"Over the past few years, Portland has been seen as a leader," said one attendee. "What we do in response could help set the tone around the country."
Brought together by the Pacific Green Party and Indymedia, the attendees represented a sampling of Portland's activist community--certainly a group talented in organizing marches and voicing political disgruntlement. [In the days following the impromptu meeting, the group formed as Portland Peaceful Response (PPR).] Yet the complexity and emotionally charged confusion demanded a response perhaps more challenging and dynamic than anything previously faced by the activists.
With butcher paper taped to one wall, attendees raised their hands and offered suggestions, from setting up emotional support groups to staking out three Portland mosques in anticipation of retaliation against local Arab Americans. Taken as a whole, most suggestions tried to balance appropriate means for the community to commiserate, without seeming to endorse war efforts.
In the day after the attack, flags sprouted on car antennas as well as hundreds of homes throughout the city. Along the commercial drag of NE Broadway, a long line of people waited nearly two hours before doors opened at Elmer's Flag & Banner.
But while vigils and flag-waving captured the grief and shock, many at Wednesday night's meeting expressed concern that such one-dimensional patriotism simplified and ignored the political context of the event. With preliminary investigations pointing towards terrorist networks centered in Afghanistan, a Rubik's cube of U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics has encased itself around Tuesday's attack.
Perhaps the most perplexing question at the planning meeting was how to express sadness and unity with other Americans, without seemingly endorsing a military response. Several attendees suggested marches or silent vigils. But others hedged on such events. Although no one came right out with their concerns, clearly the underlying dilemma was how to express opposition to past and potentially future U.S. foreign policy without seeming anti-patriotic or insensitive to the thousands of lives lost.
"A lot of us realize that it is too early [to comment about U.S. foreign policy]," said Jeff Cropp, spokesperson for PPR. "We are not going to address foreign policy right now."
But attendees at Wednesday's meeting expressed keen concern that sympathy for Tuesday's victims would be parlayed by the White House as a public endorsement for war and would simply continue the vicious exchange of blows between the U.S. and terrorist forces.
In 1998, for example, after several associates of Osama bin Laden were indicted for simultaneously bombing U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton Administration responded fast and furiously. Without any gestures toward diplomatic talks or less aggressive means--like an economic embargo--the Clinton administration ordered 70 Tomahawk missiles launched at sites in Sudan and Afghanistan. One target was a pharmaceutical plant allegedly being used to manufacture chemical weapons. But subsequent soil samples have found no traces of such poisons. A lone night watchman at the plant was killed.
Not only did shelling in 1998 fuel anti-American sentiments in the Middle East, but those attacks had a reverse effect on terrorism by raising bin Laden's popularity; he is largely viewed as a David standing up to America's Goliath.
On Sunday, about 3000 people attended a vigil hosted by PPR in the South Park blocks. In spite of the event's focus on the victims from Tuesday's attacks, one speaker announced during the rally that protests will be held in response to any retaliatory bombing by the U.S. The demonstration will take place at the plaza across from City Hall at 4 pm on the day of attacks.