Saturday, November 19, 2011

A story about Occupy Portland

HI all, I know I don't post often, but here is a story I wanted to share, and this seemed like a good place to share it.

Last Sunday November 13th I went down to the Occupy protest in Portland. I had come closer, off the street into the corner of Lonsdale Park to participate in the general assembly, and at a certain point the riot police came in from the park, which seemed like from behind. I was kind of incredulous that they would choose to do this as every thing was chill, and this meeting was discussing what should happen next. I felt frozen at the place I was standing.

I don’t know how became part of the front line, I never moved forward.
The beauty and power of this movement is that so many divergent people are standing together. I didn’t intend to be at a flash point or involved in confrontation, yet when confronted with this situation I didn’t so much decide, but viscerally felt there was no other choice than to stand where I was. My stance was much as some of the police I witnessed; I’d rather be doing something else but it is my duty to be here.

As I was standing there with police batons against my upper arms I was in a strange sense of surreal calm. I am my certain that my oft-commented on expressive face was frozen in an expression of neutral “just being”.

There were two officers directly in front of me who alternated pressing their batons on me. I felt great compassion for one who really seemed like she would rather be anywhere else in the world at that moment. The other and I were actually kind of having a conversation. He said to me “mam, I’m sure this is not how you want your day to end” I responded “No, this is not the way I wanted my day to start either” I said to him, “surely there must be another way, between us, their must be another way.”

To my immediate left things were more contentious with police pushing harder, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and looked and saw directly to my left and down the top of what looked like the balding top of an old man’s head, and an umbrella on the ground. I realized immediately that the man had dropped it and was trying to pick it up. My mother’s instincts kicked in, and I realized that this was a very dangerous situation; if the police to my left made a strong push while this man was bending down there was great danger of him falling and being crushed. I put my right hand out in a signal of stop towards the police and my left hand to protesters behind me, and looked to the police yelling, “Stop be careful there is an old man here!”

There was a policeman in a yellow coat walking behind the front line of the police; I think it was him who pulled the old man through the front line. My feeling was that he did so to bring the man to safety. The ranks of police closed and I couldn’t see anything behind them. A few moments later there was a gap in the line and about twenty feet back I saw the old man face down on the muddy ground with at least three police in riot gear standing over him, their body language in that small instant I could see it looked like they were being rough, not helping him. The gap for me to see closed up quickly and I must have had a very concerned look on my face because the policeman in the yellow jacket caught my eye and said, “He didn’t want to go”. Before I knew it that same policeman pulled me through the line. Immediately there were at least two other officers coming towards me with aggressive body language. I can only assume that the understanding was that anyone pulled through the front line was to be arrested, and this aggressive, punitive approach was the stance being taken by the officers tasked with making the arrests. The policeman in the yellow coat quickly told them, “no, she is with me”, or something like that. He then took me away from that part of the line to a less crowded place and asked the police to part and let me through.

I can only guess that the man in the yellow coat treated me with special protection because he had seen what happened to the old man. I appreciate the calmness of the two police who were pushing me with their sticks and the willingness even in this charged situation to engage in speech. I’ m glad I wasn’t arrested, though I understood that was a possibility. What I didn’t understand was a possibility is that I, passive as I am, stood the real chance of being treated roughly, or being abused by the police in the process of being arrested.

After I was on the other side of the line I walked over to another street to see what was happening. I saw a man laying on his back by the Portland Building, there were people, I believe at least one was a doctor and another a medic, trying to help him. The belief was that he had a broken back or had a spinal injury. An ambulance at the end of the street was stopped from leaving, but they said they were un-able to help him until there was a police escort. They were responding this way either because of their own fears or policy, and said they had to act out of concern for their own safety. There were many people working to get him help, a few of us went to separate places along the police line to explain the situation and ask for an escort for the ambulance drivers.

Then as I was standing by ( a group of us were to offer assistance if needed) I noticed an attractive older and stylishly dressed woman near me. I smiled and said hello, she responded and we started having a conversation. She had a French accent and I took her to be a tourist. In fact she lives here and was looking for her husband, a man older than herself and recovering from pneumonia. He apparently had wanted to see what was going on and take pictures. I had a strange moment of recognition and asked her if he had a long umbrella. She said yes and as I asked her more questions. I felt increasingly confident that the man I had seen earlier was her husband. I finally told her I’m sorry but I have to tell you I think he was arrested. Together we started asking around where the people arrested were. Eventually we were able to go into the central precinct where the woman at the desk eventually went out to the busses full of arrested people and confirmed that indeed, “Jack” was among them.

Apparently Jack’s head was banged into the ground on both sides, his shoulder has pulled or possibly torn ligaments, and his knee was injured. He will be undergoing physical therapy.

Jack is 81 years old. I cannot imagine any reason for his receiving such heavy handed treatment, as he was a lone civilian surrounded by a score of riot police behind the “front line.”

While I am shocked and appalled by this brutality, I also experienced demonstrations of human understanding from members of the police. I suggest that even as we the 99% contest our portrayal by the media as a dangerous mob, we also should recognize the actions of police as being actions of individuals. I think we should certainly continue to challenge the orders given to these “public servants”, but equally I think we should hold individuals accountable for their personal actions, and laude those who act with some integrity.

This is of course difficult to do as some of them display no names or badge numbers (is this legal?) and people like me can be so intensely overwhelmed by the moment we don’t capture the names or numbers of the officers involved.

I would also like to echo the call for truly peaceful and non-antagonistic civil disobedience and protest. This continues to be our most powerful tool, and best strategy to turn the tide of opinion, and engage those who are on the fence.