Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Protest welcome, just no tents

The tent city in New York City's Zuccotti Park, maybe more commonly known now as Liberty Square was dismantled on the 59th day of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Protestors were surprised around 1:00a.m when police dressed in military style riot gear arrived unannounced and and encircled the park.  "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world," Mayor Bloomberg later said.

Those inhabiting the park were handed the notice shown below and given an hour to vacate the premises.  Afterwards, sanitation workers cleared the space private belongings, discarding them into dump trucks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Tents Come Down at Occupy Portland

On Saturday many protesters began to break down the tent city that had occupied Portland's Chapman and Lownsdale squares for the past 37 days, heeding to Mayor West's announcement of eviction and arrest of anyone who remained at the site after midnight.  The deadline seemed to be instituted after the news media began to continuously cite the camp as a haven for criminals, drug addicts, and the homeless.

As the tightly packed tents began to be taken down, large patches of the park's ground were revealed for the first time in weeks. Grass no longer filled the squares.  Instead a muddy mixture of straw, leaves, and dirt seemed to symbolize the end of a revolutionary movement.  Tents remained sparsely erected by undaunted protestors prepared to be arrested for the cause. Police began checking the backpacks of everyone entering the parks in search of weapons that could be used to resist arrest.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Occupy Portland camp given deadline to vacate

Portland's mayor on Thursday ordered Occupy Portland to take down its tent city on two adjacent downtown parks by midnight Saturday, saying conditions at the camp have become dangerous, unhealthy and a refuge for criminals.

Mayor Sam Adams said Occupy Portland "has had considerable time to share its movement's messages with the public, but has lost control of the camps it created."

Many officials in this progressive city have supported the message of Occupy Wall Street and have sought to work with organizers of Occupy Portland so the movement can be sustained here.

But what began as a protest against Wall Street morphed into a support center for the city's homeless and addicted population, a refuge for thieves and people who have previously had trouble with the law, and radicals who have favored confronting police rather than working with them. Police have linked campers to break-ins at local businesses, bike thefts, public drinking and smashing a police car window with a hammer.

Adams said the tipping point came this week with the arrest of an Occupy Portland camper on suspicion of setting off a Molotov cocktail outside an office building, as well as two non-fatal drug overdoses at the camp.

"I cannot wait for someone to die in the camp," Adams said. "I cannot wait for someone to use the camp as camouflage to inflict bodily harm on others."

He said Lownsdale and Chapman squares, now the site of the tent and blue-tarp city, will be closed as of 12:01 a.m. Sunday. When it reopens, the city will enforce laws against camping and erecting structures, the mayor said.

Police and city officials will immediately begin talking with people at the camp to try to persuade them to move before the deadline. Adams said homeless people at the camp will be put in touch with agencies that will help them find shelter.

"We will be prepared to make arrests," Adams said. "My preference would be that we don't have to."

The downtown camp of about 300 tents and tarps went up on Oct. 6 after a march in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protesters were sheltered by donated tents, fed by donated food and cared for by volunteer doctors and nurses. But it became a magnet for people not originally part of the movement. Sanitary conditions worsened. Businesses complained of theft.

Occupy Portland was able to set up camp at the two downtown parks because of a waiver granted by city government.

City officials and police have communicated with Occupy Portland organizers during the protest, trying to ensure things didn't get out of control. But officials' patience began growing thin when activists sought to occupy another park on Oct. 30. Police dragged away 27 of the activists when they refused to leave.
Protesters marched over two bridges on Nov. 2. They declined to inform police about the march route, forcing officers on bicycles, motorcycles and in squad cars to follow and block traffic for more than an hour. An officer was pushed into a moving bus sometime near the end of the march, police said. He received just minor injuries.

Adams said his order that the tent city come down "is not an action against the Occupy Portland movement" and he hopes it will continue _ but not where the camp is now.

"It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread inequity, will flourish in its next phase _ a phase where we can focus all our energies on economic and social justice, not on porta-potties and tents," Adams said.

Talk at the camp on Thursday turned to alternatives, including occupying a building in southeast Portland and occupying Portland's City Hall. A meeting was scheduled for noon on Thursday to discuss the next step.

Some protesters said they had invited the closure. A 21-year-old man who gave his name as Sam W. for fear of retaliation from other protesters said the "people who came to party" were the source of the problem.

"We had great relations with police when we started," he said. "The people in this camp brought the police baton down on their own damn selves. They'll be the first ones to leave, too."
Other protesters said they would not leave.

"Hell no, I'm not vacating," said Joseph Gordon, 31, who left Cincinnati for Portland before the protests began. "They can come in here and find me."

A 26-year-old woman named Emma said she wouldn't leave. "If we break up the tribes, that leaves us without any other options," she said. "The only power we have is in numbers."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Grid City

The familiar goal to “end homelessness,” both locally and nationally, is almost always sought through plans that attempt to modify people in order to fit existing conceptions of space in the city.  However, thought is rarely given to the other side of the spectrum - altering our ideas on space to fit the needs of people.

This can be attributed primarily to our unwitting tolerance of the Grid City.

“Mitigated by many political freedoms, the provision of parks, the inspiring presence of a dynamic, open landscape, and a recent history of social and economic improvements through struggle, the American grid nonetheless remains a powerful geometry of isolation which encourages conformity and disassociation, and deadens our living experience by denying our common bonds” (Lakeman, 17).

The grid is pervasive throughout Western society and by no accident.  The National Land Ordinance of 1785 divided all land west of the eastern colonies into one mega-grid and concurrently mandated that all city plans also take this form.  Often touted as a unique experiment, westward expansion was simply a mirror of earlier ancestral history.  The Romans, Greeks, and Assyrians had all used the grid as a means of conquest by division.  An essential component to a capitalist economy, the grid transforms land into a commodity, establishing divided and competing interests.

While I recognize the risk of romanticizing extreme poverty, the organic growth and autonomous nature of tent cities represent a desperately needed divergence from the grid.  Typically guided by necessity, tent cities take a more geomorphic form comparable to early societies.

Lakeman points out a fascinating, yet disturbing fact about these indigenous cultures that pre-exist the arrival of the grid: they tend to disappear (i.e. Native Americans).  The fate of today’s tent cities is no different.

There are a few rare cases where, after relentless determination, these informal settlements have fought to establish themselves in the city.  One example is Seattle’s itinerant model, which grants conditional use permits, allowing a tent city to legally exist on a site for three months before moving to new land. This requirement of continuous dislocation seems to be completely arbitrary, but clearly illustrates the city’s position: we can’t abide that this thing can exist permanently unless it moves constantly.  For if it did remain on one parcel of land, it would raise many of the unasked questions swept under the rug by our blind an involuntary acceptance of the Grid City.

The case of Dignity Village in Portland does just this.  After the camp was relocated dozens of times around the city, it received a stable piece of land on which it has resided for over a decade, slowly transforming from camp to village.  Lakeman describes the transition:

 “[Camp Dignity] started off as tents but immediately they were self-organized into clusters, they were a nomadic form of a village at the start.  As it was realized they were about to transition into a permanent sort of settlement patterns, they were about to re-enact human history here – the last 10,000 years is going to play out in a decade. They are going to be able to go from nomadic hunters and gatherers in a way - since they were subsisting off of what they could find - to settling and then establishing a system of pathways, nodes, and places… and then they would build it out and it would actually become an urban fabric that would be reflective… and in the landscape of America lets face it, almost nothing is reflective, its almost all produced by developing entities that is then consumed and inhabited – so this would be the only example in  the history of the city that actually reflected the people that lived there.”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Olympia's Camp Quixote

"Camp Quixote began on February 1, 2007 as a protest in downtown Olympia parking lot.  When local authorities moved to clear the camp, a church offered it sanctuary on its grounds.

Although it was very controversial when it started,  local opposition to the Camp melted away within a matter of months.  Other churches stepped forward to host the camp.  The City of Olympia (and neighboring jurisdictions as well) passed ordinances that allow the Camp to exist, but require it to  move from one church parking lot to another every 90 days.  (The County ordinance allows for 6 month stays, and the City of Olympia is considering a similar change.)

From its beginning, the Camp has been a self-governing community that elects officers, makes and enforces its own code of conduct, and provides mutual support and accountability to its members.

As of April 1, 2011, the Camp will have moved 20 times.  Each move is difficult and traumatic for people who are struggling to recover from adversity, illness, unemployment, and disabilities of every description.

The Camp is supported by a non-profit organization called Panza that grew out of the faith communities that have hosted and supported the Camp financially, and provided hundreds of volunteers to help Campers meet their basic needs and get back on their feet."

The transformation from a camp to a village:

"From the very beginning, the residents of Camp Quixote hoped to find land on which they could build a permanent village. Their vision was – and still is – to build a central community building that includes bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, a shared kitchen and social and meeting space, and about 30 one-room cottages. They want to plant a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and start one or more micro-enterprises that could bring in income to support the Village and its residents.

We have a site for Quixote Village, generously provided by our wonderful County Commissioners. It’s on Mottman Road, about half a mile west of South Puget Sound Community College. This county-owned land is within the Olympia city limits, in a light industrial zone. We are now working with the City of Olympia to get a zoning change that will allow us to build in this location.

We are also working with two architecture firms – KMB Design and MSGS – that are providing pro bono design services. Very soon we will have a firm budget estimate for the cost of infrastructure, permits, construction, and landscaping. The design for the Village is based on the experience of community living – a model that provides private sleeping space, and shared space for cooking, eating, and socializing. This model makes it impossible for people isolate themselves; it draws everyone into family life, shared responsibility, and a common quest for a better future."


-  Quixote Village website

Another article

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Update from the Occupation

Today we posted the sign for Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2) that illustrates a future vision for the community located in downtown Portland.  Afterwards, I headed over to Occupy Portland site to find some new activity.

"Power to the tents, power to the tents!" the people cried as the Occupy Portland movement expanded to the adjacent Terry Schrunk Plaza. "People in tents are people too!" While two square blocks of the city had already been packed with tents for the past two weeks, this was different - this was federal land.

The area was swarming with the Portland Police Department as well as Homeland Security, keeping the American people safe from themselves.

This expansion was imperative.  The city had already succeeded Chapman and Lownsdale Square to the occupiers, but the protest seemed to be stagnating and losing momentum.

While more and more tents continued to be erected in the space Michael Moore arrived on the scene, which really electrified the crowd.  Moore said that of all the Occupation protests he has visited, Portland is the largest he has seen.

The previous day demonstrators had taken to the Pearl District's Jamison Square.  Twenty-seven arrests were made when Mayor Sam Adams and the police decided to enforce the city's anti-camping ordinance in this instance.

Ray Whitehouse, The Oregonian

Videos to be posted soon...