Friday, November 11, 2011

The Awakening and the Legacy of Occupy Portland

From talking with friends in the Occupy Portland Movement, I’ve learned that only about 10 percent at the site believe Mayor Sam Adams is right to order the encampment’s shutdown.

Occupy activists from my Quaker meeting are among the minority. They, like the City Council and much of the public, have concluded that the overwhelmed encampment is unsustainable. It is simply collapsing under the weight of grave social problems: drug abuse, untreated mental illness, prostitution, theft, toxic filth and violence.

The chaos is all concentrated in a prominent two-block area downtown. When the encampment is forcibly removed Saturday night, the problems will not disappear. They will once again find “homes” beneath the bridges and viaducts, in the forests and in cold, isolated doorways.

The victims will return to invisibility and powerlessness; and they will lose the little public presence and power they have had in the last five weeks.

On Saturday night, the 90 percent who will resist will be clinging to their place in our consciousness and conscience.

Once removed, will they lose that place? And what will happen to our new self-awareness of our own powerlessness and invisibility in today’s America?

Three comparisons have come to mind in the hours since the Mayor made his announcement. They are found in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Oliver Sacks’ “Awakenings” and the raw exposure of poverty after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Ellison’s novel is about race, Sacks’ book (and the subsequent film) is about mental illness and the New Orleans revelations are about class, poverty and race.

Each, in its own way, makes visible the invisible, however briefly.

Most of us live in a dream of denial. The Occupy Movement has cried out, “Wake Up!” It has even demonstrated how we, the “99 percent,” have been made blind to our own victimization and exploitation by privileged, powerful few.

The camps should be shut down, but the Movement, the revelation, must continue in new effective, sustainable ways. None of us should return to invisibility — to our worlds of illusion and ignorance or of discomfort and despair.

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