OCCUPY PORTLAND definitely made a statement on Monday, December 12. Joining Occupy movements nationally, hundreds of local occupiers braved predawn frost to trek north and then shut down most operations at the Port of Portland.
As for what kind of statement? That wasn't as clear. Was the shutdown a display of might? Or was it a confusing effort to support the 99 percent, which wound up, in fact, annoying them? In reality, it may have been both. After spending the day at the port, the Mercury has gleaned a few lessons that all sides should take from Monday's action.
Occupy Portland remains formidable. Winter was supposed to be quiet for Occupy Portland, a chance to lick wounds after its November 13 camp eviction and plot a springtime resurgence.
That was hardly the case at the port. Before 6 am on Monday, occupiers filled the parking lots at Kelley Point Park and then marched along Marine Drive to the port terminals on either side of the park.
By 7 am, close to 300 people filled roadways at Terminals 5 and 6. Then came a 4 pm infusion meant to shut down the night shift at the terminals. When that group showed up, occupiers marched a couple miles south to Terminal 4 and shut that down, too, before attempting—but ultimately failing—to also shut down terminals operated by Schnitzer Steel.
"We've seen the power of working in shifts," one occupier shouted during a planning meeting at the end of the night.
Occupy still has work to do on messaging. Occupy, despite its show of force, largely failed to sell the shutdown to skeptical members of the working class looking to support the movement.
The shutdown plan was initially billed as an attempt to show support for International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) workers dueling with managers in Longview, Washington. But that line of attack was compromised when ILWU leaders declined to (publicly) back the effort—even as labor sources conceded that rank-and-file members were privately in support.
On Friday, December 9, Occupy Portland organizers connected the local effort to an attack on companies like Goldman Sachs, which owns a stevedore company at the port.
But on the day of the shutdown, outlets like the Oregonian and TV stations focused equally on something else: The fact that workers didn't get paid.
By preemptively telling workers not to show up at all on Monday, the port shrewdly (from its end) shut down the tangled legal process that unions use to get paid when there's a non-union picket line. That affected 300-plus longshore workers. That didn't include contract truckers turned away from the terminals who lost their pay, too. (Although truckers did write a letter in support of the shutdown, despite the bite it took from their already-tiny checks.)
Occupy has not been co-opted. If anyone thought that Occupy was a tool of Big Labor, what with unions donating food, storage space, toilets, members' time, etc., the very public break with labor leaders showed how that narrative isn't so simple.
Even some of the rank-and-file members who were on hand had to step in when the group extended the protest to privately owned Schnitzer Steel shipping terminals Monday night. Schnitzer's only ILWU terminal is in Portland, and workers were worried Schnitzer would use the blockade as an excuse to go private.
But talk of a rift is probably overblown. Both sides need each other too much. Occupy needs resources. Unions need energy.
An ILWU worker who declined to be identified said, at first, "There's only so much the 99 percent can take." But then he conceded that longshoremen are in the "upper reaches" of the working class and that the earlier shutdowns didn't bother him. "Can we afford to take a day off? Hell yeah."
Portland police are keeping their word. Portland let the port's police agency take the lead on security, officially. But its fingerprints were all over the port police's light response.
After some initial tensions, when a riot line stretched across the road to Terminal 5 before falling back, cops here mostly kept out of sight. No arrests were made Monday as part of the protest—and at one point, cops and protesters calmly negotiated a trade: road flares in exchange for protesters backing away from the road.
Contrast that with the reports of pepper spray and flash-bang grenades in Seattle, mass arrests in Houston, and baton-smashing in Long Beach that actually kept the port there wide open.