Citizens' Voice is a platform for people-driven news and opinion. Be the opinion leader. Write and submit an 800-word op-ed with a one sentence bio and head shot.
Journalist Naomi Wolf offers some useful guidelines for writing an op-ed - Read More
by Aubrey F. Melchert
Like most Americans, I lived most of my life never once encountering a protest or participating in one -- beyond occasionally looking out of my car window and wondering about the characters of those carrying their own protest signs, or else seeing a protest from the distance, contextualized for me through the mass media. I was content to observe, and somehow satisfied just by seeing protests that my rights under the Constitution were being protected. I have paid attention to what I was told to pay attention to via the 24-hour news cycle. Like most Americans, though, in this, I was gravely mistaken.
My exposure to the Occupy Movement began last autumn, and slowly, my complacency changed. Like everyone else, I watched with rapt fixation what appeared to be a legitimate social movement -- which we have not seen since the counterculture of the 1960s. It seemed like a time of hope, a time of conversation, and a time of change.
Still, my level of participation did not exceed my becoming more conversant on current events, and eventually actually writing about them. I still watched from the comfort of my car or sofa as events unfolded, largely because I didn't really live anywhere near the action. Moving to the greater Portland, Oregon area brought me closer to the action, and allowed me to see for myself.
My first opportunity was during President Obama's visit to Portland, Oregon, July 24th, 2012. On that day, I decided the time had come to learn for myself what had become of the Occupy Movement in the city. What I learned was an example of the general lack of success that faces the Occupy Movement on the whole, and reflects a problem indicative of why protests fail in general.
Occupy Portland had not begun as the general Occupy Movement claims on their website or wiki-- a movement by the middle classes to reassert themselves in regards to economic or financial concerns. The mission statement cited on the Occupy Wikipedia page is misleading:
“The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer."
Rather, Occupy Portland was initially a gathering of the homeless who seeking housing relief, and a lifting of the no camping ban; which leaves the homeless no place to sleep. This was, and still remains, the focus of what is left of the Occupy Portland movement.
Occupy Portland began when the homeless in the city realized that they might amplify their message by piggy-backing upon the greater Occupy Movement message directed at Wall Street. By naming themselves "Occupy Portland", these homeless people reframed their mission from being one of addressing homelessness, into a general expression of their First Amendment rights. Thus armed, the formerly disenfranchised homeless became the core of the protest movement, and remain so today.
As more and more support for this movement grew among the twenty-somethings of the greater Portland area, the original agenda – one of safe housing for the homeless – changed briefly, in order to mirror national concerns.
With some key action, a powerful backlash emerged. It is my belief that the Occupy Portland movement directly contributed to Congress's rapid advancement of the NDAA, which allowed the President to hold any American for any reason with out charge or trial.
How did this happen? On November 2, 2011, according to CBSnews.com, “more than 1,000 Occupy Wall Street protesters blocked cargo trucks at some of the west coast's busiest ports, forcing terminals in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Longview, Wash., to halt operations.“
In Oakland, the true goal of the Occupy protesters was revealed by their single-minded pursuit of Terminal J, “... Because it houses shipping agent SSA Marine, which is partially owned by investment bank Goldman Sachs.”
"Not only are we targeting a company that has a particularly bad record with regard to labor management issues, but also a company that's really done a lot to loot the American treasury and the American taxpayer," protester Steve Kemp told KTLA.
"We wanted to show that Goldman Sachs was one of our targets," protester 'Marshal' said. "We wanted to shut down the terminal for the day because a world without Goldman Sachs would be much better."
While the cost to Goldman Sachs has not fully been disclosed, it is estimated to be millions of dollars. This figure is gained simply by examining the shutdown of the ports in Oakland during the Pacific Maritime Association labor dispute of 2002. “Estimates of the cost of the lockout to the U.S. economy ranged between $6 billion and $20 billion...” over eleven days. It goes without saying that having three major ports disrupted, with Goldman Sachs as the target, the cost was in the millions.
Having successfully disrupted port operations in Oakland, Portland, and Longview, the Occupy Movement in Portland felt emboldened. Little did they know, they had awakened a very nasty, very powerful opponent, and they left their enemies stronger.
Goldman Sachs was one of Obama's largest contributors during the 2008 election cycle, as was J.P Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley; all of whom have financial interests in successful port operations. It would go to follow that these and other financial interests through lobbyists and political supporters wasted no time in pushing forward additional amendments and legislation that proved formative to the signing of the NDAA 2012; a document that effectively criminalized protest, by redefining it as terrorism.
Pressured by enormous financial losses in both public and private sectors, the Portland Police Department began firmly cracking down upon the homeless within the city limits. They enforced the no-camping ban, and the city began the general routing of the homeless within the city limits. It consolidated them in a park that is literally sandwiched between the Portland Police Department and City Hall. Having thus contained the protest movement, the city allowed their new social experiment to begin, and the effective erosion did not take long.
Now that the middle classes of the city were confronted with the reality of otherwise hidden social issues on the streets of Portland – specifically drug abuse, infestation (lice, scabies, bedbugs), and the smell of homeless humanity – the middle classes abandoned the Occupy protest to the squatters in the park.
And here we have come full circle. The protest has collapsed under the burden of its own weight. Those who had homes and could, returned to their homes and assumed that all was well -- that their work was finished.
After having spent extensive time interviewing dozens of homeless within Portland who were directly affected by the failure of the Occupy Movement, I can clearly say the Occupy Movement has abandoned them. It would have been better if the Occupy Movement had never begun. The general unwillingness of the movement to sign under a single voice, a single message, and a single ideal that can be managed, handled, and understood has left all of us mute and powerless. Occupy's insistence upon the abandonment of political engagement -- which its members do not fully understand -- has stripped them and us of our capacity to act with unity. Most of all, it is the hypocrisy of the movement that has so fully incensed me.
This hypocrisy was more than evident as I stood among the 1% waiting to be passed through the Secret Service security line while hoping to gain admittance to the Obama fundraiser. The liberal class loves humanity as an abstraction -- it is the smell of homeless people that they can't stand.
On the north side of the street, protestors had gathered and were protesting everything from gun access to bans on medical marijuana. The protesters were dressed casually and their efforts were disjointed and not unified. The Occupy Movement was not represented.
On the south side of the road -- where I stood in line with the 1% who had paid their handsome donations to hear the President speak – stood the liberal elite. I was raised among many of these people as a child, and I understood them
As I watched protestor after protestor attempt to engage those standing patiently in line, I knew well what the various expressions crossing their faces entailed: contempt. And why not? Exactly what were the protestors DOING that was worthy of respect? Was it the millions in damage caused by the endless wear and tear from Occupiers squatting in parks? Was it the way they carried themselves, with the demand that they be taken seriously without having earned that privilege thorough effective organization. Had the protesters made any effort to bridge the gap between themselves and the elite they had hoped to address, by not simply manifesting an absurd parody of 1960s counter- culture? Had they shown the elite that they are worthy of being included in the conversation?
That is what the elite see. This disconnect is why the Occupy Movement's members look more and more like abject beggars, or like children with no real insight as to the nature and relationships engendered by power and those who wield it. Thus, forever powerless, because they do not appreciate power or its delicate uses, the role of the Occupy Portland movement has been relegated to the least powerful members of our society: beggars, drug addicts, and the mentally ill.
There is a final reason Occupy Portland has not been effective. That is the lack of willingness of its members who are middle class to face sacrifices. Ultimately, there is an intrinsic relationship between the success of any protest and the willingness of protesters to endure sacrifice. Our history, and the history of every nation that has evolved out of tyranny, has been written in the blood sacrifice of those who came before us. Middle-class Occupy went home. But what makes us believe that the time for sacrifice is ended?
In fact, it is our collective unspoken belief that change can be effected without sacrifice that has resulted in the loss of our civil liberties, the erosion of the Bill of Rights, and the disintegration of the Constitution. We are the product of our collective decisions.
This is why protests such as those in Portland ultimately fail. Not just from the collective work of a suppressive government in collusion with financial interests. Our own ignorance and apathy play a part, along with our collective fear of confrontation, and disapproval. So long as we are unwilling to unite around a message – so long as we don't hang in there for the long run and make real, meaningful, sacrifices -- we will forever be members of a bifurcated society, standing on opposite sides of the street, without communication, and without the hope of effective change.
:: photo courtesy of S. MiRK, via Creative Commons license ::
Father of three incredible children - now adults - and married for 25 years, his background and education are as diverse and eclectic as his tastes.