Thursday, October 20, 2011

'This is what you shall do...'

Visiting the “Occupy Portland” encampment in the waning hours of the crisp evening of Wednesday, Oct. 19, I wandered among hummocks of tents and lulling conversations on park benches and under trees. A communal dinner was sheltered under a drapery of tarp canopies. The camp’s denizens, a mix of young, poor, educated, idealistic, committed, and, frankly, deranged, have built an utterly eclectic community intent on serving its needs. Food, shelter, clothing, sanitation...first aid, mental health counseling, legal advice, a child-car, prayer, external and internal communication.

After my amble through the passages of this nearly instant village, I sat in the small amphitheater in nearby Terry Schrunk Plaza with 150 or so others. City Hall was across the street to the west, the Federal Justice building was shouting distance to the northeast.

We had gathered in the evening “general assembly.” The discussion was civil and focused. The facilitator, who introduced himself as “Justin,” was respectful and inviting of all comment. Leadership was vested in the assembly. Justin reminded that the goal was consensus. Majorities did NOT rule. Business included a Latino community vow to remain despite harassment and theft, a proposal to march to the affluent Pearl, a resolve to create more community gardens in the City, a proposal to end “Corporate personhood.”

A speaker raised a concern, perhaps an omen: ”Camp is dying for direct action, and we are being way too wonky. Are we policy wonks, or are we about direct action?”

For now, the mere existence of the encampment speaks to what it stands for: equality, a fair and just political system, the power of people over money. Soon, one feels, the community will find ways beyond existence to assert itself.

The day after visiting the site, I came across the following passage. It spoke to my condition and, I thought, to that of those camped out for social justice in Lownsdale and Chapman squares.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
― Walt Whitman, from the introduction to the Leaves of Grass.

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