Mayor Ted Wheeler’s decision to bring an end to Occupy ICE was a hasty one.
After a number of frantic Monday meetings between city hall staffers, Wheeler’s office scheduled a last-minute press conference to address Occupy ICE PDX, the five-week-old encampment on TriMet land in Southwest Portland that borders a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility.
“It’s time to move on to the second phase of this, to a more sustainable front,” said Wheeler, reading from handwritten notes.
He asked protesters camped out at the Occupy ICE site to “peacefully disengage,” citing dangerous camp structures, unconfirmed reports of violence, and infighting within the protest group. Hours later, Portland police posted notices at the camp, telling protesters they’d be arrested if they failed to evacuate the property within 24 hours. Before Monday morning, Wheeler did not have a specific plan for ending the camp’s occupation, according to Wheeler spokesperson Sophia June.
Among many ICE protesters and immigration advocates, Wheeler’s reasoning rang hollow—weeks earlier, he had refused to let Portland officers assist federal police in their attempt to end the protest.
That’s a familiar narrative. In many ways, Occupy ICE has come to resemble the 2011 Occupy Portland movement, in which an inspiring and organized protest founded on anti-establishment ideals devolved into a messy downtown camp with no obvious direction or impact. Then- Mayor Sam Adams wholeheartedly supported the protest and the encampment at its start. Shortly afterward, Adams issued an eviction notice similar to Wheeler’s, pointing to criminal activity and general disorder.
It’s hard to ignore the parallels between Occupy ICE and Occupy Portland. Occupy Portland’s campout ended in a combative face-off between Portland riot police and longtime protesters who adamantly refused to leave the parks, and I expect Occupy ICE to end in a similarly tense confrontation Wednesday or Thursday. (Update: Portland police swept the site Wednesday morning without having to make any arrests.) But then what?
Eventually, Occupy Portland became a springboard for local conversations around homelessness, likely inspired by protesters’ experiences living outside during a wet Portland winter. This included a push to lift city restrictions on public camping and increase the city’s shelter capacity; four years later, then-Mayor Charlie Hales announced a homeless “state of emergency” that led to hundreds of new shelter beds and temporarily decriminalized public camping.
The dismantling of Occupy ICE could serve as the catalyst for another citywide conversation, about Portland’s compliance with federal immigration programs. But even at Occupy ICE, the protesters’ end goals seem... nebulous. Protesters who have moved on from the ICE camp say their occupation was merely a “tactic”—just a piece of a bigger movement intended to end the city’s relationship with federal law enforcement. Some still at the camp agree, but also vow that they won’t budge without a fight.
Over the course of Occupy ICE, Wheeler has kept Portland police from cooperating with federal agents, and city officials like Chloe Eudaly and Commissioner Amanda Fritz have promised protesters they’ll work to distance the city from the Trump administration’s immigration policies and persecutions. But, at least on Monday, those stances seemed fluid. After Occupy ICE protesters are removed, and once their camp has been torn down, will the city keep its promises?