Occupy Portland grew out of solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, a New York protest for economic equality and justice for corporate misdeeds. On Oct. 6, about 10,000 people marched through downtown Portland, ostensibly headed to Pioneer Courthouse Square.
By nightfall, a few dozen had pitched camp in Lownsdale and Chapman squares, two park blocks surrounded largely by commercial towers and government buildings. When police told them to leave to make way for the Portland Marathon, they briefly left Lownsdale and returned later that day.
Adams told WW he was OK with that, and says he attempted from day one to balance the protesters’ rights with the need to maintain a safe, orderly city.
Sympathetic Portlanders embraced the novelty of the protest, rushing to donate food, reading material, tents and other comforts. Organized labor—which has cheered the Occupy movement—pitched in. The Amalgamated Transit Union, for instance, which represents TriMet employees, paid for the camp’s portable toilets. The Oregon AFL-CIO applied for marching permits from the city on Occupy’s behalf.
Adams didn’t act right away to reopen Southwest Main Street, which protesters had closed for nearly a week. The closure backed up traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge while the Morrison Bridge remained closed for repairs.
Adams says he wanted to allow the campers plenty of leeway.
“I felt they needed some time to get settled,” he says.
Records show the mayor’s office received a flood of complaints—along with some supportive comments—about his failure to end the blockade.
“Get the losers out of our downtown and anywhere else,” a citizen named Dick Filbert emailed to Adams on Oct. 10. “Please get off your dead butt and do your job.”
Adams says he always intended to reopen the street, which in addition to tens of thousands of cars, serves eight bus lines and 5,000 bikes per day. Just as with the final order to vacate the parks, Adams says, he gave the campers notice he wanted to re-open Main Street. Initially, the Occupiers voted against that idea.
Adams took action, records show, after pressure began to build from one of the city’s most powerful constituencies, the Portland Business Alliance. Downtown interests were fed up. That message came from Dave Williams, a NW Natural executive who chairs Downtown Clean and Safe, a PBA affiliate.
“Closing Main Street is not only frustrating for those who work downtown,” Williams wrote Adams on Oct. 12, “but it also creates an impediment to those who wish to patronize our downtown businesses and enjoy our downtown entertainment and recreational amenities.”
The next day, the police reopened Main Street and arrested eight Occupiers. Adams continued to support the protesters.
“We’re not moving against the camps,” Adams told reporters the next day. “The focus of this occupation is pointing to some very legitimate concerns about growing inequality in this nation.”
The mayor’s office struggled, records show, to strike a balance in his political message. Consider this email exchange between Adams’ office and The Oregonian.
Anne Saker, a reporter assigned to the Occupy Portland beat, wrote in an Oct. 25 story that the camp existed only by the graces of the city’s decision not to enforce the law.
“While camping in city parks is illegal,” Saker wrote, “Portland’s government, which is in sympathy with the protest, has permitted Occupy Portland to stay put.”
Saker’s statement was accurate. But in an email to Saker dated the next day, Adams spokeswoman Amy Ruiz asked that the newspaper clarify what the mayor believed was a mistake in her story.