Monday, October 17, 2011

Week 6: The New Tide Grows

The new tide grows. From last Thursday through this Thursday we have seen a spontaneous outpouring of sentiment reflected in the photograph from this week. In it you can see some of the range of people and signs among at least 8,000 protesting at the beginning of OCCUPY PORTLAND –a demonstration on October 6th that was the largest in this city since attempts to prevent the Iraq War from beginning in 2003. Inspired by the OCCUPY WALL STREET actions that began two weeks ago in New York, the demonstration in Portland was entirely illegal, with no permits providing permission to march or rally – and certainly none for hundreds of people to put up tents by the end of the day and camp out in downtown public parks.

Our week began with two day seminar long-planned at Portland Community College (PCC) and organized with the help of the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. Entitled ``Trade Winds: Asian Trade Today``, the seminar used a U.S. government grant to discuss expanding (free trade) opportunity with VIP speakers including a former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam and renowned scholars relating to China. Unable to attend most of the seminar myself because of my own teaching duties, it would seem very little (if any) questions were raised regarding the expanding gap between rich and poor in the U.S. and elsewhere which are a direct byproduct of the free market globalization of the world`s economic systems.

When Stany Thomas and I, together with our wives, were invited out twice to dine this week, OCCUPY WALL STREET was included in the conversations at the home of our PCC political science colleague, Herman Washington as well as later with Marlene Eid and her family – but not prominently. Pleasantries predominated, though personal sharing turned to some serious issues primarily relating to Mr. Washington`s experiences as an African American, and Marlene`s early life as a Palestinian in occupied Jerusalem. None of us could have predicted the events of October 2nd (Gandhi` birthday and the date St. Francis of Assisi died). Maybe the spirits of Gandhi and St. Francis are more present than is commonly accepted! On that day 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and serious organizing began mushrooming in cities all over the U.S…

The week was so busy for us that I hardly had time to follow any news. Ascension Parish was hosting 15 homeless people (including 5 families, with one woman nearly ready to give birth). My wife or I slept overnight on three consecutive nights to keep the shelter open and filled in periodically to perform other needed tasks. Another evening out had us sharing the Hindi holiday of Durga Puja at the home of a PCC college from India, Usha Ramanuja. On separate days, two of my courses were open to the public as I had consented to feature an anti-war speaker (Paul Chappell) whose analyses were made more persuasive by his experience as a veteran of the war in Iraq who was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In addition, I had two committees that I chair with meetings this week with one promoting weekly free speech events (in a series now seven years running called Open Mind, Open Mic) and another seeking to lay the groundwork for future international exchange programs.

In the midst of all my personal commitments, it was my students who made me aware of the expansion of OCCUPY WALL STREET to include an OCCUPY PORTLAND. Several of these students were planning to attend an illegal march on October 6th and, it was partly out of concern for them that I also decided to attend. Not knowing what to expect from the police or potentially undisciplined demonstrators, I had cautioned my students to prepare for potential tear gas and arrest. When I arrived near the Portland waterfront that afternoon, I was mentally prepared for trouble myself, but quickly realized (from police body language) that the prospects for trouble would be remote. The why of this became obvious as I saw the head of the March coming at me and stretching back as far as I could see. Filling the streets were such a mass of people that any police actions would have been overwhelmed. There would not be enough jail cells. To attack the remarkably peaceful crowd of demonstrators would have also risked harm to many families with children, senior citizens, and no small number of military veterans.

On October 6th, law enforcement was neutralized this day, as people chanted slogans like``This is what democracy looks like``, ``Bail out us, not the banks,``, and ``We are the 99%``! (of people who are not the super wealthy). A festive atmosphere emerged in which many people thanked individual police officers for stepping aside as the downtown Pioneer Courthouse Square was filled nearly to its 10,000 person capacity. After much chanting en masse, some dispersed (including myself, as I had a 3-5pm course to teach) and others proceeded to Chapman Square (a park near City Hall) which would become the site for an illegal encampment that the city had announced it would (at least temporarily) allow. With both great energy as well as exhaustion, this week would end for me with cautious hope for the future. Can these calls for change be collectively sustained? How far will this new tide take us into the future?

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