Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is Mayor Adams a Friend of the Occupation?

Adam Rothstein of the Portland Occupier wrote critically of Mayor Adams, amplifying many of the points I made in the recent post "West Coast Port Shutdown, part 1." Rothstein accuses Adams of showing "false claims of sympathy" as he moves against Occupy Portland:
And now, even while protesters are pushed from public spaces into the streets, Mayor Adams releases press releases condemning the methods and organization of the Occupation, phrased as if he alone was in possession of a victory strategy for us, which is perhaps intended as leadership, though one wonders how that might be at all believable.
Rothstein provides ample evidence of Adams' anti-Occupy position. (Read the entire article for a bullet-pointed list.) In response to Mayor Adams, Rothstein says:
The Occupation will not be patronized, and the Occupation will not be intimidated. Dismissal and derision by city officials, castigation and lies delivered via Mayoral press releases, and physical threats and violence brought by the city’s police force will not sway the Occupation and its allies from proceeding in their course, defined each day as the participants make it. Our brief history thus far speaks to this resolve. These antagonistic actions by self-described “friends” of the Occupation are obvious for what they are, and will not masquerade as logical arguments that might convince us that free speech is not a human right, that what we are attempting to speak freely is not fundamental and crucial to continued human life, or that we somehow might be satisfied on these human levels by going home, and folding our hopes and efforts back into the old system that has failed us and continues to fail us, each and every day of the Occupation.

West Coast Port Shutdown, part 1

Over the past several days, the Occupy and related movements have ramped up their attacks on the 1%. Occupiers from across this land converged on DC "to confront legislators," occupied foreclosed properties to protest banks getting bailed out while the people get sold out, and held "largely symbolic" votes to end "corporate personhood." After getting squeezed from city parks, these unsinkable Occupiers keep popping up.

In what promises to be the  political equivalent of spallation, the Occupy Movement threatens to shut down West Coast ports on December 12, 2011. This planned action builds on momentum from the Oakland General Strike, which closed the Port of Oakland on November, 2, 2011. This bold move marks a more militant and politically potent phase for the Occupy Movement.

Reactions of West Coast mayors should reveal their allegiance to the 1%. Take as a bellwether Portland's Mayor Sam Adams. Throughout the conflict between Occupy Portland and the city, Mayor Adams positioned himself as a spokesperson for the real political goals of Occupy Portland while simultaneously moving to shut down its public expression.

Mayor Adams demonstrated these acrobatics in a December 2nd statement regarding re-occupying Portland:
As someone who empathizes with the founding frustrations of the Occupy movement—economic inequity, our high unemployment rate, the influence of corporations and money in politics—I believe that the encampments have become a distraction from addressing these national issues.

Thus while publicly supporting Occupy's goals, Mayor Adams has used police force to prevent Occupy's message from taking grip. All the while, he blamed the movement's supposedly counterproductive methods for his harsh and asymmetrical crackdown. If we take Mayor Adams at his word, then he should support clear-cut political action even as he laments the "drug overdoses," "crime," and "health and sanitation issues" that justified his police offensive against the Occupation of Lownsdale and Chapman Squares. Will his actions belie his words?

Now that Occupy strikes at the 1% in the only way that counts—in their pocketbooks—it will be telling to see if Mayor Adams yet again "speaks" for the "real" movement by condemning the "actual" movement. Stay tuned for reporting from the West Coast Port Blockade, as well as commentary on Mayor Adams' reactions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Automation and Outsourcing, part 1

Is there a way out of the thicket of finance capitalism toward an economic structure that benefits people, promotes equality, and propels the world toward a more sustainable and happy future?

In order to answer this question, we must consider the twin devils hollowing out broad prosperity: automation and outsourcing.

Since before Ned Ludd smashed the first loom, automation has been making workers obsolete while driving deeper into bondage those lucky enough to cling to their jobs. Thus the 1% has capitalized on mass misery. The cotton gin, for example, expanded exploitation by increasing the productivity of slave labor and expanding that shameful system. Automation, however, is not an unalloyed evil. After all, the easiest jobs to automate have tended to be the least fulfilling. Automation made lives easier and opened up vast kingdoms of newer, more satisfying jobs.

As globalism shrinks supply chains, outsourcing has over the last several decades joined automation as a key prosperity-slayer by draining American jobs to low-wage countries. Although it has made prices cheaper in Wal-Mart and Apple Stores alike, outsourcing has exported ecological blight to the developing world while obliterating wages and jobs for low- and middle-skilled workers in the US. Global corporations now rely on dangerous and unethical sweatshops to maximize their bottom lines. Yet, just like automation, outsourcing has provided a few advantages. It has brought new hope and possibilities to people all around the globe by giving them steady jobs and wages. Never mind that these newly employed workers will soon face the same brutal corporate undercutting when their jobs are shipped to an even more "flexible" labor market. And, the "always low prices" offered at Wal-Mart are one of the few threads that poverty-stricken families can hold onto as they sink into the quicksand of diminishing living standards. Never mind that automation and outsourcing share responsibility for shriveling their incomes in the first place.

Our current era of converging crises faces a radically new threat from automation and outsourcing. Prior to the computer revolution, only the dullest, lowest skilled jobs faced the specter of automation and outsourcing. Nowadays, these scourges spread their destruction up the income and status ladder.

As shown above, automation and outsourcing can offer improvements in the way people live. The problem, then, is the way they are deployed to enrich the 1% at the expense of the 99% rather than to improve people's lives.

We've reached an economic, cultural, societal, and ecological crossroads. The choices we make now will determine what type of future we live in. It may even be too late. But our current path puts us on a collision course with collapse. If we are lucky, and the end comes later rather than sooner, then we face a further hollowing out of our economy, psyches, libidos, and ecology. In this diminished future, those of us with any money remaining will be seduced by sensuous lust machines and will eat the processed remains of surplus senior citizens, flavored, until the monocrop collapses, by corn syrup.

Occupy the Text

Has any movement generated so much text and occupied so many pixels in so short a time as the Occupy Movement?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Letters to Wendy's

I suspect that the era of the Ironic and Snarky Non Sequitur has come to a close. That being said, let us now praise that rotting genre with a quote from Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's:
April 19, 1997
It is rare for a baby to be so bad that it is sentenced to be hanged, and even rarer for the sentence to be carried out, and yet, when a baby is hung, what a pleasant surprise it is for the passersby. Even the passerby whose arms and legs are bound is able to inch up close enough to the tiny, swaying, villainous nugget of softness and know, with his bare cheek, the threshold through which real evil sinks away.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Apocalypso

For a lighthearted take on the apocalypse, check out Dan Moreau's flash fiction "Apocalypse Days" in the "antipastoralist, ecocentric" journal Fiddleblack: "In Lordsburg, I saw a crow fall out of the sky like a piece of fuselage. In Brownsville, I saw dead fish wash up on the shore by the thousands. In Dubuque, I listened to the drone of locust gnaw on corn. . ."

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Documerica"

The Atlantic, a rag I rarely read, has culled an EPA archive for stunning photos of America in Decline during the 1970s. Environmental stress, pollution, nuclear power plants, urban decay—"Documerica" offers a vivid glimpse into the past that is.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The End of Act I

Under the yellow ginko and elm leaves fluttering in the drizzle, the mood at Occupy Portland was resigned. Police swarmed the camp, milling about with their ventilated face masks—presumably to protect them from the disease vectors of a rabble idealistically ignorant enough to believe that the Constitution protects vermin like them. Billy clubs and zip ties hung from their utility belts; their barrel chests, thick with kevlar. Three women whirled through the crowd, singing a protest song. Most of the Occupation's infrastructure had been torn down. The library's books had been stored offsite. The yurt and tarp were gone. The kitchen no longer stood before the statue of a pioneer family, which had been unwrapped from its Cascadian flag, and whose metal mouths were now silenced by duct tape. On the second day of the Occupation, I helped four total strangers erect two storage tents behind the statue. These tents too were gone. Brown leaves littered the ground and covered what few tarps remained. A dog named Chuck Norris ran beneath a sign hanging from a giant elm: SACK MAMMON.

Effective at midnight on November 13, and in concert with mayors around the country, Mayor Sam Adams ordered the removal of Occupy Portland. The city would once again enforce the anti-camping laws it had relaxed just one moon cycle before.

From the beginning, Occupiers disagreed about the location and value of Chapman and Lownsdale Squares. In the first General Assembly I attended, I heard an anarchist, bandanna shrouding his mouth, shout that the Occupation held a "tactically flaccid" position, situated between the jail, the federal courthouse, city hall, and police headquarters. It's location near banks and businesses, however, made these parks an ideal launching point for protests and direct action. Once the Occupiers settled in, inertia kept us in this location.

The showdown was scheduled for midnight. I wasn't present. I had promised Helen, who was in New Orleans, that I wouldn't get arrested, or place myself in a position where arrest was probable. Since I couldn't gauge the likely actions of the crowd or the police, I decided it might be best to stay away. Besides, I had a stack of tests awaiting my attention. As much as the media likes to portray Occupiers as unemployed good-for-nothings, I remain committed to my day job as an educator. If the students committed the time to read and think critically about eight short stories over five weeks, I owed them a close reading of their efforts. And I couldn't live up to my side of the bargain while recovering from pepper spray in a jail cell. Although I might regret it later in life, I stayed away from the activities of the next twenty-four hours.

Before bed, I watched the Occupation's Livestream. Police had brought in Klieg lights, which lent an eerie mood to the human mic speaking from the obelisk in Lownsdale Square, where one speaker warned, "We will be filled with rage because it will be outrageous."

Fears ran deep. Snark from the Willamette Week held, "The Portland Police Bureau prediction [for eviction night]: There will be anarchists waiting in a bunker dug in the middle of a park, holding wooden shields and planks with nails hammered in them—seriously—while 'people may be in the in trees.' "

I awoke the next morning to find the parks still Occupied and anarchists cleaning up trash. Portland Occupier has a good live blog of the dance party, bicycle swarm, and standoff where Occupiers pushed back the Portland Police.

Sarah Mirk had this to say: "Here's what we didn't see last night: Mass arrests, violence, naked people covered in Crisco, anarchists hiding in trees with makeshift weapons.
   
"Here's what actually happened: Curfew broken, dance party, street closure attempt, police officer injured, rough arrest, hours-long street standoff, COOL HEADS PREVAILED."

As Sunday raged on, I divided my time between reading about evictions and actions across the country and watching the growing tensions in Portland. The parks were cleared by 9:30 am. Soon police had broken up a General Assembly by billy-clubbing Occupiers, wounding an American Sign Language translator in the melee.

Eventually, the Livestream showed the Occupiers and police falling into a tense standoff at SW 4th and Main. Occupiers chanted, "Please take off your riot gear. I don't see no riot here."

Police answered: "This is the Portland Police Bureau. Under authority of Oregon law, SW Main Street is being reopened to vehicular traffic. You must immediately vacate the roadway and proceed to the sidewalk. If you remain in the road way and show the attempt to engage in physical resistance to removal, or if emergency circumstances require, you may be subject to the use of force, including chemical agents and impact weapons. If you remain in the road way, you may be subject to arrest for disorderly conduct and other state and city offenses. Please move to the west on the sidewalk immediately. Thank you."

To which one Occupier answered, "You can disorderly conduct my nuts."

"We are peaceful," another said to the police. "You can beat me up, and I'll still love you."

By this time OPB and all the broadcast television channels were reporting from the standoff. Police reinforcements arrived from Salem and Vancouver, Washington. On KGW, Sgt. Pete Simpson stated, "more than fifty were arrested today."

Meanwhile, two Occupiers arrived with Voodoo doughnuts. The police did not accept the peace offering. A tent appeared in the road way to shouts of "Occupy Main Street."

The police finally stepped back. I feared mass violence was about to be unleashed on the streets of Portland, but soon traffic was rolling down 4th. Occupiers spilled into the street and marched to Pioneer Square, with little resistance from the police. Chapman Square, Lownsdale Square, and Terry Schrunk Plaza had been surrounded by Cyclone fencing.

The first act of this Occupation had ended. The second act was about to begin, and it promised to be much more exciting. While Occupiers had been rooted out out of the parks, the unevictable idea of Occupation had taken root.

For a moment, let us consider two upshots of these coordinated moves against the Occupy Movement.

First, by driving out the Occupiers just before winter weather sets in, these big city mayors may actually have done us a favor. Instead of allowing us to shrivel on the vine, the mayors have pruned the Occupations in a way that will help us survive the winter. Not only need the Occupiers no longer contend with wintry weather, but we have been sent out on a righteously angry note. Moving underground for a winter of regrouping, dreaming, scheming, and loving, the Occupiers will sprout this spring from the fertile ground. This will be easy in Portland, where the NBA lock-out and a season without the Trailblazers leaves the entire city yearning for something to do during the wet months.

Second, from a tactical standpoint the mayors made a major mistake. While it was true that the Occupations were a thorn in the sides of city governments, at least they were a single physical location that could easily be monitored and policed. Now spread out to the four corners of the map, the Occupiers will launch unmonitored and unpredictable attacks against the 1%. In Portland in particular, the move against the camp soured what had been cordial relations between the city and the Occupiers. Occupy Portland's city and police liaisons resigned en masse from their assumed position as a conduit between the city and the Occupation. No longer will the police have a direct line of communication to the protesters. As a result, I expect to see more tear-gassing and other acts of repressive violence from the police. Given the viral resonance of a photo of Portland Police pepper-spraying a twenty-year-old protester, such violence can only work to the Occupiers' advantage.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pioneers Silenced

As I plot my next post, please enjoy this photo that I found on the Portland Occupier. The photo was taken on the day before Portland Police tossed the Occupiers out of Chapman and Lownsdale Squares.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

1970s Redux

The Real is rupturing. Soon a new paradigm will be in place. Until then, it is high time for radically reconceiving the possible.

If we stay on the path of the Capitalist Death Trip, we will soon be ruled by HAL and his manservant Lloyd "God's Work" Blankfein while subsisting in an unnatural world reduced to kudzu, jellyfish, and dust. Or we can take a different trail.

We've been at this crossroads before. From resource depletion, ecological devastation, economic stagnation, and political deterioration, our current host of problems plagued us in the 1970s. And now the decade that gave us Ecotopia, The Monkeywrench Gang, the Golden Horde, Network, the Rainbow Warrior, the Club of Rome, Gerald Ford, Land Art, Pet Rocks, stagflation, and the rise of right-wing populism has been staging a comeback.

Take the cinema for example. Is there any doubt that with the release of In Time and the resurgence of the Planet of the Apes series that Hollywood is "jamming its blood funnel" into 70s-era cinema of socioecological breakdown?

Or consider renewed interest in the environment. Concern over limited resources, first piqued by the Club of Rome, has settled like a fever on the global consciousness, from 350.org to Appalachia Rising to Tim DeChristopher. Solar power has seen a resurgence unwitnessed since Reagan took the solar panels off the white house. The Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior has given way to the Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker.

Yet that era differed from ours in significant ways. Last time Travis Bickle drew a pistol at a wall-length mirror, the face that was talkin' to him belonged to the hippie-beating, GE-shilling, Commie-hating Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately for the plutocrats and for the right wing, this time around won't end in the same way. No shining Gipper in jean jacket and open collar shall swoop down to rescue the ailing country through supply-side economics and satanic military funding. The best they've got is the Secessionist Who Seceded From His Own Dignity, the Black Guy Who Proves They're Not Racist But Who Better Keep His Mitts Off Their White Women (aka the "some of my favorite candidates are black" candidate), the Job-Killing Haircut, the Devil-Eyed Paladinette in Jesus' Army, the Frothy Mix of Lube and Fecal Matter, the Douche Who Lost Relevance Slightly After New Jack Swing Did, the Straightshooter Who Named His Kid After a Social-Security-Lovin' Objectivist, and the rest of the Cast of Cretins competing to win the "tallest leprechaun contest."

Nor will we discover a new store of oil in Alaska or in the North Sea, as happened in the mid-1970s that permitted, in James Howard Kunstler's words, "the West to postpone its reckoning over finite oil reserves by at least a decade." And anybody who claims that fracking will solve our energy problems would do good to read Forbes, not known for its sympathy to deep ecology, which snarkily admits "[f]racking causes minor earthquakes." And when not tempting the tectonic plates to tremble, our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels has caused confusion in the alchemical elements—flammable water, anyone?
   
What do we have, then? We have tents in the centers of every city. We have the people's mic. We have a leaderless congregation charting its course through consensus. We have children, adolescents, teens, students, thirty-somethings, over-the-hillers, and honored citizens, all bracing for the coming cold. We have veterans and folksingers, hippies and hardhats, crazies and carpenters. shamans and muzhiks.

And we have the chance radically to reconceive our relation to the planet and to each other.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Grime Writing

Grime Writer Paul "Moose" Curtis scrubs clean city walls, resulting in stunning artwork. When London police attempted to arrest him for defacing property, he argued "that the marks were made by pollution. If they wanted to arrest the perpetrators of this crime, they should get with the people who had created this pollution." Through the simple act of dirt removal, Moose raises ecological consciousness while creating beautiful murals.



Moose's work echoes the blindsiding vitality of street artists such as Samo (aka Jean-Michel Basquiat) and Banksy.

On a related note, Matt McCormick's brilliantly simple documentary The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal points to the unintended beauty made by graffiti's enemies.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

General Strike, part I

Occupiers across the country watched today with baited breath. Could Occupy Oakland pull off a general strike? Could they obstruct banking, disrupt city functions, and shut down the Port of Oakland?

The short answer is yes.

Strategically thinking, how might such success inspire other occupations and other direct actions?

This is what an avalanche looks like.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

No Ideology Is an Ideology

In a recent episode of Fresh Air, Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, made the following claim about Mexican drug cartels: "Now, the drug cartels don't have an ideology like al-Qaida or an ideology like communist insurgents or even a nationalist agenda. They're after controlling territory for their criminal business interests. We've seen, now, in the last four-and-a-half years, more than 3,000 police, soldiers and officials killed by these drug cartels."

Let's parse that quote. The drug cartels threaten, murder, and decapitate in defense of their right to make unregulated profits for their "business interests," yet they do not have an ideology. How can that be? Carving out a market through violence and intimidation sounds less like the nihilism of Turgenev's Bazarov than a perverse embodiment of a radically capitalist ideology.

How should we read this exclusion of a clearly Capitalist ideology from the ranks of ideology in light of recent critique that NPR is slowly "drift[ing] to the right"? Is Capitalism-as-no-ideology the "obscene supplement" that allows the totalization of the Capitalist ideology? As Slavoj Zizek writes of the perverse effects of excluded content: "these unintended perverse by-products, far from effectively threatening the system of symbolic domination, are its inherent transgression, its unacknowledged obscene support." In other words, the first rule of fight club: "You do not talk about fight club." Normalizing the Capitalist ideology as the dialectically synthesized end of history prevents critical discussion of the anti-human and anti-ecological effects of laissez-faire economics.

Occupy Wall Street has occupied the parks, the streets, and the bank lobbies. Soon we will occupy board rooms, universities, and stock exchanges. Long-term success, however, requires us also to occupy the discourse. Just as we shut down business as usual, we must also shut down corporate media discourse, commercial and non-commercial alike, that refuses to allow a critique of Capitalism's black magic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gaian Conversations

Some inimitable conversations I've had at Occupy Portland:

On my second day in the camp, I talked with a dirt hippie. He had mud-splattered cheeks and short hair chopped unevenly like a shy child in a Hooverville. He wore a girl's dress as a shirt and looked like an eighteen-year-old version of the kid who runs for cover whenever the authorities arrive at the compound. He had a plan to create the ultimate propaganda poster—out of cardboard and magic marker—that would reveal the incestuous interlocking relations of all the major corporations. The plan was to encourage fellow travelers to rid themselves of any corporate influence by showing the maddening concatenations that rule over our lives. He then suggested that at the next General Assembly, we should find consensus to the following course of action: We should infiltrate the Air Force, steal a squadron of planes, and drop food bombs onto starving countries.

One woman of the Flower generation feared that a sign along the camp's perimeter urging the easing of marijuana laws might muddy Occupy Portland's message. Her concern was both understandable and legitimate. It was also undercut by the man in a pink leotard dancing to the Thompson Twins and Madonna blaring from the pink ghetto blaster he pushed in a shopping cart festooned by streamers and glitter. And by the Ron Paul posters. And by the endless proclamations to "End the Fed." And by the people's garden newly planted in Lownsdale Square. And by the ravers pulsating to Dub Step. And by the dead bald eagle, murdered by pollution and greed, hanging of a tree branch. And by the single "Grandmother Against Torture." And by my personal, unstated demand not to let them immanentize the Eschaton.

I met another man, Antonio from Engineering, who had a plan to harness the energy from the rainwater draining off the tarps and tents. The details were murky, but he believed with the proper application of techne and a bit of magic, raindrops could provide for the camp's electricity needs. He also planned to collect the runoff to provide graywater to ease the job of Sanitation. Both ideas blazed with a Gaian boldness and resonated with Ernst Callenbach's Ecotopia and the imaginative uses for sustainable organic plastics in a stable-state society.

These and other conversations sparkled with the sheen of an expanded field of legitimate debate. The 99% are a varied collective of dreamers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Veterans for Peace March: October 15, 2011

 

On Satuday, October 15th, I was in the occupied library when I heard a drum line pounding out a primal rhythm. I went to the corner of SW 4th and Salmon to see an epic mass of people marching down the street. Drum line, chanting, singing, sign-holding. I even saw the Supreme Court marching with their corporate sponsors worn NASCAR-style across their chests. The march continued across the whole of my vision. It went on for at least six, seven blocks of people walking shoulder to shoulder, heel to toe.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Everything

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Portland

Occupy Chicago

Occupy Boston

Occupy DC

Occupy Philly

Occupy Atlanta

Occupy SF

Occupy LA

Occupy Seattle

Occupy Charleston

Occupy Minneapolis

Occupy Orlando

Occupy Morgantown

Occupy Eugene

Occupy Wasilla

Occupy St. Paul

Occupy Fargo

Occupy Miami

Occupy Dallas

Occupy Austin

Occupy Orange County

Occupy Olympia

Occupy Kansas City

Occupy St. Louis

Occupy Pittsburgh

Occupy Erie

Occupy Birmingham

Occupy Columbus

Occupy Cleveland

Occupy Cedar Rapids

Occupy Kalamazoo

Occupy Tokyo

Occupy London

Occupy Paris

Occupy Lagos

Occupy Osaka

Occupy Riyadh

Occupy Seoul

Occupy Chiapas

Occupy Mexico City

Occupy Lima

Occupy Cusco

Occupy Rio de Janeiro

Occupy Sao Paolo

Occupy Santiago

Occupy Bogota

Occupy Ottawa

Occupy Toronto

Occupy Vancouver

Occupy Sidney

Occupy Perth

Occupy Christchurch

Occupy Wellington

Occupy Beijing

Occupy Shanghai

Occupy Guangzhou

Occupy Tibet

Occupy Mumbai

Occupy Calcutta

Occupy Taipei

Occupy Nairobi

Occupy Berlin

Occupy Ljubljana

Occupy Reykjavik

Occupy Stockholm

Occupy Oslo

Occupy Helsinki

Occupy Timbuktu

Occupy Tripoli

Occupy Tunis

Occupy Cairo

Occupy Bucharest

Occupy Madrid

Occupy Barcelona

Occupy Bern

Occupy Vienna

Occupy Pretoria

Occupy Johannesburg

Occupy Your Mind

Occupy the Land

Occupy Your City

Occupy Everything

Occupy Everywhere

The Poor Sleep Among Us

Occupy Portland has rightly been receiving criticism. If Chapman and Lownsdale Squares were filled with homeless people instead of with the privileged creative class, the city would not bend to their demands. In fact, the city would run them out of the parks. The police would enforce the anti-camping ordinances. The city council would use the encampment as an excuse to write rules more draconian than the controversial sit-lie laws. But the bongo-slapping hippies and anonymous types in Guy Fawkes masks can stay, the argument goes, because they are mostly middle class and mostly white. The conflict has been summed up by a sign hanging outside Occupy Portland that disparaged the camp as PRIVILEGED DIGNITY VILLAGE.

To heighten the contradiction, another illegal homeless camp has sprung up on West Burnside. As this camp exists solely to help the homeless, and as it appears on a block of land owned by a man who has been in near constant conflict with the city over the land's use (Anybody remember "Randy Leonard's Hit Squad"?), the outlook for this second encampment is far less rosy. It has already received warnings from the Bureau of Development Services. Nobody expects this second encampment to last very long. The Portland Mercury's Denis C. Theriault points to the injustice: "[I]n Portland, apparently, not all occupations are created equal."

While accurate, this criticism misses the point. First, Occupy Portland is a political and cultural movement the likes of which have not been seen in the US since Richard Milhous Nixon prowled the Oval Office, rubbing together his blood-stained hands, and shouting obscenities into hidden microphones. City governments can no more easily channel the tidal anger represented by the occupations than officials in coastal Japan could hold back a tsunami. The wrong reaction  could result in a Fukushima of toxic public sentiment. Police actions against other occupations, most notably Occupy Wall Street, have increased public sympathy while drawing attention to the issues of economic and political inequality that motivate this movement. Those in charge realize we might have a Tiananmen moment on our hands. In an era of the democratic panopticon, where cameras are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, they want to avoid any iconic images like this, this, or this. Thus they choose to bide their time and accommodate the occupation.

Second, Occupy Portland has not created a space for privilege while excluding the poorest among us. In fact, those experiencing homelessness, including families, have been arriving at the occupation to find a safe place to sleep. At the occupation, they can live with dignity without being awakened each morning by a swift kick in the ribs, and without their economic condition being criminalized.

Finally, the occupation has opened up a space for discussion and action around a community of issues, including homelessness. The Pew Research Center points out that the economy is now the most important media topic, "largely driven by dramatically increasing media attention to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations." Not only has the tone and content of the American conversation shifted, but solidarity actions across the country have sprouted like mushrooms after the rain. Occupy LA, for example, has joined forces with Rose Gudiel and ReFund California to save her family's home from foreclosure. With each success, the people become more emboldened. The occupations have shifted the balance of power away from the pro-corporate propaganda of the colonized media and toward an occupied consciousness.

The issues raised by the occupations have yet to be hashed out and clarified. While the battle lines have largely been drawn, the major clashes have not yet occurred. The city of Portland has not yet decisively responded to the new homeless encampment on West Burnside. More importantly, we have yet to see what sort of solidarity action Occupy Portland will engage in when the city moves against the West Burnside encampment. This much is certain: the future is untweeted, and in a networked world, information travels with seismic velocity. We won't know what hit us till we are dusting ourselves off.

Change You Can Believe In

"Matt," an older man says, looking at my nametag. "I'm from Portland State. Can you guide me to the movement's leaders?"

I look at him and make no effort toward answering.

"Right, right. No leaders. What about a spokesman?"

My jaw slackens. He presumes that since I wear a speckled armband to identify myself as an occupied librarian and a name tag to make myself more accessible to the scores of newly conscious walk-ins looking to drop off or pick up revolutionary information, that I must have a ganglial link to the movement's frontal lobe.

"How do you hope to achieve change if you have no leaders and no spokesmen?"

"Look around you," I say with a sweep of the hand. We stand near a makeshift canteen that serves three squares a day to hundreds of campers ranging from the homeless to the trustafarian. A xylophone trio is laying down an anti-gravitational groove. A statue of a pioneer family stands wrapped in the Cascadian flag and holds a cardboard sign reading WE ARE THE 99%. Above our heads flutters a kaleidoscope of tarps. "Let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen anything like this before?"

He shoots me a look as if to say Yeah, I rode this wave in 1968 until it crashed on the bloody streets of King Daley's Chicago.

"In every major city of the United States?"

"Not in every city," he says.

"All around the world?"

Index finger on his chin, he nods.

"How can we hope to create change? Let me ask you that question. If what we are witnessing is radically new, have we not already succeeded?"

Monday, October 10, 2011

"I, Anonymous"

Known primarily for its snark and for the willingness of its reporters to kill stories in exchange for jobs on the public dole (see also: Amy Ruiz, Sam Adams, and Beau Breedlove), the Portland Mercury provides one vital public service, the "I, Anonymous" column. "I, Anonymous" publishes the anonymous rantings of pissed-off citizens. It's usually good for a chuckle and often lets the reader in on the psychic pulse of Portland. This week, they published this piece that puts the Portland Marathon/Occupy Portland kerfuffle in perspective.

"Congratulations, you have run roughshod over peoples' right to assembly, interrupting the most important political movement in this country since the protests of the Iraq war, all so that you can revel in your own vanity. . ." READ MORE

This anonymous writer infuriates many commenters. If you have to explain a joke. . .



Sunday, October 9, 2011

Revolutionary Libary

On Saturday, October 8, 2011, I was sitting on a bench beside three gutter punks. One wore pomo muttonchops and a satanic ├╝bermullet. He hacked at an acoustic guitar, spitting out Minor Threat–era songs. I was writing in my journal these words—"in the Spirit of the October Occupations"—when three people stopped in front of me.

"Mic check!"

"Mic check!"

"If you are interested"

"If you are interested"

"in volunteering in the library,"

"in volunteering in the library,"

"please gather"

"please gather"

"in the library"

"in the library"

"in a few minutes."

"in a few minutes."

At West Virginia University I worked in the Wise Library and the Law Library. I'd not yet had the opportunity to take part in a revolutionary library. Such a chance was not likely to come again.

After Leah showed the new volunteers about the space and gave us a rundown of what the library had done so far, we sat in a circle to discuss our ideas for a library in the Occupy Portland camp. We agreed that a library has the responsibility to archive and disseminate information. As all who stepped foot into Chapman Square could sense they were entering a vortex of transformation, we felt that the library had a responsibility to make sense of that tipping point. We agreed that a library should help to clarify and further this revolutionary moment. We would compile information, host classes, have an art space, create a chronicle of the occupation, . . .

About a half hour after the conversation, two men showed up and asked if we would like a yurt. They had built it earlier that afternoon in their backyard and thought the library could use a dry spot in which to offer classes. Minutes later, six of us were standing around what appeared to be a stack of wooden posts. Soon we unbound the posts accordion-like until they cut off a circle fourteen feet in diameter and seven feet off the ground. We raised the roof like a blue-tarp umbrella and settled it on the posts. Instant yurt.

In the space of a few hours, I'd gone from occupying a park bench wondering what it means to raise one's consciousness to sitting beneath a yurt with fellow peaceful radicals plotting a democratic and caring pathway out of the cul-de-sac of a barren capitalist culture.

In the distance I heard chanting: "This is what democracy looks like."

A Brief History of Fossil Fuels

The Post Carbon Institute has been providing top-notch media to raise awareness of our dire ecological situation. In "300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds," they provide a quick and insightful overview of our troubled relationship with fossil fuels.

In the Spirit of the October Occupations

On October 6, 2011, I got home from work, pumped up my perpetually low back tire, and biked downtown to see if I could catch up with the Occupy Portland movement. I missed the march from the waterfront to Pioneer Square, said to be up to 10,000 strong, but I caught up with a critical core of hundreds who had occupied Chapman Square and Lownsdale Square at SW 3rd and Main. Around a monument to Oregon's war dead gathered a line of speakers waiting for their turn at the bull horn. Each spoke for a minute or so, starting their speech with the words "Mic check," and then rapping with a cadence of clipped lines echoed by the crowd for the benefit of those out of earshot. (This is called the "human microphone" by Naomi Klein.) Each speaker's words were carried by the lips and into the hearts and minds of every other member of the crowd. By speaking in unison, we ceased to be individuals, but became cells in the body of a rapidly evolving organism. Later that evening, I sat on the damp concrete and took part in my first General Assembly, as Occcupy Portland democratically worked out our responses to the difficulties inherent in occupying our city.

In just a couple days, the occupation has transformed from a march of disenchanted citizens to a living experiment in direct democracy. We have set up a Temporary Autonomous Zone that is evolving to meet the needs not only of its residents but of the continuing Occupation.

Occupy Portland is a flame in the prairie fire that has been lit by sparks flying off the Occupy Wall Street movement in NYC. A raging inferno, Occupy Wall Street was itself lit by embers floating across the Atlantic from Tahrir Square. The Arab Spring caught fire when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, torched himself rather than continue to submit to corrupt officials. In honor of Bouazizi's courage, I write this blog.

These Occupations represent a spiritual, cultural, and political awakening. Follow The Hemlock Report for a first-hand account of Occupy Portland as well as a philosophic, pragmatic, and poetic exploration of responses to our current crises.

Finally, thank you to the 99% who have awoken in 2011 of their slumber.