The organizer of Liberating Dissent II, Anthony Patch, is onstage trying to read his introduction in the dim lighting and distracting shuffle of about 80 people. The mostly punk crowd is waiting for the music to start again.
It's Saturday night, May 23, at Liberty Hall in North Portland. Coffin Ship already played a short set of banjo-picking punk-rock folk, and the audience seems antsy for more. But Patch tells us a couple of speakers will come first.
There are two reasons, says Patch, for organizing this event dedicated to dissent more than two years after the first Liberating Dissent. The first is to "provide ongoing support to those folks in our movement who find themselves behind bars in this recent crackdown."
And the second is to "support ongoing community organizing of Rose City Copwatch with hopes of encouraging more discourse and discussion." Rose City Copwatch, a 5-year-old organization monitoring police accountability, raised money by taking donations at the door on a sliding scale from $6 to $100.
The movement Patch refers to are environmental and animal-rights activists who have become ensnared in the "green scare."
Think communism and the Red Scare back in the '50s, when the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover used COINTELPRO tactics to cripple civil rights movements. Similarly, the "green scare" refers to legislation, subpoenas and the prosecution of activists and their supporters.
The first speaker was someone well-versed in facing that onslaught—Lauren Regan, director of the Eugene-based Civil Liberties Defense Center.
Regan's organization provides cheap or free legal representation for progressive social-change activists. Among them were a dozen defendants in a string of environmentally motivated acts of arson and economic sabotage from 1997 to 2001, which the federal government broke with the help of a wire-wearing informant who participated in 20 acts of arson.
Regan decried the longer sentences given her clients—one got life plus 1,115 years, because conspiracy charges were added into the arson case of burning two SUVs.
The next speaker, Kristian Williams, agreed with Regan that the green scare includes exaggerated sentencing but thinks focusing on such overt repressive acts "runs the risk of overlooking the larger fabric of repression in society."
"To end state repression, we must change the very nature of our society," he says. "To end state repression, we must end the state."
When I first arrived, Patch asked me not to take pictures of anyone because of the sensitive topic matter. He didn't want anyone to be uncomfortable.
But since the event was publicized with a news release and dedicated to free speech, I wandered around after the speakers finished and looked at the booths inside the small hall.
Along with Copwatch and the Civil Liberties Defense Center were Portland's chapter of the Anti-Racist Action Network, and another with information about prisoners' rights. I snapped photos of the tabletops covered in pamphlets and books and fliers. I asked Williams if I could take his picture. Williams said, "Sure."
And when the band Adelit@s started, I took photos of its members, though the pictures are not as good as the ones publicly available on its MySpace page.
A few songs into the set of the next band, Silent Majority, Patch sidles up and says, "Can I talk to you?"
He wanted to see my photos and delete anything with a face in it because, he said, "We had an understanding." Patch then kicks me out of what he calls his event.
Add me to the list of dissenters.