On Tuesday, October 17, I walked from City Hall across SW 4th Avenue to Terry Schrunk Plaza, where I met for an hour or so with a gathering of about 50 citizens. Many were from the Occupy Portland demonstation camping at adjacent Lownsdale and Chapman Parks. A few had come to an event organized by the Multnomah County Library on the other side of the plaza - thank you to the Library staff who graciously allowed me to share the space.
I had not been publicly involved in Occupy Portland discussions prior to Tuesday. The Mayor is in charge of Police and Transportation, Commissioner Fish is in charge of Parks, and the City Attorney provides expert legal advice on behalf of the City. This past weekend, I was invited to set a time to talk with protesters about community involvement and civic engagement in Portland. Since this area falls under my responsibility as Commissioner in Charge of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, and supporting citizen participation is also my passion, I accepted the invitation.
Lesson # 1: It is very difficult to have a friendly conversation while talking through a bullhorn.
Lesson # 2: If using the bullhorn makes the conversation more accessible for all, use the bullhorn.
Lesson # 3: Holding a bullhorn for an hour makes a person's arm ache for the next 48 hours and counting.
Lesson #4: A good public address system is quite useful in addressing a crowd.
Bullhorn management challenges notwithstanding, I enjoyed talking with Occupy Portland protesters and others gathered for the question and answer session. People took turns and listened to each other and to me with respect, even with occasional disagreements within those gathered or with me. See KATU for coverage and a short video clip.
It was interesting that the very first question asked was, "What do you see as the role of the media in this issue?" My answer was the same as in any other venue: With the best will in the world, there is always more to an issue than can be written or talked about in a small space/timeframe, so if you see a media report that leaves you wondering, please contact me or my office to find out more.
I stated repeatedly throughout my visit that I was speaking only for myself, and that the Council as a whole has not taken a position on the Occupy Portland movement or the City's approach to it.
The Mayor's Frequently Asked Questions responses are here.
My personal comments:
- I support and swore to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States, State of Oregon, and the City of Portland.
- I support the Constitutional right to free speech and free expression.
- The City has the right and responsibility to set reasonable regulations that impose time, location and conduct parameters in which that free expression may occur.
- The City's laws and ordinances are all important, because each was adopted with a specific public purpose and long term good in mind.
- The City does not and cannot enforce every law and regulation uniformly, but must use discretion often, given limitations of time and resources.
- Either the passage of time, or a change in conditions, could result in a change in the decision not to enforce the anti-camping law at the Occupy Portland site.
- Day-to-day operating practice does not alter the laws or the City's right to enforce them.
- The Occupy Portland movement demonstration camp is in a pair of City parks intended for all to enjoy during the day, and to be closed at night. With Occupy Portland, the two parks are now single purpose -- for this movement's participants' use 24/7.
- Ultimately the Parks must be returned back to their true purpose for the use of all Portlanders and visitors.
- I do not have a particular timeline or deadline in mind for this. It depends.
- The parks will require repairs which at this point seem destined to be paid for by all the taxpayers of Portland. I appreciate the Occupy Portland members who have stated they will work on fundraising for this purpose.
- I appreciate the efforts participants are making to self-monitor and promote a safe and clean environment in and around the parks.
- I appreciate the work of Portland Police officers, Clean & Safe security and cleaning staff, and other employees, contractors and volunteers who are providing services and maintaining public safety in this location.
- I appreciate the concerns of the Portland Business Alliance and others, who are using their free speech and freedom of expression rights to voice the desire for the City to end the occupation soon.
- Many Portlanders share the value of allowing free expression on the full range of issues, including those connected with the Occupy movements.
- I believe the demonstration in this place, time and manner must end at some point, ideally with participants engaging in other means of civic involvement in Portland and with our congressional delegation.
I invited those gathered in Terry Schrunk Plaza on Tuesday, to come inside City Hall on Wednesday morning to engage in Portland's open, participatory, effective democratic system by attending the regular City Council hearings. While few did, I renew my invitation to those gathered, along with all Portlanders to engage your City Council.
I encourage the Occupy Portland movement participants to take their message, energy, and passion inside, and work throughout our communities with other advocates already addressing issues the protesters care about. There are 582,000 people in Portland's 95 neighborhoods, many of whom might be allies. If Occupy Portlanders were to articulate their message and attend gatherings in these neighborhoods, and local, state and national organizations devoted to the same purposes, many more may join the chorus. Our congressional delegation needs to hear from many citizens about the problems we all face in these trying times, and we all need to work together to find both immediate practical solutions to survive the recession, and long-term sustainability of the economy and jobs base.
I look forward to continued dialogue with all community members, on Occupy Portland and on the many challenges facing Portlanders in these tough times.