Tara Murphy – Portland, Oregon
“MIC CHECK!” a woman shouts.
“MIC CHECK!” the crowd shouts back in unison, passing the message to those who can’t hear it like a human microphone. I am standing in a line in the middle of the General Assembly meeting of Occupy Portland, surrounded by tents, tarps, and various protest signs waiting to make an announcement. It is 7:37 pm, and a throng of occupiers gather around a statue situated in between two parks in downtown Portland where they have set up camp. Outfitted in rain gear, mylar blankets, and sporting the occasional umbrella—though normally Portlanders scoff at such a thing—the group listens intently to each of the speakers, reacting with simple hand signals to indicate their approval, disapproval, or need for clarification.
Four days ago, this all started when 7,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Portland to stand in solidarity with New York’s Occupy Wall Street protests and send a strong message: we will no longer allow Wall Street and large corporations to destroy the American Dream and squeeze out working families. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” echoed off the towering white-columned Wells Fargo Bank building. The energy in the crowd was palpable; it was clear everyone was ready to have their voices heard. Since then, hundreds of protesters have been occupying an encampment in Chapman and Lownsdale Parks in downtown Portland.
As I walk through the encampment, I am struck by the positivity and general organization of it all, despite the rain, mud, and maze of tents and tarps. I am greeted by a man who wants to explain the mission of the occupation, and when I tell him I am there with Working America and want to help, he smiles broadly and leads me through the camp to an orange tent of organizers. It is not long before I am sporting an armband of orange duct tape to indicate that I have been recruited by the media team and I’m asked to make an announcement at the general assembly explaining Working America and asking how we can best help the group. A woman named Lena excitedly tells me that the general assembly meetings are rapidly becoming more and more efficient and organized, and directs me towards the middle of camp. We chat about how Working America talks about the very same issues that they are fighting for on a daily basis to our members, and while we might not all be able to put a tent up in the park, working families all over the country are cheering them on and standing up for real change. She offers me a meal, thanks me for coming, and I begin to sense the community that has developed in just a few days. Everyone here is bound by the common threads of their belief in the idea that we all deserve employment, to be able to go to the doctor when we are sick, have access to education, and retire with dignity. They took to the streets in New York, and now we are repeating that message here in Portland and all around the country.