July 29th, 2008 5:33 pm | by Kevin Stark News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Environment

The Pitchfork Rebellion Comes to Portland

Tags: media, Health

Well, there didn't seem to be any federal agents this time (or were there?) at Sunday's rally in Pioneer Square for the so called “Pitchfork Rebellion” (a group of environmental activists from Lane County). The Pitchfork Rebellion was founded by husband and wife team Day and Neila Owen. The group is made up of forest-dwellers who say that Lane County lumber companies are making them sick by spraying pesticides on forests by their homes.

They are also protesting the Bureau of Land Management's proposed Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR), which organizers say will increase clear-cutting of Oregon old-growth forests by 700%.

The protest was held on a stage in the middle of Pioneer Square. Organizers say close to 1,000 people came throughout the afternoon although it is unclear if they came for the protest or simply were in Pioneer Squate.

As speakers traded stage time with musicians, most all the spectators who weren't pitchfork member sat passively on the stairs thirty yards from the stage. Occasionally someone would yell encouragement to speakers.

Portland's protest was much different than the last reb' gathering.

You may have heard of the May 30th ‘Pesticide Rally' at Kesey Square in Eugene. The rally gained media attention after U of O student Ian Van Ornum was controversially restrained with a stun gun by Eugene Police. Ornum, who organized the event, was dressed in a fake chemical engineer white plastic jumpsuit and was spraying cars with a canister of water.

The incident, which was heavily reported in Eugene, has been branded as police brutality by the local media. Witnesses say that Ornum was assaulted by police before he was tased.

The controversy snowballed when, shortly after the rally, Eugene's Register-Guard reported that Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the rally and that federal agent Tom Keedy was the person who notified police about Ornum. Read the article here.

Even MTV picked up the story.

Day Owen was also arrested at the protest. Read an op-ed in the Register-Guard written by his wife Neila here.

Sunday's protest was mellower (think acoustic guitar). The rally began at noon and lasted until five o'clock. Members of the Pitchfork Rebellion shared their experiences with pesticides.

Reb' member Maya Gee told the crowd that her child had been born with birth defects as a result of the “Timber Industry” spraying pesticides by her home while she was pregnant.

Soaring rhetoric and tired slogans marked much of the speeches. “As we sow, we reap,” said Pitchfork member Mary Jo Smith, “we are the change, we have to bring the change in.”

However, the stories of the members were tragically compelling. Neila Crocker-Owen recited the story of getting “sick for two months” as a result of Roseburg Timber's spraying the forest across the road from her house with pesticides.

“I heard helicopters spraying poisons across the street from me,” said Owen, and then after one hour she said she felt “really sick.”

“I'm normally a healthy person” she said, “I can stand on my head…I do all kinds of Yoga.”

At times the protest tilted toward paranoid. At one point Day Owen yelled “The Pitchfork Rebellion has conducted an investigation of every major government organization, and guess what, they have all been co-opted by big pesticide corporations!”

Later Owen shouted at the crowd, “Monsanto is evil,” referring to the agribusiness colossus. “They test their pesticides on children in orphanages. Do you think that is right?”

WW sat down with Day Owen, who told us, “When people live in a big city, they sometimes don't understand the suffering of rural foresters, they don't know that we get [sprayed with pesticides]. They don't know that we suffer because of Big Timber and Big Pesticide, they don't know that we have a higher rate of birth defects and cancer.”

He also talked a little bit about his own experience with being sprayed: “It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me.” The effects of the chemicals, according to Day, were loss of strength, numbness in his feet, throat swelling, vomiting, and face burning, among other conditions.
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