Mayor Sam Adams sat down with Occupy Portland's nearly-always-on livestream crew this morning for a wide-ranging chat about, among other things, Adams' own plans to advance the Occupy movement's national goals, his thoughts about what's worked and what hasn't with police actions, and a discussion about camping and what he'd have done differently.
Adams first asked Occupy to help him hone two federal lobbying proposals he has out for public comment: a bid to persuade the feds to end corporate personhood and clamp down on corporate campaign spending, and another item that puts Portland on record as demanding that money spent on overseas wars be spent on starved domestic programs instead.
"We have the most corrupt federal election under way since money became big in politics," the mayor said. "The fact that hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate spending can happen without a fingerprint... I don't think our forefathers and foremothers ever intended that."
Of course, when asked if he might offer up those proposals at an Occupy general assembly, the mayor expressed interest, but also demurred—noting some residual anger among some occupiers at how police have used force when clearing out the two camps at Chapman and Lownsdale Squares and other protests.
"I don't know on the whole if I would actually be welcome," Adams said. "I don't mean to sound like a reluctant date or anything. I understand that for some people this hasn't gone the way they wanted."
Adams also was asked directly about the use of force at Occupy. He repeated a call asking anyone who felt mistreated to file a complaint with the Independent Police Review Office, but also defended his officers actions. In one major concession, though, he conceded that the directions read aloud when riot cops come out need to be reviewed. That was a big complaint after the November 17 bank protests, when protesters ate pepper spray.
"When we have more information and communication from whoever is responsible for putting things on, the better things go," he said, noting that, with less information, the cost of staffing protests with cops on overtime goes up. "The fact that we haven't shot people out of the trees with beanbag guns, and we've used less-lethal forms like mace much less than in other places, that there's been no tear gas... the reason we have less of these things is that we have people out there instead."
There was a lot of talk about the clearing of Shemanski Park on December 3, one of the more aggressive police actions to date, and how that was different from the light touch cops used when it came to the Port of Portland shutdown protests this Monday. Adams said the communication before the two protests—the first was held close, with the other very public—was key.
Adams said the police bureau wasn't prepared for the reoccupation. Then, he said, park rangers were frightened off when they tried to enforce a ban on tents at the park—"and these are people who don't frighten easily"—which led to the emergency order a half hour before its usual closing time at 9 PM. (He said police also felt like they couldn't enforce the ban without a provocation—and also said he worried about "the children" who were there.)
I was at the port. We knew it would be organized. We had a good sense that the Occupy folks were willing to shepherd or manage or facilitate the people who showed up, even the folks who wanted to provoke the police," he said.
As for Shemanski?
"You all didn't tell us where it was. You said you wre going to camp. There were kids. We couldn't do our jobs," he said. "We had to use the riot gear."
Before the back-and-forth on police issues, Adams also previewed two other ideas he wants to push early next year, alongside his proposals on war dollars and corporate personhood. He wants to find a way to induce financial institutions to take better care of the foreclosed homes they've allowed to fester, fallow, all across Portland.
The other? A way to refine the city's bidding process for bank services—like investments and procurement credit cards—so that smaller outfits can have a seat at the table.
"We can't just say we're going to" move Portland's money out of big banks, he said. "But I can totally be involved with the criteria we use to make that objective selection and I think we can improve upon that existing criteria."
And he also made sure to express his support for the "overnight sleeping" pilot project that Commissioner Nick Fish will put before council next week.
"It sounds like an idea worth trying. We're going to do this on a pilot basis because every city is slightly different," he said, adding that while he won't actually be at the meeting next week, "if I was, I'd vote for it."
But Adams said he still unequivocally supports Portland's camping ban, because he wants people on the streets to be funneled into social services programs to receive not only shelter but also help with addiction and mental illness. (But, of course, he also noted that funding for those programs, thanks to the county and state and feds, has taken a deep hit. Which makes me think his line about the ban—the subject of an ongoing court case—is as much about not getting the city's lawyers too upset.)
The mayor did have an interesting answer when he was asked about what he would have done differently with Occupy—a rare instance in which Adams was willing to entertain a "what if." He made the point that no one could have realized the overwhelming challenges the old camps began to face after they took on the compassionate mission of trying to help homeless and addicted Portlanders and others who sought the place out for refuge.
"If I'd have known that, I'd have worked with Occupy earlier on basic security issues," he said. And he reiterated his wish to avoid the kind of chaos that led to pepper-spraying on November 17: "Also the onsite announcements," he said. "We continue to work on those for clarity."