The day after mayor Sam Adams’ issued an ultimatum to the Occupy Portland camp to leave, the first really cold steady rain of the winter has started to fall. Kaia Sand and I came to host a poetry workshop, but all workshops have been canceled as the camp decides what to do next.
It’s a little after 4 and starting to get dark. The medic tent is still up, but the library tent, which so recently served as such a nerve center, its stacks of more than a thousand books cataloged according to the dewey decimal system, a list of workshops and events posted on a board out front, is now just a tarp propped up over a stack of magazines and a flip chart with notes from previous workshops. Two people come up and seem pretty excited to find a recent issue of Rolling Stone featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kaia and I flip through the chart. (And on our way out, I pick it up. It seems like a piece of ephemera that shouldn’t be lost.)
We meet up with two other poets, Alicia Cohen and Nicky Tiso, who started the Occupy Portland Poets google group. Alicia reports that Robert Reich was on the local public radio station this morning, enthusing about the way the Occupy movement has changed the conversation in America about wealth. Kaia pointed out the same thing on our way over to the camp. The language of this movement has permeated all corners of the media.
Kaia notes that the camp itself is a remarkable collection of language — all the signs and posters and banners. She takes many pictures. As we walk it all seems to be dissolving in the rain, stirred by a flurry of movement and talking. A police lieutenant with a nice face and gray hair gives an interview to the media: “We don’t want to arrest anybody.” A tight little group in front of the partially dismantled kitchen: “We have to do more than just avoid getting arrested. We have to have a strategy to defend the camp.” At the coffee bar, still intact, a man in a wheelchair wearing a dirty coat and socks but no shoes asks the person standing next to us repeatedly for a cigarette. Finally the person turns and hands the man a bag of drum tobacco. “I can’t roll a cigarette,” he says. “I only have one hand.”
Sirens appear at the corner of 4th and Main. A news crew in identical blue raincoats trains cameras on a policeman who says “It was an overdose. I don’t know but it seems like the person will be revived.” We pass a newscaster speaking into his phone “Oh I was here right before the overdose. I got all the good video.”
We cross over to the Alpha camp side of the street, and a big burly cop blocks the way, eyeing me. He lets me pass and confronts the man behind me “What do you have in that bag, sir?” Tensions seem to rise and wane. A man sings a beautiful song about ravens and war. Another walks by with a Joker mask on and glasses. There seem to be lots of puppies and kittens. A man sitting on a bench has a barcode tattooed over his eyes and a bandana covering his face. A woman carries a keyboard out of the park. A man struggles to get his wet sleeping bag inside its wet carrying case.
One of the most striking signs in the camp is spray painted in grey on a massive piece of metal. It is a quote from MLK beside his profile: Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.