As first reported in the Mercury, ever since Kim Kimbrough took over as the president of the Alliance--a business coalition that represents downtown's largest companies--the organization has held pernicious sway over local politics. Activists have been concerned that last year the Alliance helped draft and enact a sit-lie ordinance that allows police to ticket the homeless and street performers for loitering in public spaces. Concerns that the Alliance is harassing and marginalizing "undesirables" have been underscored by Kimbrough's campaign to install a seasonal ice skating rink in the middle of Pioneer Square. Activists believe that the proposed ice skating rink could easily displace protests, such as the ones held weekly by PPR.
Standing in front of the Alliance's gold gilded doors (520 SW Yamhill) and speaking through a bullhorn, organizer Chris Feulazzo asked the crowd, "Does the vision of the Portland Business Alliance include protesters?" The throng responded with a rousing, "Hell, no!"
"[According to the Alliance] we should be skating and shopping," Feulazzo continued, his voice cracking from too much yelling. "We shouldn't be going [to Pioneer Square] with our bullhorns."
After Friday's protest, the police warned PPR against using megaphones in the future. Without incident, PPR has been holding weekly demonstrations at Pioneer Square for 18 months, many with the aid of megaphones. In a press release, PPR member Will Seaman said: "Lt. Haunsperger said that if they allowed us to use a megaphone, then street preachers would start showing up with their bullhorns and local businesses would start to complain." Seaman added, "Freedom of speech is not something that local businesses can veto."
On Friday, like a lightning rod raised in a storm, it seemed as if many of the demonstrators' free-floating concerns--from worries over the economy to the U.S. war machine--had found a target. Last month, allegations were leveled that the Alliance swayed council member Jim Francesconi's vote on an anti-war resolution. This implication seems to have merged anti-war sentiment with anxiety over the Alliance's motives. (In January, the Portland City Council became the first city government in the nation to deny a resolution stating its opposition to unilateral military action by the U.S. in Iraq.)
Francesconi has, at best, offered weak explanations to defend his actions. On Friday, speakers were quick to notice a coziness between the self-avowed liberal representative and the conservative Alliance.
"He's Portland Business Alliance's lap dog," yelled Feulazzo. Demonstrators booed loudly when speakers talked about a pending business tax plan, proposed by the Alliance and endorsed by Francesconi. That plan would cap business taxes at $100,000 per company (while shifting a tax burden to the payroll and, hence, individual workers).
But clearly the overarching theme that emerged from Friday's demonstration is that protesters feel alienated from the decision making process of both national and local leaders. After a worldwide demonstration in February attracted 6 million participants, President Bush dismissed them as a mere "focus group."
Likewise, in Portland, many activists felt spurned when city council rejected a popular anti-war resolution. More than 5,000 residents had sent postcards to city council advocating the resolution. Clearly, demonstrators want to see some kind of pay-off for their shouting and protests.
Heeding this frustration, activists are increasingly finding clever and insidious means to thwart those they see in power. For example, following Saturday's march, a clandestine group is calling for demonstrators to stage a "shop-in" here in Portland. They are asking that from 4 to 6 pm protesters converge on Nordstrom and Meier & Frank--both Alliance members. Once there, they ask "shoppers" to place anti-war fliers in pockets of clothing, to buy cheap merchandise and immediately return it, and to try on clothes without making any purchases.
"Portland doesn't need a taxpayer funded organization blaring Big Business, pro-war rhetoric and threats to the city council," declares their website (peacepdx.com).