How 'Occupy Portland' Made History This Week

Good leaders and clear agendas must, indeed, emerge, but the best things that Portlanders did on Saturday night were that a) they found the courage to turn out in great numbers and b) they refused to be baited.
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Faced with an order from Portland, Oregon Mayor Sam Adams to disperse as of 12:01 am Sunday, Occupy Portland's Jim Oliver told the PBS News Hour Friday evening that "We have called for an Occupation Fest 2011 that is starting on Saturday evening. Every citizen of Portland is invited to come down and join us for dancing, music, a pot luck, games. We expect thousands. And we will be holding the parks peacefully in solidarity with our movement all across the country. And we expect to remain indefinitely."

For Occupy Wall Street nationwide, a lot was at stake not only on Portlanders' turning out by the thousands but also on their refraining from violence, no matter what comes from police, agents provocateurs, and even certain journalists who are looking to inflate every misdemeanor into a sure sign of rage.

As of 3:30 am, a few thousand new people had showed up, some joining in the festival, others apparently as supportive witnesses who stood across the street from the two parks. But later in the day the police dispersed both encampments and cleared the two parks that had been occupied. You can review and follow these developments on

No question, there have been problems within the occupation itself. But the Portlanders conducted themselves with enough non-violent discipline to leave a lot of the moral burden on the city government and police.

They also discredited detractors such as New York Times columnist David Brooks, whom far too many people were watching on the News Hour after Occupy Portland's Jim Oliver announced the festival.

When Brooks' counterpart, Mark Shields, credited OWS with convincing Americans "to reduce the power of major banks and corporations -- 76 percent of Americans, Wall Street Journal poll, agree with that; 60 percent strongly agree with that" -- Brooks retorted, "That's exactly what the Tea Party movement has been saying," and slid past the fact that the Tea Party had been blaming mostly government until OWS reminded it that the Tea Party of 1773 took on a multinational corporation, the East India Company, as well as its cronies in government.

Brooks was intent on making a much-more insidious observation on the eve of Portland's showdown. The problem with the current protest movements, he explained, "is they have no leaders. They have no institutions... nobody to be serious and be rigorous and say, 'Here are the problems we all agree on. Here is what we are offering.' And if you have no leaders, ... you're going to be defined by your worst [people], who are going to be the most disruptive. And that's, I think, what has happened to the Occupy movement."

Actually, that's what's happened to America, and OWS is a response to that sad truth. A lot depends on what makes your nose wrinkle and your nostrils twitch. News Hour host Jim Lehrer didn't ask Brooks to explain why, if he's so worried about a dearth of good leaders, clear agendas, and sound decisions in protest movements, he isn't more worried about the dearth of good leaders, clear agendas, and sound decisions in Washington and on Wall Street, whose incompetence and bad faith yawned abysmally before us all in the near-meltdown of 2008 and the idiotic debt-ceiling crisis last summer.

And if it's the occupiers' unsanitary and unstable conduct that worries Brooks and Portland's mayor, might we compare conditions in the parks with the sanitation, sanity, and law-abidingness in Congress, the major investment banks, and the New York Police Department? How do the hazards posed by the occupations compare with those posed by members of Congress' sexual hijinks, their stealing, and their bought-and-paid for evisceration of public investments in health care, unemployment security, and other protections against disease and stress? What's Portland cops' own record of fighting crime and violence within their own ranks? Let's hope it's better than Oakland's (or, when it comes to crime, New York's).

No one ever asks such questions in Washington. No one ever wonders aloud whether political and business leaders -- the public officials, policy intellectuals, investment advisers, corporate managers, and others who've misled millions of people into sink-pits of casino finance, joblessness, homelessness, and fogs of war -- are clearer-sighted than occupation youths who aren't yet drawn into their subtler corruptions, marginal souls who've never been integrated into them, and elders who've seen through those corruptions after decades of enduring them.

The whole country has been saddled for decades by a pathological, multi-problem over-class that's been cracking the whip and rioting from above, in the affronts of Leona Helmsley, Donald Trump, Enron's Ken Lay, Bernard Madoff, the architects and strategists of mortgage bundling and sleazy foreclosure tactics, not to mention the panjandrums of grander strategy in the Bush Administration, the Federal Reserve, and banks, whose intertwined premises the Obama Administration and Congress have left unchallenged.

Yet Brooks has consistently excused or downplayed these upscale predations and focused on blaming their victims. That's what he'll do on Sunday if anything goes wrong in Portland. That's what he did when the great mortgage meltdown first began in March, 2010: He went looking hard for victims to blame.

In a column called "The Culture of Debt," Brooks seized on a vignette in a news story to remind his readers of a stressed, vulnerable homeowner who'd taken a too-good-to-be-true mortgage and who'd also taken "credit-card offers knowing that debt is a promise that has to be kept. After her divorce, she went on a shopping spree to make herself feel better. After surgery, she sat at home watching the home shopping channels, charging thousands more."

Shaking his head theatrically, more in sorrow than in anger, of course, Brooks decided that, because of a cascade of sloppy decisions and derelictions like this, "An unspoken code [of thrift] has been silently eroded" by a permissive "culture of debt." Silently? Haven't marketers spent billions telling Americans that credit-card companies and mortgage brokers will give them a break?

Hasn't this been one of most unrelenting, intrusive, and irresponsible campaigns in history to destroy a culture and its communities, hearts, and minds? Haven't some of those billions been spent to make sure that public officials sustain the culture of debt and the scams with loopholes, lotteries, and bail-outs for its perpetrators?

Brooks didn't call very loudly for "serious and rigorous" leaders as all this was going on. But now he demands "serious" leaders and "rigorous" agendas from movements that have sprung up in reaction to the crime and criminal negligence that he's countenanced or covered for.

OWS isn't a governing structure: "The point [of the occupations] is... not that you come in with a nine-point program, a think tank,... and a white paper. They have changed ... the dynamic of the public discourse in America," as Shields noted. The movement has risen in no small part because writers such as Brooks have been working hard not to "change to dynamic of public discourse" but to ingratiate themselves into it and into the good graces of the corrupt interests it serves.

Good leaders and clear agendas must, indeed, emerge, but the best things that Portlanders did on Saturday night were that a) they found the courage to turn out in great numbers and b) they refused to be baited into giving Brooks and his' nervous patrons and followers an excuse to point accusing fingers at the protesters, but not at their predators.

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