It's been one full year since thousands of people gathered in downtown Portland to boo and hiss President Bush's appearance at a Senator Gordon Smith fundraiser. Images of hundreds of police behind a barricade--many in full riot gear--were emblazoned onto the public consciousness when officers shot rubber bullets and pepper spray into the crowd. Even a year later, on Mercury newspaper boxes around town, there are still stenciled reminders: "They pepper-sprayed babies," referring to one incident when an officer pepper-sprayed a 10-month-old infant at the demonstration.
That protest set a momentum in motion sparking a series of massive anti-war marches. At its peak in March, 40,000 marchers paraded around the Waterfront.
Last August's protest also stands in stark contrast to Bush's only other visit to Portland. A recently inaugurated Bush traveled to Portland nearly two years ago to attend a high-priced fundraiser. At the time, only a thinning crowd of activists spread along Northeast Portland streets where his motorcade drove. At the time, many activists lamented that this presence fell short of the city's potential for rambunctious dissent--a capacity that inspired President George Bush, Sr. to label Portland as "Little Beirut."
Next Wednesday and Thursday will be Bush's third visit to Portland and another chance for residents to see how they fare on the civic activism scorecard. On August 21 Bush is slated to appear at a 2003 election fundraiser at the University of Portland. Hosted by Bush's re-election campaign, official details are mum, but rumors of an evening soirée with plates priced at $2000 run rampant.
Yet even with a month of advance notice, activist groups have been slow to organize any distinct action plan. Posters had been hung around town, but until early this week no definitive plans had been announced.
"I hang out with all the activist crowds and I don't see any activity yet," says Gabe Rivera, a Portland Peace Camp and Green Party associate. "I haven't heard concrete plans from anyone."
Last Monday a faint murmuring began to arise. A group called "Portland Says No to Bush" posted an announcement on IndyMedia. With only 10 days before the fundraiser, it was the first concrete plan backing the buzz. Slated to begin at 10 am at Columbia Park (N. Lombard and Woolsey) and lead up to the university, the march appears to be the central activity. "The tactical plan is still coming together," says media spokesman and student Jeffrey McNamara, who couldn't give out further details.
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There is also a planned "Die In." Activists will dress in army fatigues and tape on their bodies the name of a soldier killed in Iraq. A planning meeting is scheduled for Sunday at Powell's coffeeshop (1005 W. Burnside, 5 pm).
In spite of the last minute planning, activists remain optimistic that Portland will bear its protest teeth.
"What's going to happen is what has often happened--plenty of people show up who took no part in the planning," says Will Seaman with the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition. Yet Seaman admits that the Bush protest last August was so successful because, "there was an enormous amount of organizers behind the plan."
In contrast, activists in Seattle have been busy planning for Bush's trip there on August 22. Activist groups and worker's unions have scheduled both permitted and unpermitted protests over a two-day period. They even have music--Bands Against Bush--to furnish the soundtrack. According to The Stranger's Amy Jenniges, one organizer has gone so far as to pledge that if there aren't 100,000 people marching downtown, he'll eat a tin can. (Check out mvp-seattle.org and stopbushseattle.com)
Coincidentally, commemorating last year's protest, a group called Defeat Bush Now! also has several days of activities planned. On Saturday at PSU's Smith Memorial Center (2 pm), there will be an organizing meeting with activists JoAnn Bowman and Jeff Cropp. On Monday at It's a Beautiful Pizza (3341 SE Belmont) at 7 pm, IndyMedia will screen A22, a documentary about last year's protests. That video will also be shown on Tuesday at The Know (2026 NE Alberta) at 7 pm.