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More lessons from #OccupyPortland

As the #OccupyPortland encampment enters the second half of the third week of its existence, I have seen so much development within this emerging community. In a very short time, a ragtag collection of 99-percenters has coalesced into a functioning, highly organized community that provides a full range of functions not unlike a small city. There is the medical complex providing medical help, alternative medicines, massages and acupuncture; there is the educational complex complete with kids' camp, library, and a classroom; there is a functional and efficient kitchen that feeds up to 5000 meals each day; and there is a dedicated sanitation team that works around the clock to process recycling, clean restrooms, and collect trash. There is also a safety team, a mental health team, and other groups serving community interests. In a sense, we are truly a "demonstration": demonstrating how a community without Wall Street greed can become. If #OccupyPortland were an independent country, it would be the smallest nation on earth, 1/71 of its contender, the Vatican City State.

It would be, ironically, also one of the most densely-populated areas on earth, and as such real estate is now at premium. As the #OccupyPortland grows, the demographics seem to be also shifting. Some of the original occupiers have already left; in their place there are different kinds of people are moving in and taking roots.

The mass media is reporting this in recent days. The appearance of the Occupation is now markedly different. It looks as though there are more homeless, many with drug addiction, mental problems, and other issues, occupying more and more of #OccupyPortland encampment. With it, some have openly begun to express discontent. It became apparent, when the General Assembly took the proposal of publishing an official statement of solidarity with Right2Dream Too -- a nearby "homeless rest area," a tent city that sits on, unlike #OccupyPortland, a private property with a lawful lease. A small yet vocal minority had gone on ranting how we are not about advocating for the "homeless" using all kinds of inflammatory words.

It appears that #OccupyPortland is also a microcosm, a mirror of what the larger society is. Much of the oppression that is institutionalized outside is replicated here. Racism, sexism, classism are among those.

It is interesting to look at the parallel between the American debate over immigration reform, especially in relation to legalizing the undocumented irregular immigrants, and some of #OccupyPortland community members' hostility and resentment towards the increasing influx of the "homeless" population.

They are both manifestations of xenophobia -- fear of the different people.

Anti-immigrant loudmouths of the U.S., and anti-homeless loudmouths of #OccupyPortland both utilize the same kinds of argument and rationales for justifying their hatred for those whom they deem "unworthy" and "do not belong to us."

Some of such arguments include fear of increased crimes, public health hazards, ideological differences, perceived lack of productivity and burden to society, a perception that "they" would make "us" look bad and corrupt "our" community, and overpopulation fears, excuse that "we cannot handle their needs."

These arguments invariably come from those who possess a privilege, against those who do not. The unhoused people -- especially those who are visible of that fact -- are the refugees and the undocumented immigrants of the #OccupyPortland community. Some simply want them out, make them feel unwelcome, and certainly do not want to share the power and equal standing with them.

Thus we replicate, uncritically, the oppressive system from which we purport to rise up.

#OccupyPortland is full of teaching moments...


dbunton's picture



Each day, I am impressed with the democratic processes, non-violent protests, and organization of such a "leaderless" group. They are very coordinated, and I am certain the group will bring important issues to light. Thanks for sharing your story, and keeping us informed of the movement.

Darren Bunton

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