THE PARTY started off a little small. Maybe a dozen or so people showed up outside city hall last Saturday, December 1, to mill about in the rain and occasionally do karaoke over an amplifier. In one tent, organizers lined up chips and drinks cleverly named Amanda Spritzers. Under another, camping stoves warmed the ingredients that would eventually become Nick Fish Tacos.
But the reason for the bash was big. It was a chance to mark the one-year anniversary of a religious vigil and protest targeting the city's anti-camping rules—one of the longest-running such protests city hall has ever seen.
It started humbly, in the shadow of Occupy Portland, with a small altar in the building's plaza. Later, it won the right to its own modest tent. Since then, thanks to the efforts of a tenacious few, it's hung on—defying arrests, reports of drugs and sex, cold weather, and the glare of a hunger strike.
The Mercury spoke with one of the vigil's founders, Moses Wrosen (AKA Kernel Loose-Nut), about the vigil's chances of seeing another year.
MERCURY: What did you expect when you set this up?
KERNEL LOOSE-NUT: I was hoping there was enough energy when the Occupy camps closed down that people would rock it and rally around it. It was a local issue, something we could actually do something about instead of whining about these international corporations that are still doing whatever they want. The right to safe sleep is a moral issue. It's apolitical.
The prayer [vigil] thing scared a lot of people away initially. I wanted it to pick up, and I thought it had the potential to last. But without it having caught on with the "activists," I'm surprised it's lasted this long.
How many people have participated?
It peaked in the summer, with people on all four sides of city hall and down along the parks on SW 4th. I counted more than 70 people, walking around one night. That was just because the momentum had built to that level. [That was also about when the city started circulating reports about needles and public sex.] Then the police started amping up the hassles and a lot fewer people stuck around. Now there are five to 10 people sleeping there.
It's impossible to control who shows up—or how they treat people. Talk about that.
We haven't really figured that out. But we have some people who are concerned and want to try to reassert more positivity in the vibe there. The person holding down the vigil right now [a protester known only by the name "99," in solidarity with the 99 percent invoked by Occupy] is a great person. And one of the reasons the vigil stayed so long is because we've been mostly friendly with the city hall security, treating them with respect, not heckling them, staying positive. And sometimes we've lost that.
How has the city's response evolved since the summer, when they went from being pretty hands-off to making arrests for technical violations?
With the legal stuff, we've continued to assert our rights and we showed them that we aren't going to go away easily. And, for whatever reason, they backed off.
Maybe they realized it wasn't getting them anywhere, or maybe they decided if they don't control things so much we'll be our own demise. But even if, say, 99 disappeared, other people would step up now. It has momentum.
The city is also afraid of infringing on religious rights, and that's another reason why the vigil has stayed.
You took a few months off while others worked on this. What's next?
I wish I could find some funding and some sponsorship for a public education campaign. That's the long-term thinking. I think I can get some of these bigger churches on board. It's such an easy argument, and it's easy to understand how fundamental sleep is to health.