This is one 70-year-old man’s personal observation about the Occupy Portland rally on Thursday, Oct. 6. I tried to just say what my experience was rather than have a big political twist to it.
I have to admit that when I went to downtown Portland to attend the rally, I was nervous. All week, I had been hearing press releases about who these people were (dirty hippies, troublemakers, children of rich parents) and how dangerous they might be. I wanted to see for myself what these folks were like.
I joined the crowd in Waterfront Park, and we soon started to march toward Pioneer Square on Ninth and Yamhill. This is about a 12-block walk, and all along the way cars were stopping, with drivers cheering the marchers on, getting on their car roofs or out of their cars and flashing the peace sign. So far, so good, but there were many blocks to go, and I was reserving judgment.
The most noticeable chant from the marchers was, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” followed by: “This is what democracy looks like!” They also chanted, “Let’s get the money out of politics, right now.” So, both of these slogans are pretty benign, and the one about getting the money out of politics seems to speak to a lot of us these days.
What were these kids like? I marched with several different groups, changing my position to meet more people and, as a 70-year-old, was treated exceptionally kindly, asked if I needed a hand with anything, did I want a bottle of water, and so forth. I thought this was pretty nice. I was not feeling nervous around these folks, and I was hoping the feeling didn’t change as we got to Pioneer Square, where hundreds of people were massing. This could be trouble, I thought.
All the marchers walked in and found places to stand or sit, and as the speaker began, I checked around me to see how many anarchists I could spot — they wear black clothes and hide their faces behind black handkerchiefs — but there were not many and they were not near me. These were the participants I was most worried about, as they sometimes just start trouble for no apparent reason.
The speaker was a young woman named Adrian. There was no official public address system. There were many battery powered megaphones in use. Adrian asked us to repeat what she said twice, so the people at the far edges of the square could hear. This became a call-and-response style of communication, and it made everyone aware of exactly what she was saying. It was a neat way to communicate.
I would say the bullet points of her presentation were primarily to do with cleaning up politics, getting the money of out politics, getting a jobs bill passed to train workers and create opportunities for employment, and asking our government to act as a leader in peace negotiations rather than combat. None of these ideas seemed radical to me. There was also some talk about getting politicians to sign a pledge that if elected, they will carry out their promises to the best of their ability.
About halfway through her presentation, Adrian asked those near the front and all the way back to the steps to sit down so all could see. The audience did, and as I was sitting down, a young woman next to me helped me down and gave me a blanket to sit on. That’s pretty cool and not scary. As Adrian’s speech continued, she paused and said, “We all know what the most powerful word in our vocabulary is, don’t we?” and the crowd shouted back, “Love!” and then this amazing cheer swelled from the crowd. It was pretty moving.
I was very surprised by how peaceful, well behaved, nonviolent and law-abiding this group of people was. As Adrian’s speech concluded, more speakers from the audience spoke up, including another 70-year-old who merely said, “I am here for my grandkids, to help make it a better world.” The crowd went wild.
Adrian asked the crowd to leave the square in an orderly fashion, obey the police and walk back down to the waterfront to reassemble.
For me, this was a very positive experience and nowhere near what I was hearing on some news stations. I have a feeling that the reporters never were mixing in with the crowd and finding out who they really were as individuals. The young people I met were kind, well-mannered and serious about helping America to become what they call a more responsive democracy, a democracy that doesn’t count so much on money but the real needs of the culture.
Nine days after my experience in Portland, Occupy Vancouver happened in Esther Short Park, as well as many other locations around the world. “Somethin’s going on and we all know what it is, don’t we Mr. Jones?” to paraphrase the poet laureate of my generation, Bob Dylan.
The Vancouver group was probably somewhere between 400 and 700 folks and considerably older than the Portland gathering. Nevertheless, I was surprised that so many turned out.
It was a good-natured group, full of enthusiasm to begin to be heard by its political leaders. State Rep. Jim Moeller of Vancouver showed up and heard the speeches of the crowd as they enumerated what they considered problems within our political structure. Seems like the issues discussed today were very similar to the issues covered last week in Portland.
I hope this account gives some of you a little different perspective on the Occupy rallies. Don’t be afraid. These are our kids. Go meet them. Be kind.
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