Hotseat: Jessie Sponberg

The Occupy activist is ready for a confrontation on Mount Tabor.

RISK POOL: "Our water is our only collateral," Jessie Sponberg says.

Jessie Sponberg is planning for a long camp-out.

The leader of Camp Cascadia—the live-in protest of draining Mount Tabor's reservoirs—is heading up the mountain July 12. Sponberg says he's not coming down until Portland officials back off plans to take the city's water supply underground.

Sponberg is a 39-year-old native Portlander, host of activist Web series Fight Church Television, and a leader of the 2011 Occupy Portland blockade of Port of Portland shipping terminals.

He comes across as a barroom-brawling Abbie Hoffman. He says activists are convinced closing the reservoirs is just the first step in handing over the Bull Run watershed to a private cabal of builders and developers and otherwise distrustful corporate interests. And he intends to stop it.

WW: What exactly do you plan to do on Mount Tabor?

Jessie Sponberg: I'm going to show up there with a dome tent and about 200 really awesome people that care about our water. If the cops beat my ass, drag me off that mountain, I'll get released and I'll get back up that mountain.

What do you expect will happen?

We would like to believe that the police have just as great a need for clean water as we all do. But as we've learned, unfortunately, the police department is the right hand of corporate America. They're not really protecting and serving us. They are protecting and serving the taskmasters, who stand to reap gigantic financial dividends from this $400 million project.

You're talking about the underground water tanks at Powell Butte?

It's bigger than just that. It's the decommissioning of the reservoirs. It's the building of new, unnecessary reservoirs underground. Our perfectly gravity-fed water, which hasn't made a single person sick in 113 years of operation.

People are honestly going to get priced out of water, and then we'll privatize it, and then we'll sell it. Because to come up with that $400 million, we're going have to borrow that money from Wall Street.

So what's your strategy?

There's a lot of differences between what's going to happen on that mountain and what happened downtown. What happened downtown was a leaderless movement with a real hard message to disseminate to the masses. But all our sound bite up here is, "Corrupt politicians are messing with our water."

We just use the Occupy banner to scare squares. We want people to write [Mayor] Charlie Hales and say, "Charlie, they're gonna kill the grass. Charlie, what about our grass? Charlie, the grass!" Put pressure on Charlie Hales, let them know that they're doing shady shit with our water and that it can be fixed.

How long are you willing to stay up there?

I don't know, 2016? That's when the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will review that ruling. You can call me an idiot. You can call my friends hippies. You can call us dreamers, you can call us whatever you want, but somebody's got to do this.

What's a victory look like?

A waiver [from federal requirements]. Anything less is off the table.

I want to get beat up. I want to get bloody. I want old ladies to get Maced. I want the whole nation to see what's going on with our water. We're looking for a strategic, organized siege of that mountain. 

[For a survey of the strange alliances in the fight over Mt. Tabor, click here.]

WWeek 2015

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