Great Leap Forward 

Portland's Call for Protest Helps Shape National Occupy Agenda

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IN A BIG LEAP for Occupy Wall Street, protesters all across the country are planning to do something they've never quite done before: Flood the streets all on the same day, and for the same reason, as part of a nationally coordinated series of marches, teach-ins, and stunts poking at corporate lobbying might.

The event—planned for Wednesday, February 29—is called "Shut Down the Corporations" (or F29, for short). It's being hailed as a chance to reinvigorate and refocus the Occupy movement—and shape it into something more powerful—after a winter of soul searching and scattershot marches and protests. And the spark? Occupy Portland.

"This was a callout from Occupy Portland," says Kari Koch, a media liaison with the Portland Action Lab, an Occupy subgroup. "We're really looking to put together a national effort that will live beyond February 29. F29 is part of building that network."

F29's focal point is a little-seen lobbying outfit known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a nearly 40-year-old consortium whose members include big corporations but also hundreds of state legislators across the nation. Its chief aims include writing business-friendly legislation, and then having its members ram the laws through as many statehouses as possible.

Notorious examples of ALEC's handiwork include Arizona's anti-immigrant law and union-busting legislation in Wisconsin. In Oregon, ALEC's "Legislator of the Year," State Representative Gene Whisnant, has been pushing bank-friendly foreclosure bills.

"We want to take this opportunity to highlight ALEC and put it on notice," Koch says. "We know who you are and we have decided to take this on."

Portland's slate of F29 events will look a lot like the November 17 Occupy the Banks protest, which also was planned by the action lab. A rally, along with teach-ins, is set for 11:30 am at the waterfront along SW Ankeny. From there, protesters will march through downtown (on a still-secret route) and file past sit-ins and other nonviolent protests targeting ALEC's corporate members.

Koch says organizers are planning to send an open letter to Mayor Sam Adams' office asking police not to get rough with protesters and promising that there won't be any sanctioned property damage. And, in a bid to avoid the pepper spraying and chaos that marred the end of the N17 protest, she says organizers are also planning a "solid wrap-up at the end of the day."

Occupy groups in big cities like New York and Los Angeles are planning similarly complex events. Smaller groups are plotting simpler events. Occupiers, echoing the tactics of mayors and police chiefs before November's wave of camp evictions, have been holding regular national conference calls and training a team of national spokespeople.

The effort's gone well enough that Britain's Guardian newspaper took notice and posted an article on the protest on Monday, February 20.

"It's been a really great coalition builder," says Justin Kramer of Occupy Salt Lake City. "We've been able to delegate some individuals from the different groups into doing research on ALEC and connecting their issues to local issues and local corporations."

Koch says keeping up that dialogue is a key goal: "We didn't want to do one-off events. We thought that maybe we were at a point in our development where we could come up with an overarching message."




UPDATE: Our February 29th live-blog of the protest is here!

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