(Well, most of the council, at least. Nick Fish was home sick, and Dan Saltzman, who's been very conspicuous lately, was out on long-planned absence.)
One resolution slags corporate personhood, calls for campaign finance reform, and sets in motion a citywide "advisory" vote on corporate personhood. The other loudly demands the swiftest possible drawdown of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and the redistribution of "war dollars" for starving schools and social services programs.
Of course, they're both symbolic—calling on other governing bodies to do difficult things they probably won't do. And I'm having a hard time getting as excited as the packed crowd that spent hours in city hall today cheering them on with a passionate debate that one city hall staffer, more cynical than myself, equated to "the kind of discussion I find myself having after four or five cocktails."
Even the mayor—who spent a few minutes making clear he wasn't angry at corporations, per se, just at the Supreme Court decision that dubbed them (and also nonprofit unions) people—seemed to be on that wavelength at times. As he celebrated at the end of the afternoon hearing, he also tamped down expectations about what would happen as his resolutions advance to the "less-than-thoughtful dialogue" on the national level.
So why bother, then? It's a fair question. But I think it goes too far to declare the whole exercise pointless. And here's why: On a local level, this lends some heft—a tangible victory—to a maturing, evolving, increasingly engaging Occupy movement. Without Occupy Portland's persistent input—building from the work of a policy solutions committee that took root way back in October—the mayor's stab at attacking corporate personhood would have been way more tepid.
It was Occupy that helped persuade his staff to address not only personhood, but finance reform, once he unveiled his draft proposals late last year. And it was Occupy that helped persuade his staff to muscle up and direct the city attorney's office to prepare for a citywide referendum that would put all of Portland on record.
"That was a big thing," said one occupier who met with the mayor's staff, John Springer. "We wanted to get an election."
Another reason why this wasn't pointless? It might also lead Portlanders to re-embrace public financing of elections—maybe with some more fixes and safeguards to make sure the money is spent appropriately.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, clinging to the defunct public financing standards ($5 and $50 donations) in her re-election race against well-funded State Representative Mary Nolan, came close to giving a stump speech in her testimony on why campaign finance reform matters. But Fritz, the first successful non-incumbent to use public cash to win office, had a point.
"I've never accepted corporate contributions, and I never will," she said. "Money and politics is ... it's not participatory democracy, it's money."
Then she railed against the Portland Business Alliance's 2010 drive to shut down voter-owned elections—an argument that focused heavily on a few bad cases (Emilie Boyles, chiefly) but less on the system's moderating influence on big-check fundraising.
"The reality is the cost is much higher when people are taken out of the discussion," Fritz said, "and money is the main reason people get elected."
I'm sure occupiers were listening. If they want an even bigger marlin to hoist over the proverbial mantel at their new space over at St. Francis Church, reviving voter-owned elections wouldn't be a bad place to start. And there wouldn't be anything symbolic about it.
"This movement is more than a blip. It's a tidal wave," one woman testified. "We the people are pissed off."