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I took a break from my job-about-which-the-worst-I-can-say-is-that-it's-stressful, and went across the street to check out #OccupyPortland.

An Occupy Portland protester in a crone mask in the crowd




Reports say that the initial march, yesterday, drew 10,000 people (including the mayor), and photographs suggest that in any case, it was a sizable crowd. The movement has now occupied Chapman Square, a park directly across the street from my workplace, in a kind of tent-town.

Occupy Portland tent town with large sign reading 'Capitalism is fucking the 99%'


Most of the occupiers are young. The mood is peaceful, but serious and intent, with a definite overlay of smoke--incense, tobacco and marijuana. I gather that amplification has been forbidden by the city, and I witnessed an interesting ritual that seems to have resulted from this ban.

A circle of OccupyPortland protesters participating in a talking circle


A circle of people sat or stood near the center of the park. I couldn't discern a clear leader or the passing of a talking stick, but different people took the "floor" in turns and spoke. "Mic check," they would each begin. There was no microphone. "Mic check," everyone would echo. Then the person would make a few short statements, each echoed by the crowd.

"I am a student," one young woman said. "I am a student," we echoed.

"I'm privileged to be a student." (echo)

"I want to finish my schooling, and that means I can't be here every day...but I'll be here as often as I can."

Another spoke of the importance of keeping the number of occupiers high. Someone else talked about reaching consensus with the Portland Marathon (a huge and venerable institution which is scheduled to occupy this same park tomorrow morning--it's not clear yet how that will go). Nobody ranted. The invisible microphone passed smoothly from hand to hand after a few sentences.

People would hold up their hands and wiggle all their fingers in a silent signal of agreement after statements they liked--you can just make out one occupier doing that in the upper right of the picture.

It was strangely moving, this impromptu ritual of call-and-response. It's a dull, wet day in Portland, and without the rabble-rousing power of a one-way public address system, the occupiers have created a quiet and very powerful method of building solidarity, keeping people present, and spreading the message.

There were some good signs...

A protest sign at OccupyPortland reading 'I'd be HOME if I still had one'


...a certain amount of costumery, and anonymous-angel deliveries of pizza.

An Occupy Portland participant in a jester hat on a bike, and a woman delivering free pizza to the occupiers


One guy was offering "free cardboard, free Sharpies!" to prospective sign-makers, and lots of people were sitting on the park benches or on tarps on the muddy ground developing their themes in black on corrugated.

"We're trying to make the world a better place," the Sharpie guy called.

Everything I'm reading about the Occupy movement says that it's not a single-issue protest--that it's still developing its messages and goals. Mainstream media seems to be getting some mileage out of the meme "they don't know what they want."

Give 'em time.

"We are the 99%" is emerging strongly as a focal point in Chapman Square today, and well-documented police brutality in New York at the original Occupy Wall Street protests a couple of weeks ago seems to be cementing a serious intention of non-violence in all the subsequent occupations.

To my mind, 99% of the people in nonviolent action is a damned powerful beginning.

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