The Portland Tribune and several local pundits crowed about the successful containment of protesters who showed up outside the Embassy Suites Hotel on Jan. 13 to ruin a Dick Cheney fundraiser.
The crowd of dissenters were herded into a protest zone designated by the Portland Police Bureau and the Secret Service, and delineated with chain-linked fences topped with barbed wire. To complete the gulag ambience, squads of armored cops with ATVs were also on hand to make sure protesters stayed on their patch of rain-soaked ground.
Those dissenters who stood in the rain, out of sight of a herd of well-fed Republicans who were lining up for a photo op with the bionic VP, didnt do so in vain. Contrary to the Tribs assessment, it is really the Prez and the VP who have become contained in Little Beirut. Afterall, the most powerful man in the government and George W. Bush stay clear of our citys urban center to avoid protesters. That is no small victory for our side.
We should celebrate all our victories, including this one, but we shouldnt rest on our laurels since capitalism certainly isnt even here in progressive Portland. In the coming months there will be no shortage of struggles against capitalism that call for mass direct action.
From the old business section of the agenda, theres the ongoing effort by Michael Powell to bust the union that is giving his workers a real voice in the city of books. Powell has stuck with the union-busting strategy of his hired gun negotiator, stonewalling talks at the table to the degree that the union has once again filed an unfair labor practice against the store. While the cost of living and the cost of health care has gone up, Powell is offering a minimal raise while trying to unload health care costs onto the backs of the workers.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5 won recognition at Powells through a long and hard-fought struggle in which the community and direct action played a vital role. Their current plight is no different. The union is agreeing to a mediator, which will sharply restrict union activism during mediation, however, there are no such restrictions on community members who want to see Powell stop attacking his workers and get on with the business of selling books.
A struggle waiting for someone to take action waits just a few blocks down from Powells City of Books at the old Armory building. Through a convoluted series of deals, the armory is being transformed into a theater for Portland Center Stage with money largely coming from the city. This misuse of public dollars to further improve Portlands haven for the elite the Pearl District is made worse by the fact that some federal dollars given to the PDC for stimulating business in low-income areas is going towards the theater. The PDC pulled this off thanks to a 2000 Census map that included Old Town in the same district as the Pearl, squeezing the project through a very tight loophole.
Over the past few decades, City Hall, particularly under Mayor Katz, has led a cold-hearted campaign to purge the poor from downtown so as not to scare decent folks spending their dollars in Pioneer Place. Low-income housing and shelter space continues to decline while dollars better used here are being spent for subsidizing an unsuccessful theater company. Theres no sign they plan on changing their attitude any time soon without some more direct education from the community.
These are the kind of local struggles where mass direct action marches, rallies, street theater, and civil disobedience is much needed. Justice isnt going to be found in city council hearings, planning board meetings or other constructs used to defuse and disarm public ire over who is enjoying the common wealth.
We are coming up on the first anniversary of the Iraq War and peace organizers are struggling to make this a meaningful event. Heres a thought. Lets not march around empty buildings making boasts we cant fulfill. Lets use this energy to start with our condemnation of the war in Iraq but quickly move to what that war is doing here in these downtown streets. Lets use the momentum of the moment to apply pressure on points where capitalism may really be vulnerable.
We dont have the numbers yet to run Cheney or Bush or whoever out of town. We do have the numbers to win these smaller struggles that create cracks in the imperial facade cracks that can over time become breaches through which justice can pour into the streets and homes of the powerful and those who serve them.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: March 2, 2004