Cooler weather sees tempers flare at Occupy Portland

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PORTLAND (AP) — Tensions are rising as temperatures fall at the Occupy Portland protest that just weathered its first frost.

Full-on fistfights that once drew a crowd of peacemakers at the tent city in downtown Portland barely merited a glance one morning this week.

Police said that on Monday afternoon they were getting calls every 45 minutes for fights and other disturbances. Most of the incidents ended with suspects and complainants fleeing before police arrived. One person was taken to a detoxification facility after he was spotted on a street corner “acting in a confusing manner.”

Some activists worry that Occupy Portland will fall apart because of problems resulting from homeless people and drug users who have been drawn to the camp of 300 tents and tarps largely because of free food and medical care.

A flier calling for the protest to move to an indoor facility during the winter has made its way through the camp, which would make it easier to have control over who gets into Occupy Portland. The proposal has drawn praise from those who see it as a solution and derision from people who view it as capitulation.

“We as an occupation are unable to meet the needs of the vulnerable populations coming for refuge and due to this lack of capacity are causing more harm than good,” “ the flier reads.

With the camp at its current site, the flier says, “there is no way to enforce anything or to help people who feel unsafe.”

A Wednesday evening march provided a mellow interlude as labor union members joined Occupy Portland protesters in an event that drew hundreds to the streets of downtown Portland.

Marchers included children and dogs, babies in strollers and people on bikes.

Occupy Portland demonstrators said in a statement that the march was an effort to engage the city in their efforts.

The camp seemed like Woodstock during the early days of the Occupy Portland protest, which began on Oct. 6. Hipster folk bands played 20-minute sets during lunch, children played happily and visitors were welcomed.

Now, winter is coming and relationships are fraying, even among organizers. A faction within the protest’s finance committee has broken ranks and established a non-profit corporation for the protest, despite the protest’s General Assembly voting against it, said Jordan LeDoux, a protest spokesman.

One morning this week, at least two fistfights and a dozen loud arguments roiled the camp. It’s become the norm, protester Avery Roper said.

“People get stir crazy and they start digging on each other,” Roper said. “It’s getting way different. It’s definitely getting closer to the edge because people are on edge. There’s almost a weakness to comfort, because as people get more comfortable, they get less on their toes and problems start.”

Some of the friction arises from the disparate groups of people at Occupy Portland. They include street kids without homes, anarchists and young mothers with children.

City officials haven’t said what would cause them to forcibly evict the protesters, as police did in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday. Amy Ruiz, spokeswoman for Portland Mayor Sam Adams, said the city evaluates the protest daily.