Travis Willmore:Following the ups and downs of the P.P.C.B.

It’s the last Friday night of spring break, and I’m headed downtown to the Pioneer Square Rite Aid to drop off some film that needs developing. As I approach the Hilton, I see a large crowd of people in the street up ahead. I naturally assume that they’re war protesters, but as I get closer it becomes obvious that they’re antiabortion activists, apparently protesting a Planned Parenthood conference going on at the Hilton. There are constipated-looking preacher types reading aloud about hellfire and damnation, and protesters carrying signs with graphic pictures of dead fetuses (or is it feti?). Classy. Across the street is an equally pained-looking SWAT team standing on the sides of an armored truck.

I quickly and, I hope, unobtrusively, navigate through this mess and continue down Sixth Avenue. After one more block, at Pioneer Square, there is a crowd of actual war protesters, even bigger than the recent norm. Twangy ’70s folk rock fills the air. You’d think that in the year 2003 they would at least upgrade to Rage Against the Machine, but apparently this hasn’t occurred to anybody.

There is also a considerably smaller but equally vocal pro-war contingent, many of whom are arguing heatedly with the larger group. Motorcycle cops have Sixth blocked off on either side of the square, and yet another SWAT team is standing in the middle of the street keeping an eye on the melee. The Portland police definitely have their hands full these days. It would be an excellent time to rob a bank.

After dropping off my film, I head back up Sixth toward campus as a loud jingling noise fills the air, reminiscent of a department-store Santa falling down a flight of stairs. It’s this Friday’s edition of the Critical Mass bike protest coming down Yamhill. The Pioneer Square protesters shout their encouragement to the bike protesters, and vice versa. They probably all know each other from the Saturday Market. Some of the bikers even have antiwar signs and paraphernalia as well.

So. On this specific night, we have the people protesting abortion, the people protesting the war, the people protesting the people protesting the war and the people on bikes protesting over-dependence on motor vehicles.

That makes four separate protests in three city blocks, or approximately 1.3 protests per block.

With the war in Iraq showing no sign of a swift conclusion, the protests-per-city-block ratio, or P.P.C.B., probably has nowhere to go but up. If the P.P.C.B. were a commodity on Wall Street, I wouldn’t think twice about dumping my life savings ($3.67) trying to buy shares.

For years, protesters in Pioneer Square have been as common a sight as pigeons and mentally unbalanced tweakers walking in circles talking to themselves. How many people driving down Broadway are going to slow down to read what the sign says this time?

Not a very impressive amount, because the only thing that ever noticeably changes is the message on the sign.

Come on, people, at least use a dry-erase board and save a few trees. The only time the general public does pay much attention is when a protest blocks their commute home, and even then the reaction tends to be general annoyance rather than a burning desire to drag George W. Bush out the door of the White House by the scruff of the neck.

It’s glaringly obvious by now that Bush is unfazed by this type of public furor. By all appearances, he enjoys upsetting the protest-prone. Hell, when he was in college, he probably used to set them on fire. He seems to get the same giddy rush from pissing off hippies that he used to get from the right combination of booze and high-grade cocaine. He has a high level of disdain for people who conscientiously object to the war, or conscientiously object to anything, for that matter. Or people who know what the word “conscientious” means.

A few hundred people in the streets of Portland aren’t going to have this guy losing an awful lot of sleep.