum, however, the adamant stance within the movement to represent a broad variety of interests and bring everything to the table became the movement’s downfall.
“Occupy fell off of people’s radar because there was a misunderstanding in the press about what Occupy was and is,” Freeman said. “Nationally there is this narrative that Occupy doesn’t have any goals or demands.”
Nicholson said the media had trouble covering a leaderless operation and got a skewed perception of the movement because of information from outside sources.
“When [the media] are featuring protest culture, oftentimes they got most of their quotes from the police department, so first of all that’s a huge bias,” he said.
Shamus Cooke, who is involved in the People’s Budget Project, said that Occupy became associated with police confrontation because of poor media coverage.
But Occupiers aren’t discouraged. They see the movement more as the opening of a channel for discussion of issues, which contrasts with typical protests, such as labor strikes, that have very specific demands.
After a Nov. 3 march against austerity that was organized by PAL, there have been indications of a more interested public.
Freeman claimed that after the protest an associate did a Google trend report on the word “austerity” and the number of searches had skyrocketed.
“Occupy was a tactic as much as a movement,” Cooke said. “But now people are looking for other ways to create change.”