Archive for March, 2006

Blast from the Past: The Portland Peace Encampment (2003), or What Did I Do to Deserve This Flat, Flavorless Democracy?

March 21, 2006

Reminiscing about the start of this atrocity in Iraq three years ago this week naturally reminds me of the Portland Peace Encampment, which was born the first night of the invasion and remained in front of City Hall 24×7 for five months. The camp was continually harrassed and abused by the Portland Police Bureau and former Mayor Katz’s office before the mayor ordered the police to forcefully sweep the camp on legal grounds that were later found to be woefully unconstitutional. (Having the judge blast the mayor’s action as unconstitutional sure made me feel a lot better than I did when this picture was taken, though all of us were confident that we would be vindicated.) Here is a bunch of stories about the Peace Encampment from Portland Indymedia. Here is a copy of the judge’s ruling in our case.

This war, too, will end. Someday.

Sit In at Senator Wyden’s Office

March 20, 2006

I left the office today at 5:15. It was sunny, but cool. I walked up SW Third Avenue to the Edith Green-Wendall Wyatt Federal Building, where a mass act of civil disobedience was taking place. Early this morning, a group of about 20 peace activists entered Senator Ron Wyden’s office in the building and refused to leave. They wanted to inform the senator that he needs to show more effective leadership. The action was supported by a small group of allies who maintained a vigil on the street corner outside beginning around 8:00 this morning.

People had been phoning reports in to the Portland Legal Defense Network all day and the PLDN had published the reports on Portland Indymedia. I followed the story line through the day by clicking on the website every hour or so. I was eager to go down there all day.

As a legal observer, I attempted to enter the Federal Building through the front door at 5:20pm. The doors were locked and three Federal Protective Service and Homeland Security officers stared lazily through the glass at me when I knocked on the window and signaled “WTF?” One of them gave me a rather ominous finger-across-the-throat sign to show they were closed. Finally one of them sauntered over to the glass and mouthed to me that there was no freaking way I was getting in the building.

Moving to Plan B, I looked around and found the group of on-street supporters clustered on the corner next to Terry Schrunk Plaza, home of the erstwhile Portland Peace Encampment. I walked over and made a few connections with people to get the scoop.

Their comrades indoors had peacefully occupied Wyden’s office all day. I do not know their specific requests or demands of Wyden, though I am sure it relates to the war on Iraq and how it needs to end. They had asked that at least one National Lawyers Guild legal observer be allowed to come up to the office to witness the proceedings, but Wyden’s staff and the Homeland Security police refused.

On the street it was believed that the people inside were going to be ticketed and escorted from the building at 5:30. Everyone outside was talking in small groups and each of us kept looking at the front door every few seconds. Dozens of government staffers exited the building, but there was no sign of any of the demonstrators. People passing by in their cars honked their horns and threw peace signs. After a while, someone offered me a cookie.

About 6:30, I was standing with a friend that works at the IRS office in the Federal Building. I had not seen him in four years so when I saw him walk out of the building, I ran to catch up with him. While we were talking, I glanced over and saw the entire group of twenty walking up Main Street from the side door of the building. Each of them held a ticket summoning them to federal court on June 2. They are charged with some federal crime, but I do not know what it is or what the possible penalties are. I am sure they will mount a vigorous defense to the charges.

[Postscript: Last time I visited Ron Wyden’s Portland office, it was in a commercial office building near Lloyd Center Mall. I entered the building, rode the elevator up, walked in the front door of his office, and started talking to his staffer. This time I was greeted with disdain by a group of heavily armed Homeland Security police and refused all entry. Somehow I don’t think this “subtle” change is lost on Wyden.]

[Second postscript: I learned today (the next day) that the Homeland Security police officer offered to let the demonstrators exchange some of their seats to allow legal observers and/or the press into Wyden’s office. The activists refused, reasoning that they should maintain their solidarity and that the legal observers could just as effectively perform their function down on the street.]

Third Anniversary Demonstration in Portland

March 19, 2006

Many thousands of Portlanders marked the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion by gathering in Waterfront Park and proceeding on a march throughout downtown. What more needs to be said than a few words and this photograph taken by my friend Jim Lockhart? The war is a lie and always has been. It needs to end. Now.

(Click here for more photos and sounds from the event.)

Gasoline for Burritos

March 9, 2006

Today at the office where I am working there was a going-away party for an employee who took a job at another law firm. There was tons of catered quesadillas, chimichangas, chili poppers, and cheesecake. There were even margaritas, but I avoided those.

While scarfing a couple of wedges of quesadilla with sour cream and guacamole, one of my coworkers asked if I had ever had burritos from El Burrito Loco on North Portland Boulevard. I told him how I had been addicted to that place for about a year, until I found La Sirenita on NE Alberta.

All of a sudden, my mind was filled with images of all the times I glanced at my watch to see if there was still time for a machaca or chorizo burrito at La Sirenita before they closed at 10pm. This is when I was living in NW Portland, meaning I had a 20-minute drive to get there. That’s how good those burritos were. And they only cost $3 at the time.

Later, on the way home from work on TriMet, it struck me that every time I made that journey in my vehicle, I also dumped a couple of pounds of toxic gas and chemicals into the air. I am beginning to think that dumping my car was a really good idea. I can think of at least six ways to get to La Sirenita using my TriMet pass and my feet.

[Coda: I remember the time I barely made it to the taqueria one warm summer night as they were closing the door. I had worked all day and was planning on doing some video production while watching the house of a friend who lives three blocks away from the restaurant. I carried the food inside and put it on the coffee table while I unloaded the car. After getting all my gear into the house, I turned on the television and sat down to eat. But the food had disappeared! I looked all over for it, thinking I had just imagined putting it on the table. Then I noticed the guilty expression on the dog’s face. I found the shredded wrapper in the backyard. I was crestfallen. And super-pissed at the dog.]

They Haven’t a Dollar to Save

March 4, 2006

Paul Craig Roberts, an assistant Treasury secretary during the Reagan administration, is quickly becoming one of my favorite sources on issues of economics. Here he explains why the economy can be so bad while the news about the economy can be so “good”. Turns out the media is paid to report good news no matter what the truth might be. Interestingly, Roberts also says that questioning the “gaping holes” in the 9/11 Commission Report is “impermissible”, making him one of the few mainstream columnists to call bullshit on the Bush administration’s explanations of 9/11.

[Postscript: Roberts’ article says: “Offshore outsourcing has turned US production into imports. Americans are now dependent on offshore production for their clothes, manufactured goods and advanced technology products.” Today, I took a little closer look at the clothes I was wearing and learned the extent of this problem. Rockport shoes: made in China. Levi’s: made in Lesotho. Hanes boxers: Honduras. Hanes undershirt: Dominican Republic. Van Huesen shirt: Thailand. Belt: China. The only exception was the wool scarf I bought from NoSweatApparel.com: Made in the USA. (Okay, so I was dressed for work when I checked the labels on all this stuff.)]

On Life Without a Car

March 4, 2006

Since selling my car in October to force myself to walk or bike as much as possible, I am now starting to really appreciate the changes that foot travel can bring. Today I rode the bus to my neighborhood dry cleaner to drop off some pants and shirts to start my errands for the day. Since I am working on a law project that requires me to work weekday hours in a law firm for the next few months, Saturday is my best day to get things done.

To get from the dry cleaners to the post office, I needed to walk over a small stream and under a freeway overpass that passes by SW Canyon Road. While crossing over the stream, I stopped and noticed a pair of mallard ducks below. The male had a gorgeous green head and a bright band around his neck. The much smaller female was a mottled brown and white. I leaned against the railing and gazed upon them floating lazily in the stream, occasionally dipping their heads under water. They seemed so serene and peaceful. Twenty yards away, cars and trucks raced by, their occupants oblivious to the wildlife nearby. Soon this little family will be trailed by four or five ducklings, none of them ugly.

After continuing under the freeway, I passed a man sitting on an overturned bucket at the 217 off-ramp. He was holding a sign pleading for money from people who had just pulled off the freeway and were waiting at the red light. The man asked me for a cigarette (but no money). I gave him two. When I approached him I recognized him as a man I had met before.

A few months ago I was waiting at a bus stop late at night and struck up a conversation with him. I immediately regretted it because he was really drunk and looked like he might go off at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. By the time the bus arrived, I had learned about his brothers and mother and seen the scar from the time he was stabbed in the stomach by a friend. He also regaled me repeatedly with part of a Steve Miller song. I forget which one. When I saw him again at the off-ramp today, there was no hint of recognition in his eyes, but I remembered that he supports his mother, apparently by holding a sign next to the freeway announcing that “Anything helps”.

(As an aside, I don’t know if it is common in other cities, but nearly every highway on-ramp and off-ramp in the Portland area has a person asking passing motorists for change. They catch the traffic on the off-ramps when people pull off the freeway and have to stop for red lights or stop signs. They catch the on-ramp traffic during rush hour when cars are stopped by flashing red lights that regulate the pace of cars entering the freeways; as motorists pass, there is just enough time to hand over something if they choose to. Various police agencies abhor seeing poor people begging for spare change in such a public manner, but the Oregon courts have rightly ruled that preventing such practices amounts to suppression of free speech.)

I arrived at the post office (actually a UPS Store that has better Saturday service) to mail several packages. I had to call my friend Kate in Bend to ask for her address. (“Hi Kate. What’s your address? What do you mean it’s been four years since we talked? You had a baby on Monday? Wow!”)

After catching up with Kate in the middle of my transaction while the clerk busied herself with other things, I crossed the street to the Fred Meyer and Trader Joe’s, where I bought 50 blank DVDs, sausage, eggs, butter, fish and bell peppers. Then it was back to the bus stop for the return trip up Canyon Road. I stopped by the Westside Bar and Grill for some breakfast, even though I had a backpack full of the same thing I was paying someone else to cook for me. The waitress had a migraine, but, as she told her friend having coffee on the other side of the bar, she only had a couple of drinks after work last night.

The only other thing I must do before the end of the weekend, and twice a month, is my laundry. I don’t have a washer and dryer in my cabin so I have to clean my clothes off-site. Laundry day is kind of a drag without a car because I have to take two buses each way, with two large bags of clothes. It is doable. And it reminds me that living without a car can be done.

[Postscript: In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed my neighbor’s car to go do my laundry. She offered because her daughter is out of town and the car needs to be driven every so often so the battery remains charged. I could not resist.]