AS PROMISED, a group of former Occupy and anti-fluoride activists—operating under the banner Camp Cascadia—were expected outside Portland City Hall on Wednesday, July 10, in hopes of giving city leaders one last chance to back away from a promise to push ahead with covering Portland's open-air reservoirs.
And what happens when city commissioners don't agree to back off from the federally mandated, multimillion-dollar construction project? Starting around 5 pm, Friday, July 12, protestors and their tents will take the field in front of Mount Tabor's Reservoir #6 for an Occupy-style, all-night campout.
All night, that is, if the Portland Police Bureau doesn't show up when the park closes. We talked to organizer Jessie Sponberg about the why and the what behind Portland's latest occupation. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
PORTLAND MERCURY: Let's start simple. Why are you occupying a park?
JESSIE SPONBERG: The occupation of the mountain is a serious last-ditch effort. Our city leaders have thrown their hands up and forfeited way too early—and before they exhausted all their options. Nobody really knows about this. It's our job as activists to dictate public dialogue. We need people talking about us at their dinner tables, saying, "Jessie is a jerk. But why is he a jerk this time? Because they're occupying the reservoirs. Wait... the reservoirs?" Now we're talking. Writing letters is not working. It's falling on deaf ears. Corrupt ears.
PM: What corruption do you see?
JS: Joe Glicker [vice president of CH2M Hill, the company hired by the city to do engineering work on buried reservoirs] used to be a consultant for the water bureau [working on the reservoir issue]. They pushed for us to have to do this shit because of contracts. You can't be paper and the scissors. You can't be the judge and the jury.
Then you realize it falls to the Oregon Health Authority [OHA] to give the go-ahead. This is the same agency that met with the corrupt fluoride people.
PM: What's at stake?
JS: Covered reservoirs are bad news. They're not maintained right. They don't allow for the venting of radon. [Others dispute the idea that harmful amounts of radon will build up.—Eds.]
The ones in Seattle, they're already breaking and cracking. [Actually, there are questions about how the city's reservoirs will fare in an earthquake.—Eds.] And [CH2M Hill is] floundering on the Hanford nuclear cleanup up the Columbia River. They're the bad guys.
PM: Who else is joining you?
JS: Kim Kaminski is going to be camping with us. She's the executive director of Clean Water Portland. We've got support from the Mount Tabor Neighborhood Association.
PM: City hall says it can't do anything more. And it says New York won a temporary reprieve only because it's open-air reservoir is so big it would cost billions to cover.
JS: This project comes at a minimum cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. To the people at city hall used to playing with other people's money, maybe that doesn't seem like a lot. But as a single dad who pays a pretty exorbitant water bill, that's huge. What's going to happen when people can't afford to pay for water?
Senator Jeff Merkley stated he's willing to go to bat and help us out. But he doesn't want to step on any toes. It's up to our council to formally ask him for help.
PM: Is anyone at city hall listening?
JS: Amanda Fritz [who didn't agree to the reservoir plan] is kind of an ally. But talking to Charlie Hales is a waste of time. Talking to [newly appointed Water Commissioner] Nick Fish is a waste of time. Steve Novick is a rookie. Dan Saltzman hasn't been awake for a city council meeting in six months. We've had no response from Fish's office, no response from the Oregon Health Authority. We know they read the newspaper.
PM: What should people make of the word "occupy"?
JS: People are scared of that. We don't want to use it. We've distanced ourselves. But "occupy" is a verb not a noun. It's a tactic. It's not like this is going to be a reunion of what happened downtown in the parks. This is completely different.
PM: What's happening Friday?
JS: Friday is going to be brothers and sisters, grandpas and grandmas, reclaiming our public space and defending our reservoirs. We anticipate it will be pretty scary. We know how the police like to act as the strong arm of corporate influence. This isn't fun and games. Don't bring your Little Mermaid sleeping bag. This is serious.
We need some kind of confirmation that our city leaders will go back to the drawing board. Then we'll call it off. But they're fast tracking something that doesn't have to be done.
PM: Where can people learn more?
JS: Bullrunwaiver.org. It just kind of nutshells it.