Remember when the Mercury first reported yesterday about a proposal from Occupy Portland's internal peacekeeping team that would see the camps pull up stakes from Chapman and Lownsdale squares by November, after something like four weeks of occupation?
The idea was formally introduced during last night's chilly general assembly meeting in Terry Schrunk Plaza, and it seems its proponents are gravely serious about forcing the discussion—even if some of their fellow occupiers might not be ready to hear it.
It's the brainchild of Peace and Safety committee member Gina, a Portland State graduate student (she declined to give me her last name) who said aloud what a small but likely growing number of occupiers are thinking: The realities of embracing and tending to neglected social problems like mental illness, addiction, and chronic homelessness appear to be overwhelming the camp's volunteer peacekeeping staff.
"We lack the ability to enforce" the camp's clearly articulated prohibitions on drugs, alcohol, and fighting, Gina told the GA. She said the GA needs to start discussing these issues more deeply—and maybe thinking about finding a building to use during the winter—because "we see where this is going. The scenarios we see are the canaries in the coal mine."
At which point one man shouted: "When New York goes inside, I'll go inside." Which is probably a good indication he won't be among the occupiers meeting at 4 this afternoon at the Peace and Safety tent to start that conversation.
Safety issues have become an increasingly sensitive subject at the encampments. Portland police have been feeding TV stations and skeptical pundits with regular news blasts about nearly every reported incident, even those tangentially connected, involving Occupy Portland. That's annoyed facilitators and organizers who are trying hard to keep the movement focused on its economic message through a growing array of marches and direct actions.
But at night, especially compared to the first several days of the occupation, it seems the feeling of the place has shifted. Even sympathetic campers say there's been a difference in mood as politically minded residents give way to those pitching a tent only because the food's free, the tents offer a dry to ride out a drunk, and the law won't wake you up in the dark just before the start of business hours. Last night at the GA, a facilitator from the National Lawyers Guild announced that a Flip camera kept on hand to document any potential police misconduct had been stolen.
As one smart observer put it (as have many others whenever this issue comes up) when we talked about the state of the camp last night, these are the kinds of issues occupiers say they're fighting to raise awareness about. But, he said, it's become a good lesson in exactly how intractable the challenges of helping addicts and the mentally ill can be. "It's hitting them right in the face," he said.
I spoke with Gina after she made her brief presentation. She's less than committed to the flier's proposed November 5 deadline. In fact, she wants this idea to fully work its way through the group's consensus process. (Which may be getting easier; last night's GA was a fraction of the size of the GAs the occupiers started with.) She's also not wedded to getting a building or any other solution.
The real goal, she says, is to start actually grappling with safety issues instead of being "complacent." People keep saying the committee needs more volunteers, but "that doesn't solve the problem." Occupiers can "be creative" when it comes to tackling problems that government just can't, although her dream sounds much like what mainstream advocates are fighting for: more social workers and mental health professionals.
"This isn't a move to sabotage the movement," she insists.
Other interesting notes from last night's meeting:
• The GA approved a restructured finance committee for Occupy Portland, decreeing it would be made up, at the very least, of one member of every other committee and meet regularly and openly. The committee is charged with raising money and then managing it for the group, in credit unions, not banks. According to the discussion, the group has as much as $10,000 in cash in a pile another committee, the spending committee, draws from to purchase gasoline for generators, among other needs.
And it seems there's already a nonprofit Occupy Portland Inc., started Monday who apparently volunteered on the old finance committee and also possibly, one source said, without sanction from the GA.