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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Sunday, October 16, 2011

PTA pitches Coke 'rewards' program

An on-line PTA newsletter recently highlighted a CocaCola program that has students using soft drink label codes to raise money for schools.

It’s all part of something Coke calls “Coke Rewards.” The real “reward” is for CocaCola’s bottom line through acceptance of the consumption of harmful, sugar-laden beverages that contribute to an epidemic of diabetes.

In short, the PTA's promotion of this program is trading the health of children for a few dollars for cash-strapped schools. The problems are real; the answers can’t be found in consumption of soft drinks and corporate handouts.

In addition to Coke’s gaining positive PR through its program, it also buys silence about the harm done by its products. Note the lame disclaimer attached to the end of the newsletter item.

“This promotion is not intended by anyone at Wilson to encourage consumption of certain products, just to take advantage of the benefits the company offers from products you may already be using.”

“Certain products”? “MAY already be using”?

How about a line that overtly warns against the harm associated with the continued consumption of “certain” “products you may already be using.”

I think they call that “education,” which is the mission, if I recall correctly, of the PTA.

Question: If Philip Morris set up a similar program rewarding submitted cigarette butts with contributions to the school, would the PTA participate?

Here’s the full text of the message as it appeared....


If you drink Coke products, you have the power to donate points that translate to cash and prizes appropriate for improving all kinds of areas at the school. Look under the caps of any Coke product bottle and inside of the carton of Coke, Sprite, Barq's, etc cans for a code worth 3-10 points. You may enter them on your own My Coke Rewards account and then donate them to Wilson or drop them in the PTA box in front office and we'll enter them. Wilson's Students for Environmental Action (SEA) will collect caps from recycled bottles at school. Wilson is registered at and ready to accept suggestions for our wish list and donations of codes. Go to:, scroll over the "Schools" black tab and click "donate to a school", enter Wilson's zip code 97219 to search, scroll to the bottom of the drop down to find Wilson, click on it and then continue. If you go there soon, you can enter Wilson for their SparksParks for Schools promotion and increase our odds of winning $25,000 to improve our school's park-like grounds. This promotion is not intended by anyone at Wilson to encourage consumption of certain products, just to take advantage of the benefits the company offers from products you may already be using. For more information contact PTA VP Maureen Berrie-Lawson at

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