The Fall of the 420 Hotel

In the final hours of Occupy Portland, there was mud, a riot squad and a speckled rooster.

The final rumor to sweep through the ruins of Occupy Portland inflamed the holdouts in the 420 Hotel. 

"They killed a puppy!" screamed a young man with a scraggly goatee and a black Army jacket. "They killed a blind puppy!"

The rumor went like this: The police, busy clearing the camp that morning, Nov. 13, had tossed a tent with the puppy still inside into a green dumpster.

No one knew who owned the puppy. No one saw it happen. It probably wasn't even true. But the rumor panicked and infuriated the people in and around the fortified tent. 

During the Occupation, its official name was the Relaxation Tent, but people nicknamed it the 420 Hotel, after the slang phrase for marijuana. In a camp where residents created new identities, the young people in the 420 Hotel were the camp's roughnecks, its extremists. Most wore handmade clothing or hooded sweatshirts. They were the ones who brought their own gas masks. 

Since 3 am Sunday, they had been reinforcing the tent with pallets and thick hardwood tables. They draped an Oregon state flag outside and painted "Repo This" on one wall. It was a challenge to the police who would soon come to get them. It looked like a clubhouse.

The people in the 420 Hotel saw their battlements as a declaration of their right not only to stay in the park, but to exist as they chose. They saw the Occupy Portland leaders as capitulators for talking to the police, agreeing to terms of surrender and fleeing with their kitchen supplies and precious library before hell broke loose.

In the short and difficult history of Occupy Portland, the 420 Hotel came to represent the movement's incoherent defiance.

The Occupy movement set out to bring attention to poverty, homelessness, big banks, Wall Street and other social ills that pitted the rich against the rest of us.

It began Oct. 6 when an estimated 10,000 people marched through the city, and a small group took up residence in Chapman and Lownsdale squares. In its final hours, 38 days later, Occupy Portland saw about 4,000 people stage a rally in the early morning of Nov. 13 to prevent police from clearing away the hundreds of tents in the camp.

In between, however, the Occupy Portland leadership became mired in process and debate while the camp became a haven for the homeless, drug addicts and violent street kids. The leaders never found their public voice, nor a direction in which to take their cause.

By the morning of Sunday, Nov. 13, the leaders of this economic protest had left. So had most of the homeless. The defenders of the 420 Hotel took the movement in the only direction they could see: against the police, who had suddenly appeared in black-armored riot gear along the edges of the park.



It was just after 10 am Nov. 10 when Mayor Sam Adams announced he wanted Lownsdale and Chapman squares cleared and would close them to the public by midnight two days later. Inside the camp, Occupiers moved from rage to euphoria to despair. 

After the news, more than 100 people descended on City Hall, which went into lockdown. Some Occupiers wheeled their valuables—generators, coolers, a massage chair—out of the parks, while others concocted plans for a potluck and dance party timed to the midnight deadline Nov. 12. Others went shopping for office space they could rent to help keep the movement alive. 

The one thing they agreed on: They would not leave their parks willingly.

It was clear that police were concerned about a confrontation. They were told by some Occupiers that people in the camps had dug trenches and built an arsenal of rocks, boards with nails and shields made of wooden pallets.

Other Occupiers put the word out for people to come downtown and help defend their camp. They used their website and Twitter, and even printed fliers that they pasted on MAX trains.

On Saturday night, Nov. 12, the parks and surrounding streets filled with people, most of whom had never been to the Occupy Portland camp before. Many poured out of bars to watch what might happen. Bicyclists calling themselves "The Swarm" pedaled around the parks. A drum circle made up of people beating on white plastic buckets formed in the middle of Southwest 3rd Avenue. Protesters climbed the iconic Main Street elk statue to pose for pictures and kiss. One man atop the elk played a French horn.

The police didn't show up in riot gear until around 1:30 am, when they formed a line along Main Street across 3rd Avenue from the parks. Five officers rode in on horses. Someone tossed a burning object and spooked a couple of the horses. Someone else threw an open pocket knife and hit a cop in the helmet. One protester was pepper sprayed; another was arrested. 

Eventually, police moved down 3rd Avenue and took up position at the intersection with Madison Street. Some protesters shouted in the officers' faces. But others were too jovial to remain confrontational for long. One man shouted, "We love you!" Then he yelled, "We love you especially!" to a blond female officer. She smirked.

The air smelled of the apple-cider vinegar protesters had used to soak their bandanas to combat a potential tear-gas assault from the police.

The standoffs in the streets lasted for more than four hours. Occupiers served coffee in the middle of 3rd Avenue, pouring from vacuum pots at the feet of riot police. The crowd chanted, "This is what democracy looks like!" and "You're sexy, you're cute, take off your riot suit!" to the endless beat of white plastic bucket drums.


"Good morning. Please move back into Chapman Square." The announcer told everyone the police wanted to clear the street for traffic.

The crowd complied, the cops soon turned and left, and it seemed like victory. People hugged and filed back into Chapman Square through a human canopy of linked hands. Buckets of Voodoo doughnuts arrived, a bicycle boombox played Michael Jackson and the Black Eyed Peas, and people danced.

During the celebration, the residents of the 420 Hotel had stolen a mobile generator and floodlights placed by the city on the sidewalk along Chapman Square. Other Occupiers were enraged because they thought this would provoke the police. "This is exactly what they want us to do!” someone yelled. 

"Would you please worry about your own fucking encampment?" said someone inside the 420 Hotel. "I saw the resource and I took it."

The people fortifying the 420 Hotel eventually wheeled the floodlights back to the sidewalk. All around them, people were going home. The thousands who had come in support of Occupy Portland thought the battle was over. Many of the Occupation's leaders hadn't been sleeping in the camp for the past few weeks anyway. 

By 8 am, the parks were nearly empty when police officers wearing surgical masks and blue gloves walked in, tore down tents and sliced ropes that had been strung from the parks' trees. Trucks dropped off green metal dumpsters, and a backhoe scraped sleeping bags and cardboard out of the park.

The ground was black mud that smelled like rotting food where the kitchen had been and sewage in many other places. Police tossed out tarps, pallets, sandals, a Fisher-Price slide and a pink vibrator. They knocked at the fabric walls of each tent to wake residents. "Time to move on," a cop said as he roused a sleeping camper.

This is what the eviction looked like.

The Occupiers had no response to this, no plan. They'd worn themselves out, and their numbers were down to fewer than 100. Most of them sat down and watched as the cops cleaned out the camp. Officers arrested a girl where the kitchen once stood in Chapman Square. 

"You can't just do that," said Raya Cooper, a member of the information committee. But she didn't stand up from her folding chair. Eventually, Cooper went off to play a game of Twister. 

To the north, Lownsdale Square was cleared in two hours. But in the northwest corner of Chapman Square, the 420 Hotel residents refused to acknowledge the teardown of the camp. Instead, they cooked bacon and fried eggs only feet from where police had started to surround their fort. They lined a long folding table with bread, lunchmeat, greens for salad, peanut butter, saltines and animal crackers.

Around 10 am, a man tried to bring in a jar of mayonnaise, but a cop stopped him because the jar could be used as a projectile against police. The man nodded, and then dodged the officer. The cop started to go after him but another officer touched his shoulder. 

"Let it go," he said.


The number of police grew as it became clear they were going to target the 420 Hotel last. A man inside the fort yelled "Shame! Shame!" at police who got too close. He told an African-American officer that Martin Luther King Jr. would roll over in his grave at the sight of him. A skinny man strummed a guitar and sang John Lennon's “Working Class Hero.” 

"They hurt you at home and they hit you at school," he sang. "They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool."

At 12:20 pm, a long line of police wearing black riot gear streamed out of the Justice Center across Southwest 3rd Avenue. Their electric-blue gloved hands gripped both ends of their batons, their helmets' face shields dropped down. 

They surrounded Chapman Square and slowly moved across the slick mud. Protesters howled at the sight. "Pigs on the loose!" someone shouted. Others joined him. "Pigs on the loose!"

The police van with speakers was back. The announcer told everyone to leave the park or face the possibility of physical force. "You may be subject to the use of chemical agents," the announcement added.

The officers moved west and formed a line in front of the 420 Hotel and the 100 or so people who were determined to hang on to the last corner of the Occupy Portland camp. The police, batons across their chests, pushed people back. 

Some people fell as the officers surged forward; others were pinned against benches. The police overturned the lunch table, spilling bagels, apples and animal crackers onto the sidewalk. Several Occupiers who fought back were dragged out of the crowd to be arrested. Others grabbed at the officers' batons; the police pulled their batons away and brought them down on some of the protesters, fast and hard.

"Nazis!" people shouted. "I thought you were better than this, Portland! Murderers!"

Gina Ronning, a leader of the camp's safety and peacekeeping committee, picked up a megaphone and called for people to sit down. They did and the police eased off. Then someone else along the front line with the officers yelled for everyone stand up and keep pushing back. People stood up again—but the tension had eased slightly.

Behind the police, city parks crews lined Chapman and Lownsdale squares with chain-link fence with barbed wire across the top. 

Eventually, people drifted away. A few dozen headed to Pioneer Courthouse Square for a strategy meeting and pizza party.

In front of City Hall, a man carried a black-and-white-speckled rooster into the intersection of Southwest Madison Street and 4th Avenue. He placed the rooster in the street and turned to the police line guarding Chapman Square. The rooster strutted toward the police, then turned around and wandered west.

Occupy Elsewhere Homeless, Not Faceless Chaos to Checkmate

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