TWO WEEKS AFTER pushing out a nearly two-year-old camping protest outside Portland City Hall—but only during daytime hours, thanks to the city's sidewalks law—Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Police Bureau he oversees have yet to declare victory in their bid to impose order.
That's because, despite more frequent visits from cops and park rangers, the camp has only continued to grow—and life at the protest, which started in December 2011 in the wake of the Occupy movement, has begun returning to a semblance of normal.
Beyond returning to the sidewalks in front of city hall every night around 9 pm, displaced campers have also taken up all-day positions down SW Madison along Terry Schrunk Plaza and on the sidewalks on SW 4th along Chapman Square. More than 30 people and piles of their stuff, on a recent weekday, crowded into the strip along the curb that Portland's sidewalk ordinance sets aside as a "free-speech zone." Some were sleeping. Others were cooking.
Tents have even gone up in recent days in Schrunk Plaza, owned by the federal government. Campers say the tents, so long as they're taken down by the park's 10 pm closing time, are tolerated by federal police as a form of legitimate protest. On Monday, August 5, one of those tents stood on a brick patch of the park right along the sidewalk.
"I leave it up more or less as a symbol," says a protestor named Graham, who says he's been part of the camp since its inception. "We're trying to get this to an uncountable thing."
That new goal, forged in outrage over the camp's eviction, is probably not what Hales had in mind when, responding to complaints about drug use and detritus, he called in the power-washers on July 23.
Hales, his spokesman told the Mercury at the time ["Booted Camp?" News, July 24], was nursing visions of food carts in city hall's plaza. The weekend before, the mayor had the bureau of transportation declare the sidewalks that had hosted the camp a "high-pedestrian" area—grounds to clear the sidewalks' free-speech zone during business hours.
But Hales' declaration didn't apply to the sidewalks across from city hall—leaving a loophole for emboldened protestors looking not just to stay around but also expand and, if they can, put on a better public face. Drug use, for example, is being met with expulsion. Protestors say they'd like to rent portable toilets to keep from befouling the bushes after park bathrooms close at midnight.
"It's a protest," says protestor Mike Withey. "It got a little off track."
It's not yet clear how or if Hales and the police bureau will respond to what appears to be a legal reading of the city's sidewalk laws.
Withey said cops and rangers had been making the rounds early on after the eviction, sometimes hourly. He said they quibbled over the boundaries of the free-speech zone and gave warnings and citations while waking people and checking on unattended property that could, by law, be confiscated. I saw a team of five cops patrolling the sidewalk last Thursday, August 1.
But now? "They knocked it off," Withey says. "They sent a signal."
The Mercury sent the police bureau a detailed list of questions asking about enforcement. Sergeant Pete Simpson, a bureau spokesman, did not reply by press time.
Meanwhile, some protestors are eyeballing the much emptier sidewalks around city hall and wondering where all the traffic that necessitated their ouster has gone. Hales' office has yet to explain how it justified a designation normally placed, in the name of safety, on narrow sidewalks in the commercial core or near transit lines.
"There's nobody there," protestor and minister Jose Serrica says. "It's like that all day. We were all the density there was."