Occupy Portland remains a success

Three years ago, Portland police forced the over five-week Occupy Portland camp spread across two parks to finally disperse. Some people chortled, but the effects of Occupy Portland and the Occupy Movement continue to be felt today. Our nation is better for it.

Occupy Portland rally, October 6, 2011, Pioneer Square

On October 6, 2011 the first Occupy Portland rally marched from Waterfront Park down NW Portland, down Broadway, and ended up with several thousand rallying in Pioneer Square. It was a massive demonstration. It then shifted to a group of people occupying one city park, then spreading to the park on the next block, both near City Hall and the Justice Center.

Mayor Sam Adams ignored calls to remove the protestors, and he let them remain in the parks for five weeks. Over time, transients and others needing the food, medicine, and other services at the site began to overtake the Occupy Portland site, it retained the energy of protest and was a symbol of collective action.

The Occupy Movement did not have a single agenda. This confused the media and curmudgeons who wanted to do the typical cutting-of-a-deal to make the pain go away. In this case, the breadth of the Occupy Movement and its lack of hierarchy were virtues. "Main Street, not Wall Street!" "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" People frustrated with a time of record national wealth and profits leading to horribly high poverty rates. Worker productivity doubling over the last 30 years as their earnings stagnated. Corporations attaining the same rights as human beings, yet not being accountable for crimes done to others. There was no single agenda. Masses of people were pissed off, and they wanted to come together, not feel alone in their anger, and to scare the shit out of those in power.

And they did scare the shit out of the people in power. In early 2011, it would have been impossible to imagine the media covering the effort to raise the minimum wage with anything but contempt. Yet, here we now are with cities raising the minimum wage to $15/hour and a national conversation about doing just that. (There's a case that to keep up with 1968 dollars the minimum wage should be $22/hour, but progress is welcome.)

Occupy Portland camp, November 2011

The Occupy Movement dispersed, but did not lose energy. That fast food workers are now talking about earning a livable wage, and are not completely laughed at by corporate media, is directly attributable to the Occupy Movement. People are now challenging bad education policies, dictated by the wealthy, with increasing ease and power. A lot of the people challenging the status quo gained experience in collective action, living the power of the people, from watching or participating in the Occupy Movement.

And, in Portland, people learned that there are people in power who sympathize with their important causes. Mayor Adams could have ejected Occupy Portland immediately, but he did not. A small community formed and ran for more than a month. Other city leaders were not as tolerant. As distressing as the police purge of Occupy Portland was, that it existed so long was a testimony that lives in the memory of many. And in those memories was a lesson in the importance of being brave.

In October 2011, Bank of America on SW Morrison started stationing a full-time security guard to stand in front of the doors, rain or shine, after an Occupy Portland stunt rattled the banker's cages. Bank of America still has a security guard there, three years later. They remain scared about what people will do next. And that's good. And it made Wall Street create an actual job!